Always taking the same photograph
I’m no photographer. I don’t even own a camera. Well, not a proper one, anyway. But having a camera phone, I do find myself taking images here and there on my travels. As I suppose we all do. But I seem to take a lot of photos of the same place.
Avenue Road winds its way down from Northumberland Heath to Erith town centre. It is mainly residential, although there is an old people’s home halfway down the hill. It is closed now, and there are plans to use it to house homeless families. Locals are wary of the plans. I understand that, but I also think people need homes, and making use of an empty site isn’t the worst plan in the world. When you reach the bottom of the hill there is a turning that leads to a bowls club, a leisure centre, a park. Just your normal suburban street.From the top of the hill you can make out the Thames, then Rainham Marshes, and on a good day the Essex that lies beyond. There are hills beyond the marshes, but I can’t work out which ones, or where exactly they are, no matter how long I look at a map.
It is easy to forget about the Thames in plenty of parts of London. Where once we looked to the river, now we look away. There is something special about a glimpse like this, and then a glimpse of a whole other county, and then with the marshes a part of London that is still wild, undeveloped.
This isn’t one of the sanctioned views of London, or within London. It is not the London Eye or Primrose Hill. You’re not surrounded by tourists here. You won’t see the standard sights. But it is still some sort of London. A hidden one, a forgotten one perhaps. A view of the edge of a city.
There is that view, but I also look up as there is a huge sky here. Sometimes it is sunny, sometimes overcast, but there is this funny sort of drama to it, above the streets and houses. The normal and the extraordinary. The everyday and the infinite.
I keep taking the same photo, but of course it is never the same. I stop at a different spot each time. The light is never the same. Sometimes I think I am searching for the perfect photograph. The best composition, light, feel. I experiment with where the horizon lies, with having lampposts in or out of shot, and where they lie if I do include them. I might wait for a car, or for a car to pass.
But sometimes I’m just walking, decide it is a good day to take a photo, and try to take something that isn’t too wonky or blurry. This isn’t necessarily some grand project. I just like taking photos of a spot I pass by regularly. Most of the photos I take aren’t great, anyway, so while strive for anything beyond a nice snapshot?
More often than not I walk along this stretch early on a Saturday morning. The streets are pretty empty. It is really peaceful. I can stop and admire the view. If the mood takes me, I can wander around a bit until I find the best perspective. Sometimes I’ll see a sailboat pass on the Thames, but my phone never switches to camera mode in time to capture it. And the camera isn’t really strong enough to pick up on something that far away anyway.
I suppose there are many more dramatic views out there, even just in London. But I like the element of surprise, of this view just appearing as you turn a corner, and how the unfamiliar becomes a little more familiar each time I walk by. I like that you can see the Thames from somewhere so normal. Avenue Road. A funny name for a road, as it is just two names for a street placed together. It is a road, and it is tree-lined, so lets call it Avenue Road. I don’t think the area was developed until the late 1800s, so there is no funny historical name. It is just a road. And I quite like that.
I’ve been putting off this post for weeks, maybe months. There are always more photos to take. There are plenty I’ve taken but haven’t used. Maybe I’ll try taking a photo with a proper camera one day. There are still different lights, weather conditions, times of day to experiment with. And I’ll keep walking by and down and up Avenue Road anyway. I do that all the time. The photos will still be taken. The view will keep changing. The view will stay the same.
[…] I have stumbled into this sort of approach myself, albeit in a very, very amateur way. I find the subtle shifts in light, positioning, subject matter fascinating. I think it tells us so much more than one photograph ever could, even if what exactly it is telling us isn’t immediately clear. It makes us engage with the subject matter and the process of photography more fully. It is a marking of time, but also an ownership of time. It doesn’t let one single image dissolve into nostalgia, It doesn’t let one single image replace our memory. But in that marking of time it makes each of those moments, those exposures, feel a longer way away. What was it then. What was I then. […]