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
- Left London describes various different locations,
divided into four sections; Industry, Transport, Health
and Leisure. What was the thing that intrigued you most
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.
has vanity publishing led to such a splendid publication"
Sarah Kent, Time Out Magazine