My daily drive to work takes me past the Bow Interchange to my destination in Aldgate East, travelling along the A11 as it moves towards the City and changes from Bow Road, to Mile End Road, Whitechapel Road and Whitechapel High Street. Historically, this route formed the initial section of the ancient Roman road from London to Colchester but recently it has been known as High Street 2012, which connects the City to the Olympic Park. This route runs through some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in London, but it also moves through historically rich areas and some of the most culturally diverse. During the build up to the Olympic games it was the site of increased development and activity.
In late 2008, I decided to alleviate the frustration of the heavy traffic caused by road works, incidents and accidents, by taking a photograph each time the traffic stopped. I set myself a system where I only photograph when the car is stationary with the handbrake on, which means there are no snatched images, but there are no rules regarding the direction of the shot or the subject matter, just whatever takes my eye. These photographs have a particular aesthetic as the vantage point is from the car, where passers-by are often viewed side-on in relation to buildings which face the camera, offering a very different perspective than from the pavement.
Over time, a document of the ever-shifting life of the road has been built up based both on arbitrary stops and starts of the traffic, and patterns to its flow relating to current street activity. The project marks changes: changes in space, season, time, and direction as I make my return journey home.
In The View from the Road, Donald Appleyard suggests that “the modern car interposes a filter between the driver and the world he is moving through. Sounds, smells, sensations of touch and weather are all diluted in comparison with what the pedestrian experiences.” Surprisingly then, one of the interesting aspects of this project has been that, despite the filter of the car, photography has enabled me to reconnect with my surroundings. The camera has facilitated a sense of individual relationship with the immediate environment rather than functioning, as Sontag comments, as “a powerful instrument for depersonalising our relation to the world”. I no longer dread the erratic nature of the journey to work but look forward to recording the ongoing architectural transformations and capricious street life, enjoying the constant flux (an extraordinary amount in these few years) and the immensely diverse population that the road offers.
In the 1960s the urban philosopher Jane Jacobs had been critical of the modernist planners of the period who rejected the multi-layered, complex and apparently chaotic nature of the city, preferring rather to segregate aspects of living e.g., residential, industrial and commercial. She felt that such policies were destructive, and advocated density, high pedestrian permeability, buildings of various ages in different states of repair and mixed use of the streets. Looking at the Whitechapel High Street today, one is struck by how much it appears to embody her vision of a functioning and diverse city community.