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Left London

An exclusive interview with Alexander Shields, co-author and photographer of the book Left London

- Where did you find this particular interest in abandoned buildings?

Both of us used to go to squat parties and as well as going for the music there was always an interest in the spaces themselves. These buildings seemed to represent a more subversive, secretive side of London life and we found that fascinating. At first graffiti was another thing that attracted us, but ironically the more we explored the more we favoured buildings without graffiti since they would be in better condition and often better to photograph. It's fair to say I was also influenced somewhat by the photography of Robert Polidori, especially his photos of decay in Havana and Chernobyl.

- The introduction states that several of the buildings pictured in the book have already disappeared. Is this the reason, as is the often the case with graffiti, that photography plays such an important role in remembering?

Absolutely. We both thought that it was important to make this book in order to capture a fairly significant aspect of London history. With the advent of the 2012 Olympics, London is currently involved in mass re-development and it seems sad to say that many buildings will simply vanish and be erased from the city's collective memory. I feel that photography plays a similar role with subway graffiti by keeping its memory alive. Respect to Henry Chalfant!

- Left London describes various different locations, divided into four sections; Industry, Transport, Health and Leisure. What was the thing that intrigued you most in these?

The sections came about as we began editing photos and realising that they fell into these distinct categories. In fact we had two more sections which we ommitted in the end due to the fact that they seemed out of place with the overall feel of the book. The four themes we chose all lie in the public sphere and this is something that unites them all. Each section has its highlights - it seems many people find the Health section the most intruiging although I think graf writers would probably favour Transport. We managed to photograph some amazing tunnels in Central London which you can check out on the website ( www.leftlondon.co.uk) and this is something we would like to continue photographing.

- Any strange stories of events that happened during these photo tours?

On the first day we went out to photograph we realised that we didn't have the right tripod head for the 5x4 camera so we couldn't take any photos. The next day a crazy driver drove straight into my car as I was getting out of it and after that we got robbed by crackheads in an abandoned squat in Hackney. It was as if God was telling us to forget about the whole project! Other funny stories include getting sniffed out by a security man's dog whilst trying to hide. Actually everyday had a interesting story - we had a lot of fun.

- How do you see interactions between writers/street artists and these kind of places?

In London there are some abandoned buildings with good graf but not that many. It's cool when you could see that the writer had incorporated aspects of the building within his piece but all too often it involved people trying to do perfect throw-ups, which got to be a little boring after a while. I've seen buildings in Berlin which had really cool graf in them, where the writer had clearly thought about the space he's painting in, perhaps using the decay of the wall or the reflections as a theme in his piece. I think it's great that these spaces can become impromtu art galleries, it's just that it's rarely done with much thought. That's why I began to favour buildings without graf because they actually looked a whole lot better in print.

"Never before has vanity publishing led to such a splendid publication"
Sarah Kent, Time Out Magazine

book cover


Left London is available at www.leftlondon.co.uk

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