Jerwood Photography Awards 2006

This is London in fact, built to function like Milton Keynes. People are supposed to behave themselves in this environment, controlled by the planning process itself. But the enlargers of the passers by give another view. Suddenly people don’t look so comfortable. Suddenly we’re in the world of CCTV and other surveillance, and suspicion is the order of the day.

In the panoramic view we feel we can see enough, and we are satisfied. In the enlargement, we feel deprived of clarity and we start to wonder. It is the juxtaposition of the two that gives these pictures their drive: not properly a narrative in the city, so much as the propagation in the viewer for a wholly artificial desire for there to be such a  narrative. We see personal stories, in the lost gaze and in the isolation of the enlarged faces. But the historical stories are powerful too.

Much of this environment, placid as it seems, bears witness to extraordinary levels of violence. The famous ‘gherkin’ office tower rises on the site of Baltic Exchange bomb, and reminds us that long before 9/11, Londoners have been (perforce is the word) used to a level of public violence that has at times been close to permanent. St Paul’s Cathedral, seen in the background of another view, famously survived the Blitz more or less undamaged when all around it was smoke and rubble. What we see here is not even St Paul’s itself but a painted hoarding designed to hide it under a mask of itself while repairs are done. The illusion is all that the city is offered while history is brought to more Milton Keynesian levels of tidy respectability.

In such an environment, people may be a threat (and the ever rising number of cameras in the city suggests that this is how officialdom regards them), or they may be simply unaccountable. They sit in places not designed for sitting and cycle where there is no cycle path. They think thoughts no planner asked them to think in that context. All of this, and more, is plainly shown by Zoe Hatziyannaki.

Francis Hodgson
(Portfolio Catalogue #44, Jerwood Photography Awards 2006)