Living with Buildings: Health and Architecture

Thursday 22nd November 2018, Wellcome Collection, London.

The exhibition features photographs alongside film, maps, document, text and artefacts exploring the relationship between housing and health, and also buildings for health services. Includes Tony Ray-Jones’s 1970s photographs of the Pepys Estate in Lewisham (one of the estates in the ESRC Displacement Project) and the film Bird’s Eye View by Edward Mirzoeff with poetry by John Betjeman.

Pepys Estate, Deptford, 1970. Photo © Tony Ray-Jones/RIBA Library Photographs

Pepys Estate, Deptford by John Betjeman:

Where can be the heart that sends a family to the 20th floor
In such a slab as this.
It can’t be right, however fine the view
Over to Greenwich, and the Isle of Dogs.
It can’t be right, caged halfway up the sky
Not knowing your neighbour, frightened of the lift,
And who’ll be in it, and who’s down below
And are the children safe?

What is housing if it’s not a home?”

The Tower: Tale of Two Cities (2007) also focuses on the Pepys Estate. As a photographer aiming to work collaboratively with the community, the following review left on the IMDB site is worth noting:

Having lived on the Pepys Estate while this film was being made I like most others who saw it being made were shocked when we saw this. The disparity between the way the film crew presented themselves to the community as ‘educational film makers’ and the largely sensationalist result which heavily featured the most vulnerable residents was jaw dropping. Many of the scenes are staged and scripted, incentives were made to encourage entertaining behaviour and some of the narrative is simply lies. After protracted exchanges with the BBC where all actions of the filmmakers were justified by the show being ‘award winning’ and ‘popular’ I received a formal apology from Harry Dean at the BBC about the false claim in episode 4 that the Pepys Estate ‘suffered the highest rape figures in London’ (when in fact they were lower than most boroughs). Altogether more fantasy than reality, I would take Anthony Wonke’s work with a pinch of salt.

Other more recent work featured: Gursky’s (1993) Montparnasse Mouchette Building and East London photos by Chris Dorley-Brown (though not this one of Ilford, but others in the 2015-6 series).

Chris Dorley-Brown (2016), Westplan House, Ilford.

For me, the Dorley-Brown images (impressive though they are) have reinforced my commitment to explore more collaborative image making and to explore more directly the relationship between the residents and the environment (and, in particular, the social infrastructure, or rather, in some cases, the lack of it). The emphasis of the exhibition is really on health, and the images play a supporting role. The accompanying Iain Sinclair book, Living with Buildings and Walking with Ghosts: On health and architecture, though, is something else (includes a very touching chapter about visiting Jonathan Meades in Marseille).

Addendum [26.11.18]. The above building in Ilford, taken in passing this morning. I didn’t have the right lens to duplicate the shot, but I did get the green traffic light (as Dorley-Brown always does).

And another angle on it, with Pioneer Point in reflection.

27.11.18. Final go at this (until we get longer and brighter days in the summer).