Thursday, October 24, 2019

And Now For Something Completely Different....

Around 25 years ago, not long before I moved from my home of 14 years by the Grand Union Canal in North Paddington, a near neighbour began secretly embellishing the back yard of his one bedroom housing association flat with an extraordinary collection of home-made artworks.

Gerard 'Gerry' Dalton, who died last month at the age of 83, left behind an astonishing number of crudely modelled and painted statuettes that fill his back yard and line a narrow 50 metre strip of land that runs between the canal and the Victorian terrace that overlooks it. There is no public access, and the display is largely hidden from view by two rows of neatly clipped bushes. As things stand, the property will be cleared and re-possessed by Genesis, the housing association that owns it, on 31st October.

According to a small ad hoc group of admirers who have started a crowd-funding campaign to preserve the works in situ, there are around 200 concrete and mixed media sculptures, 170 wall mounted works and a 50 metre long mural.

It is hard to know what to make of them. Irish-born Dalton, at various times a station porter, factory hand, and catering worker, clearly had a mischievous take on the historical record. The concrete statuettes – sculptures, artworks, monuments, call them what you will - are between two and three feet high, each with a roughly cast plinth, many of which are inscribed with the names of what appears to be a random selection of mostly long dead public figures. Emperor Vespasian, Prince Albert, assorted other royals, obscure aristocrats, Marcus Aurelius, Hercules, and Lord Lucan all get a look in. All the figures have painted red eyes. What was he trying to say?

Inside the flat, every inch of wall space is covered with framed pictures, mostly cut from magazines, with additions of paint by the artist. On the floors of the bedroom and living room are gaudily painted wooden models of Hampton Court, Buckingham Palace and various other stately homes.

Given the quantity of work on display, both inside and out, the flat is surprisingly clean. This presents further puzzles: where did all this productive labour take place? Casting concrete is a messy business. No sacks of cement are evident, nor the tools necessary to mix and model it. And how did several tons of the stuff get there? 

I guess the unanswered questions just add to the mystery of what the campaigners call a ”monumental body of site specific outsider art”. Whatever its significance, the campaign to save the collection has, according to The Telegraph and The Times, attracted some high profile supporters, including Jarvis Cocker, Nicholas Serota, Sir Charles Saumarez Smith CBE, Louis Platman, curator at the Geffrye Museum, the artist Richard Wentworth CBE and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association.  If it survives the 31st October deadline (Genesis, not Brexit), maybe all will become clearer.  More pictures here.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

From The Archives: Walterton And Elgin Action Group, 1985-1995

Seamus Clarke in his sub-standard flat before renovation, Walterton Estate, 1993

Another scanning session has resurrected a set of photos from the campaign by residents of two North Paddington estates to save their council-owned homes from sale to a private developer.  Explanation below.  More pictures here

In 1985, with the Greater London Council on the verge of abolition, Walterton and Elgin, two of its estates in the north of the borough of Westminster, were handed over to Westminster City Council.

The two estates, one comprised of Victorian terraces, the other of two 1960s towers surrounded by low-rise concrete blocks, were in poor condition. Without any consultation, the council immediately began drawing up plans to sell them off to private developers.

WEAG posters, Walterton Estate, 1987

Residents responded by forming the Walterton and Elgin Action Group (WEAG).  At very short notice, more than 200 tenants attended a meeting of the council's housing committee to demand that their needs and wishes should take priority.

It was the beginning of a seven year campaign, and WEAG, with a programme of inventive direct action and assistance from a wide range of sympathetic housing professionals, legal advisers and local Labour councillors, went on to draw up its own plan to save the homes for local people in need of rented housing. It lobbied council meetings, paid unannounced visits to the offices of property developers, signed petitions, and flooded the area with posters publicising its struggle.

Unannounced WEAG visit to Regalian Property Company, 1987

The Conservative led council, under the leadership of Dame Shirley Porter and concurrently fighting accusations of gerrymandering over its Building Stable Communities programme, resisted all the way. But in April 1992, the tenants and residents were victorious, their newly-formed Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) taking over the ownership and control of 921 homes, together with a dowry of £22 million to cover the cost of repairs and renovations.

Removing asbestos from a flat in Chantry Point, Elgin Estate, 1995

Friday, April 05, 2019

Public Sector Workplaces 1981-1991

Southwark Council, Lugard Road Kitchens, 1985

These photographs are from a set of newly scanned black and white negatives I shot in the 1980s, at a time when much of my work was commissioned by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE) and the National Association of Government Officers (NALGO). Others were taken for the Popular Planning Unit of the Greater London Council, then led by Ken Livingstone, and for a variety of other publications and organisations.  More photos here.

It was a time of rapid change and struggle in the public sector, with the radical “contracting out” privatisation policies of the Thatcher government compounding the impact of the 1970s public spending cuts under Labour that had culminated in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979.

Domestics occupy administrator's office, St.Mary's Hospital, 1981

These policies were disastrous both for the workers who provided our services, cutting jobs, pay and conditions in the NHS, local government and elsewhere, and for the service users who relied on them.

They weren't good for photographers either. Claims of commercial confidentiality, and a growing obsession with written consent forms, made access to contracted out workplaces much more difficult to obtain.

More text here.

Contracted out domestic worker, St.Charles Hospital, Notting Hill, 1986
Manchester City Council refuse incinerator, 1987