by Mark Cowper
July's lethal fire at a Camberwell block has shined the spotlight back on Britain's uncomfortable relationship with high-density tower block living. Yet Cowper's photographs ignore the alarmist headlines and peer uncritically into the individuality that lies behind grey concrete conformity. As a typology of our culturally and ethnically blended city, it is a fascinating study of how people can bend near-identical spaces to their own whim. Roland Barthes could probably spin a slim volume out of the aesthetics of the light fixtures alone, none of which are the same in any one photograph — despite this originally being a council block — and a testament to how far people will shape their home environment. Cultural assumptions are inverted: we spy an architect living in a dreary room furnished by Ikea's finest, a German IT consultant with a flat apparently styled by Wallpaper magazine, and in contrast, the cold loneliness of the unoccupied premises.
Photographs of high-rise interiors inevitably hark back to Richard Billinghman, whose searingly candid family snaps typified for many the worst of council block living. Yet Cowper is interested in the opposite; the placid ordinaryness, the delicate intimacy and personality given to such equal spatial dimensions. Is it too much to hope that high-rise refuseniks in town planning be taken to see this show before it closes?