Group Photo

Victoria Park, London E3, 20th January 2002 12.05pm

Group Photo resulted in one of those pictures you can look at again and every time find something new. There, right at the front is the couple that didn’t want to be photographed but changed their minds. There is the older couple embracing one another. There are some faces I recognise, more that I don’t. There, every where are kids on shoulders and dogs held high by their owners, smiling faces, waving hands, people with cameras and camcorders and some one is taking a picture of us taking a picture of them.

Demolition is always viewed through many lenses. Professionals and amateurs gather with all kinds of technology, sometimes early to get the best viewing spot, in anticipation of the big crash, ready to capture a few seconds of regeneration spectacle. The coming down of tower blocks holds different meanings for different people. Maybe you lived there and are happy or sad to see your former home disappear, or maybe you are a demolition “spotter” and have traveled far to witness the terrific sight. Whatever the motive for watching, as the dust settles and a new landscape emerges the abrupt omission of the buildings enters a collective consciousness as a symbol of positive change.

It was this collective moment that I wanted to capture. The moment immediately after the awe when suddenly there is more light and space and distance through the spindle branches of the winter trees and a monumental pile of rubble sits as a temporary reminder of what was.

The morning of the Blow Down brought icicle air and energetic winds. From the high vantage point of the cherry picker, dry leaves blew past and people slowly began to gather. At least 20 of them came to help and and became busy with handing out flyers, telling the spectators about the imminent photograph and installing information placards. I had been full of fear that the project would fail. How many people would come to watch? Would they want to pose for a photo? The worries evaporated and that short time just after the blow down has become one of my special “moments”. Looking across and addressing a crowd that moved forward ready to pose, that stood patiently in the cold, that put colour in the dull skies with their waves, cheers and smiles.

The happy picture is now a postcard. The postcard is not the final “artwork”, but a means to bring the process back to the community and to create an “archive” image that all local people have access to and can keep as a memento, or send to a friend, or put in a frame, or ignore, or find somewhere at the back of drawer in later years. To remember or forget. To use a postcard is to hint at tourism. Special buildings inform a sense of distinctiveness, and are visited, and documented. Most tower blocks seem to inherit this status only when they are condemned and on the verge of no longer being a physical part of a place’s identity. This is when we think of them. And when we think of them we think of people.

The photograph was taken by Angus Leadley Brown

Commissioned by Space for Tower Hamlets Housing Action Trust