Interview: James Davies, Explorer Of Ignored London

By M@ Last edited 102 months ago
Interview: James Davies, Explorer Of Ignored London


James Davies is a photographer with a particular eye for the overlooked and interstitial spaces of London. He recently put together a small book of his best shots. As we're also ever-on-the-quest for London peculiars and unusual city insights, we thought we'd interview him.

So, describe your book in a Twitter-friendly 140 characters or fewer.

A look at the often unseen or overlooked spaces that help bind London together.

What prompted you to start this project?

I realised a while ago that a theme was starting to emerge in my photography and that I was drawn to places that are part of the infrastructure of London, like back streets or places slightly off the beaten track. When I started taking photos a few years back it was always the city that I wanted to shoot. I started out with ideas of being an architectural photographer, but then got drawn into photographing graffiti and street art. This naturally took me to the kind of places that I still photograph today. When I gained a bit more confidence as a photographer I started to try and study the city in greater depth. I'd only ever looked at my photographs individually but began to realise that they might work well if presented as a collection. I looked through photos I'd taken over the past few years and tried to spot connections between them. Once I'd decided on the final selection they seemed to sit together well.

You've decided to publish the photos in book form. Why did you choose this format rather than, say, starting a Flickr group where you'd probably get a larger audience and more interaction?

Because I've been using Flickr for a while now and wanted to try and spread my wings a little. As far as I'm concerned Flickr is one of the biggest success stories of the internet. For a beginner photographer taking their first photos or for well-established professionals there is a lot that can be learned from Flickr. But the experience in trying to put together a collection of photographs that work well in sequence and will look good on a printed page has really helped me identify how far I've come as a photographer and where I want to go in the future.

The book is self-published through the Blurb service. Would you recommend the experience to others thinking of producing photo books?

Absolutely. The print on demand industry seems to be booming at the moment and there are many other companies besides Blurb that offer the same service. However, Blurb's BookSmart software was incredibly easy to use. Once I had the order of the photographs and the general look of the book I wanted in place it took about half an hour to complete. Naturally using someone like Blurb is good for photographers who may not be able to get work published by proper publishers and gives you total control over the content and layout. Don't go expecting to make a fortune from it though. Blurb does all the work and wants to make a profit. You can add a mark-up to the total cost of the book, allowing you to make a profit, but be reasonable when doing this, otherwise you run the risk of setting the price of your book too high.

Which parts of town do you have a particular affinity towards (with respect to this project)?

The Thames path from North Greenwich tube into the centre of Greenwich is a place I could go back to again and again. It genuinely feels like the last forgotten part of London. It's the complete opposite of the London put forward by the likes of the Mayor's office or Visit London. Parts of the path go through a building site and it must be the only part of London where you can walk for a mile and not come into contact with anyone, like the antithesis of Oxford Street. Also, just the other side of the river, the area around Silvertown I find compelling, it's like stepping back in time. I got really pissed off when the Standard did its Dispossessed campaign a few months ago as I couldn't believe that they were so shocked to discover that poverty still exists in London. To me it just showed the bubble they must live in if they aren't aware of the London a lot of people live in.

Many of your images are relatively close to the centre of London. Have you considered expanding the project to the outer boroughs? Who, apart from residents, ever goes to Pinner, or Bexleyheath, or Rainham, for example?

Yes, absolutely. When I put the map together I realised that there are still so many parts of London to investigate. I think I've neglected South London, but this can only be down to familiarity as I've only ever lived south of the river in the 10 years I've lived in London. Places on the list to explore are, amongst others, Mitcham, Croydon, Tottenham, Walthamstow and Brent.

Do you ever feel at risk, flashing around a (presumably) expensive camera in parts of town that might not be so safe?

In all honesty I've never had a problem from a member of the public whilst out taking photos. I try to avoid taking direct photos of people or candid street photography shots because that doesn't interest me. If people move into a shot I'm lining up and I think it'll enhance the photo then I'll keep them in. You can feel a little conscious of being the bloke with the camera and that somebody with an attitude might want to have a word but it has never happened yet. Apart from the well documented jumped up security guards hassling people for taking photos anywhere near private property, I think generally London is still pretty accommodating towards photography and Londoners are happy just to let you get on with it. Londoners know that they live in an iconic city that people want to photograph, whether that means photographing Tower Bridge or some back street in Stockwell.

You can buy James' book, or preview the shots, over on Blurb.

Last Updated 03 May 2010