After Marville – Transformations

Posted on January 30, 2016


I have not been actively making images for my project looking at the gentrification of Spitalfields and Shoreditch in East London. BUT I have been thinking…

The latest set of images I produced is here. They are straight colour images of the changes taking place. Following Marville’s lead (in his documentation of Haussmann’s tranformation of Paris) I have photographed places undergoing redevelopment, places slated for redevelopment and new developments that have been completed. This image is typical of this approach:

Former Fruit and Wool Exchange

Keith Greenough ©2015

The debate about the pros and cons of the redevelopment taking place in this part of East London is raging. It encompasses a spectrum of positions from at one extreme those who resist any plan for redevelopment or modernisation to those who look upon old buildings purely as business opportunities for redevelopment and making money. The best way forward is certainly somewhere between these polar opposites. Life cannot stand still and clearly some redevelopment can breath life into old, tired and often vacant buildings. On the other hand I am very uneasy about the way in which redevelopment activity in this part of the East End is displacing local people – new developments all too often do not adequately accommodate the social and affordable housing it is replacing. Also much of the development (actual and planned) has been unsympathetic to the scale, identity and character of the surrounding areas.

This got me thinking about how my project could raise questions about the appropriateness of the changes taking place and at the same time ask what role nostalgia is playing in the debate.

This old photograph of Boulevard Malesherbes, de la rue Pasquier, Paris VIIIe. taken in 1877 by Charles Marville triggered an idea


At the time it was taken this image would have represented the height of modern Paris. The wide boulevard with its terraces of grand houses and shops and rows of young trees had recently replaced the old Paris with its narrow streets and dark corners. When I look at this image today it appears old and it invites me to look upon it as a nostalgic, picturesque scene.

Here is that same place today…

Malarbes today

This modern day scene comprises of the same buildings but the sharp colour image with the modern day accessories (cars, street furniture, pedestrians in modern clothing and so on) does not invoke the same sense of nostalgia.

I have in mind investigating what would be the effect of making the images of the new developments in Spitalfields/Shoreditch using an old form of photography, specifically a pinhole camera. Would this transform these modern scenes into picturesque images that might invoke a nostalgic response? Clearly on closer inspection the disjuncture between the old style of representation and the modernity of the content of the images would jar with the viewer. This undoubtedly would raise questions about the the appropriateness of the developments – they would appear even more out of context! But would it also raise questions about the role nostalgia is playing in the debate?

For now, I am sticking with the After Marville… working title for now but it does seem to me that the title TRANSFORMATIONS might be a better one. What is happening in Spitalfields/Shoreditch is indeed a transformation, but also what is happening through my photography would also be a transformation – from reality to the photographic medium, from a modern scene to one represented through an antique mode of photography, from realistic colour to black and white (or toned black and white), from dreadful modern architecture to picturesque nostalgic scene and so on.

To illustrate the potential I have transformed some of my straight colour images into black and white pinhole images (Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom):

Transformations - Pinhole-1

Bishopsgate Goods Yard ©Keith Greenough 2015

Transformations - Pinhole-2

Great Eastern Street ©Keith Greenough 2015

Transformations - Pinhole-3

Blossom Street ©Keith Greenough 2015

I have dusted off my Zero Image 2000 pinhole camera and bought some film (Ilford Delta 100 and Pan PLUS 50)and next week will be heading off to begin my enquiry…