After Marville… but in what way?

Posted on November 9, 2015


As has often been the case when I start a new project I begin in one place and then move on. My starting point for looking at the redevelopment of East London was to a fair degree focussed on how the means of presentation could add layers of meaning to the photographs I produce. Specifically, I was interested in how using old printing processes for photographs of modern subjects alters the perception of those subjects.

This idea lead me to research 19th century photographers who had focused on cities undergoing major regeneration programmes and I came across Charles Marville’s images of the Haussmann transformation of Paris in the late 1800s. A first thought was that I would create a link to Marville’s work by emulating his aesthetic approach. Having studied Marville in more detail by reviewing the catalogue for the 2014 exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (1), I now see that the link between his work and mine could be much more fundamental.

His approach was highly objective and essentially topographic. He did not seek to present a particular point of view (others however later adopted selective elements from his work to present their point of view). His intention was to create a visual database as a record of time and place. He work included photographs of completed new developments, pre-existing buildings in areas slated for redevelopment and construction work in progress. He employed the latest photographic technology to create large sharp images that are highly legible (Albumen prints from 30×40 cm Collodion glass plates) and his aesthetic approach was objective rather than expressive. These are all elements that I wish to incorporate into my own work.

Above all my intention is to document what is happening in the areas of East London immediately surrounding the city of London. The first version of my statement presented here implied that the regeneration going on was ‘a bad thing’ as it was displacing pre-existing communities. On reflection, it seems to me that I was prejudging. What I really want is for my photographs to speak for themselves.

Whilst I retain an interest in understanding how modes of presentation influence meaning, i.e. how does the use of old printing techniques influence how a modern day photograph is perceived and read, the first step is to create the images. 

With all this in mind I have revisited my statement. This is my latest view:

©Keith Greenough 2015

©Keith Greenough 2015

Below are two more photographs from my explorations. They are of the area around Brune Street in Whitechapel. Plans to knock down pre-existing social housing (and the Duke of Wellington pub) and replace it with new build high rise apartments  are under development.

Brune House from Toynbee Street, November 2015 ©Keith Greenough 2015

Rear of Barnett House from Toynbee Street, November 2015 ©Keith Greenough 2015

Brune Street from Toynbee Street, November 2015 ©Keith Greenough

Brune Street from Toynbee Street, November 2015 ©Keith Greenough

  1. Kennel S. (Ed.) 2014 Marville Photographer of Paris Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press