Londons - The Polycentric City

Mass Collective

Londons – The Polycentric City maps out the capital from eight different perspectives, rejecting a single, monolithic view in favour of a fragmentary mosaic. Each photographer worked in a different location, in areas frequented by locals. These areas aren’t famous, but they’re key to understanding the city. London’s urban sprawl expresses its true contemporary identity; as such, it holds clues to its future. If this project is a kind of map, it contains the seeds of the next evolution.

Some of those seeds look distinctly dystopian. The landscape in Barking, Kingston, and around the greenbelt are tightly controlled and partitioned, while the wave of new tower blocks in Nine Elms looks overwhelming. Other areas show past failures, initiatives that didn’t pan out, such as the fading carparks in Croydon, or the grimy land under the Westway. Elsewhere London’s a palimpsest, a jumble of time harder to read in Brentford or the strip up to Stratford. London is 2000 years old, and it’s still in the process of shapeshifting.

Sugarcoated Island
Luca Piffaretti

The area stretching from the mouth of the River Lea to Stratford is changing in stages. Once-hectic industrial zones are morphing into urban wasteland, while warehouses, scrapyards and shrinking pockets of nature are being transformed into mixed-use developments. Perimeter fences have appeared and cranes dominate the skyline, adding to the sense of a palimpsest constructed from layers of evolution. This area was once made up of noisy and labour-intensive docklands and warehouses, and this work considers whether the most recent changes are paying tribute to its historical heritage, or attempting to hide it under a fresh coat of paint.

The River Before Us
Caroline Charrel

Kingston is a new centre for London in terms of its speed of development, but it’s an old town. This isn’t always evident to visitors. And while it’s easy to assume that, outside the city centre, nature and the river are wilder and easier to access, this too can be a misconception. Many places here are privatised and fenced up along Kingston’s riverside. Take Seething Wells, an important part of the city history and with great ecological potential, yet out of reach to all but its owners, who planned to bury it under storage units. This is a project about aspiration, deception, and the hidden beauty to be found in neglected places.

Road to Nowhere
Henry Woide

The countryside around London is protected from development but that doesn’t mean it’s left free. Carved up into pockets of private land, it’s tightly controlled and managed, as are the people who visit it. This project conveys the land as an object, a space to be owned and contained within the four walls of the frame, and in doing so attempts to subvert the tradition of land ownership and champion the right to roam. Taken as if by a pastoral flaneur, these images are directed via signs and objects which show the consequences threatened for making a wrong turn. These photographs are like footprints, acting as a memory of the wanderings.

Urban Beings
Francesco Russo

Nine Elms, South West London was once a bustling industrial area but is being rapidly transformed into a high-density modern centre dotted by imposing high-rise developments. The contrast between the Victorian brick terraces and monumental new constructions is shot in quiet night scenes, which give a sense of the silent but relentless evolution of the neighbourhood. The lights of the construction sites reflect on the bare concrete structures, giving them an otherworldly quality and the sense that they could be extraterrestrial objects, landing in and populating the riverside area between Vauxhall and Battersea.

Walking the Westway
Andrew Meredith

The elevated section of the famous red-route Westway links West London to Central and North London. Above, the cityscape opens to reveal high-rise developments towering over hazardous junkyards, train lines and rail network buildings, rooftop bus stations, cement works, storage yards and acres of unfinished redevelopments and building work. Beneath are grimy corners and dumping grounds, memorials, protest graffiti, caravans and unfortunate souls living on the street in plain sight. Tracing a route more often only glimpsed at speed from a fast-moving car, these images bring together these two levels of life in the shadow of Grenfell Tower.

Croydon – Motor City
Sue Barr

This series of photographs is inspired by the modernist legacy of Croydon, which underwent a major expansion in the 1950s and 60. Motor transport was an integral part of the urban planners’ futurist dreams, and office blocks with aspirational names such as Apollo House, Luna House and Corinthian House were built in the centre of town around multistorey car parks. In this project, the architecture of parking expresses itself in aging ramped landscapes and Brutalist concrete, creating a scenery of abstract forms and fading Utopian ideals.

True Fictions from an Unreal City
Polly Tootal

The liminal zones of East London are constantly changing and appropriated, and as such they show clearly how contemporary geopolitics and economic factors shape the environment. From retail parks to chemical factories, the landscape here is shaped for human consumption, dominated by boundaries and borders, and kept under constant surveillance by security guards and cameras. It is a world that exists on the fringes of what we interpret as place, where alienation and control rule. By focusing on this area, these images investigate the nature of the ‘periphery’, deliberately using non-specific locations to conjure unsettling anxieties and hint at both our fragile contemporary condition and dystopian possible future.

Hyenas and Hippopotami
Simon Kennedy

The remains of hyenas, hippopotami, elephants, bison and giant deer have all been found at Brentford, as well as evidence suggesting it has been populated since the stone age. The site of historic estates and battles, Brentford has been a centre of farming and boat building, but is now home to high-tech companies such as Dell and GSK. Shot with a variety of pictorialist soft-focus lenses and filters, including a meniscus lens from a 1920s Kodak camera, these images capture locations along the Thames and the River Brent where these histories are simultaneously evident, and where the struggle with modernisation is revealed.


Phoenix Art Space
10 – 14 Waterloo Place

6–30 October

Wednesday 11:00–17:00
Thursday 11:00–17:00
Friday 11:00–17:00
Saturday 11:00–17:00
Sunday 11:00–17:00