For two years, 13 photographers have been documenting London, unknowingly creating a record of pre-lockdown life
Each photographer was given an area at the end of a tube line to document. Little did they know London – and the world – was about to change forever.
For two years now, we’ve been following an Instagram account, intrigued by its bio and the beautifully diverse documentary photography it was sharing. With some portraiture, some still life and some landscape, slowly but surely, it began to build up a narrative of London, of the heterogeneous communities which inhabit the city and the multifarious topography included in its sprawling urban landscape. It paints a picture of a London which is different around every street corner but in which its diversity is the very thing unifying its population.
Today, All Change officially launches, bringing together 13 contemporary photographers – Jocelyn Allen, Tom Farmer, Hollie Fernando, Tori Ferenc, Will Hartley, Owen Harvey, Sam Ivin, Lewis Khan, Lauren Maccabee, Clara Nebeling, Cian Oba-Smith, Kasia Wozniak, and Alice Zoo – who have each been documenting life at the end of London’s tube lines.
Owen Harvey initiated the project. Having spent a long time documenting subculture, in particular mods and skinheads, he wanted to work on something with a larger pool of photographers in order to explore the identity of one place in various locations. At the time, Britain was in a state of flux and crisis – Brexit had left the country divided, confused and quite frankly exhausted – and London, with its diverse communities and large population was a hotbed for these conversations.
On how he compiled such an incredible group of artist to collaborate on All Change, Owen tells us: “Even though I hadn’t worked with the photographers before, I was aware of some of them and already appreciated their work. Bringing the group together was quite a slow process, we wanted to ensure we had a variety of photographers from different backgrounds, not just documentary photographers. Between a few of us we asked friends of friends, sent out Instagram messages and got conversations going. Then everything came together pretty organically.”
With the group assembled, they set about choosing their respective areas of investigation. “We went round the tube map and chose which ends we were going to cover to try and create a kind of circle,” Joyce Allen explains. “Then we took turns pulling the tube lines out of a hat. I still have my piece of paper in my drawer with my tube line on – somehow it survived when I left London and moved up north earlier this year.”
Each artist was then given carte blanche to document their area however they wanted, which is part of what made the project so satisfying for Alice Zoo, as everyone took such a different approach. She adds: “When we started the project it felt like London was at a transitional point — Brexit, media reports of increasing social division, and party political discord — and so the work aimed to celebrate and explore the underreported moments and people at the city’s outskirts. Little did we know that the entire world was about to change forever, and London along with it. All Change indeed.”
With no plans to continue the project for now, what All Change represents is a record of London life before lockdown. The images are all the more pertinent in their documentation of a changing city – one which is now changed forever. As we begin to understand what the impact of the global pandemic is going to be, All Change asks “after it’s over, and we return to our former lives, how might life in London look in the future?”
Here, all 13 photographers choose one image from their two-year body of work, telling us about their experience of All Change – who they met and what they learned.
Kasia Wozniak: Upminster
Kasia Wozniak is a Polish photographer, who lives and works in London. Working predominantly with the wet plate collodion technique, she is interested in the way we view photographs “today”.
I decided to focus on the historic background of Upminster. During my research, I learned of its roots in farming and market gardening. These images ask the viewer to consider trades that disappeared from the land over time.
It is estimated that between 30 to 50 per cent of British food is imported from the EU. With new trade deals ahead – what will happen with British Food Standards post-Brexit?
Each photograph holds imported requited goods that come from EU farms.
Upminster (Havering) voted 69.7 per cent to leave, the highest vote in London.
Cian Oba-Smith: Heathrow
Cian Oba-Smith is an Irish Nigerian photographer who was born and raised in London. His work focuses on communities and subcultures around the world with a particular interest in approaching subjects that are often misrepresented and presenting them in a different light. The relationship between human experience and the environment is at the core of his projects.
Heathrow looks at the people and places surrounding the airport and the link between the proposed expansion of the airport through the development of a third runway and the communities that will be affected by it.
Using the map proposed by the Heathrow Expansion project, I explored the areas that are at risk of being demolished by the plans and documented the communities that may no longer exist in the near future. Like most people my experience with the area is limited to travelling through Heathrow Airport, I was interested in seeing past the surface level experience I had of the area and finding out the intricacies that make up the area.
I discovered that the area was made up of incredibly diverse communities. The airport is a thread that links and weaves its way through these communities to create the tapestry that is the area. It is one that lives in the shadow of planes that travel overhead and this creates a complex relationship with it. On the one hand, for many people there is a reliance on the airport for their income, however, on the other hand, it may end up being the harbourer of destruction for the people that live there.
Clara Nebeling: Bank
Clara Nebeling is a fashion and portrait photographer interested in the space in-between the two. She works between London and Berlin.
My work is inspired by many walks through the area of Bank and the alienness that comes with it. By night or daytime, during the week or on a calm Sunday, you can always feel the presence of money in the square mile as its driving factor. During my research, I came across many interesting stories about the heart of London and how it holds power over many things that we are unaware of. The nostalgic symbol of paper money came into my mind while walking through the streets, how its a completely useless piece of paper but on the other hand there is nothing more important in the area of Bank.
As at its core it’s nothing more but a paper, I let kids draw on it to recreate its value as an object but destroy its financial power.
Working in this area has shown me that spaces of money feel inhuman. They are not inviting, they are not transparent. But if money is our creation why do the spaces not belong to us? Is there a way of making the concept of money more human?
Hollie Fernando: Enfield
Hollie Fernando is a British photographer and director based in London. Known for her rich colour palettes and a dreamlike quality which imbues her work, Hollie creates arresting images which are both delicate and powerful at the same time.
Previous to the project, I had never been to Enfield and had only heard of it because of the poltergeist hauntings that happened back in the 70s! I had no idea where to start, and because it reminded me so much of my leafy suburban town (which is as far south as Enfield is North to the centre of London), I had a bit of trouble feeling excited and inspired at the beginning.
At the start, I wanted to focus on a specific group of people, but after getting in touch with a number of different volunteer-based community groups and small businesses and meeting them to take some photos, I realised my patterns of research were all based in and around green spaces and preservation. I changed my approach to include everything and anyone green and it opened up lots of opportunities for making work. I scouted people for portraits in the parks, documented London’s only commercial vineyard, visited an animal ambulance and rescue centre who take in injured animals who can’t yet, or ever, make it back to the wild and spent a few days with an organic farm.
I chose this image of Victor to represent my experience as it was the first photograph that I felt a small victory over (pun unintended). I hadn’t yet found my project’s final path, and was still running after people in the street but was mainly getting batted away and felt quite disheartened. But Victor spoke with me for a long time after his portrait and, looking back, was ultimately quite integral to my overall learning within the project. I am a photographer who is used to coming onto set with my subjects ready and willing and never thought more deeply into how it feels to have a stranger request to have your portrait when you may have never had that experience before. It has helped me understand my subjects more. But overall, it was so heartwarming to find and meet all these volunteer-run green preserving projects and groups out there and to be part of a collective focused on showing true documentation of the wonderful city we live in.
Lauren Maccabee: Edgware Road
Lauren Maccabee is a London-based photographer. Her work is notable for the crossover between portraiture and fashion, with a focus on youth culture. With a strong interest in colour and narrative, Lauren’s work feels both honest and playful.
Edgware Road is the only underground station we chose to document that ends in Zone 1. Large parts of Zone 1 are busy and touristy, so the challenge of this project for me was to dig a bit deeper. There were, and still are, huge changes happening. Over the period of time I spent there numerous high rises were built from scratch to finish, at what seemed like a ridiculous speed.
After spending a lot of time walking on the streets around the station, I was most drawn to Church Street market. Church Street Market has been running for years and is the centre of an area which is changing rapidly. There is a small basketball court on a side street just off the market. I spent whole days sitting on benches, having conversations with people and understanding the routines of the area. I started to pick up on little things, I saw the same postman three times, but the weather dictated what colour hat he wore. The same groups of kids that gathered around bus stops and chicken shops after school.
When having conversations with people, the main concerns were regarding the growing inequalities and rising rent costs, which is a huge issue across London. There were also a lot of conversations about the market itself, and many people expressed the importance of the library which is on the same road. The images from the project reflect moments of calm and intimacy with strangers in an otherwise busy environment.
Tori Ferenc: Epping
Tori Ferenc is a Polish portrait and documentary photographer based in London. In her personal work, she mainly focuses on the idea of identity and community.
The area I drew as my part of the project was Epping. It is right at the east end of the Central Line, and it does not really feel like London any more – it is more like the English countryside. When I first arrived there, I was quite anxious, feeling like it might be really difficult to find something interesting enough to make a project around it. I realised I cannot really be spontaneous in this kind of work, or just hope that I will stumble upon a subject to photograph. Considering how far Epping is and how long it takes to travel there (on average, over an hour from the place where I used to live), I didn’t want to take my chances.
Lucky for me, right at Epping station, I saw a poster advertising activities for elderly residents, and I thought that might be an interesting point of view, considering how often seniors are excluded from the mainstream. Therefore, in this project, I have focused my gaze on the seniors and their experience. I think my favourite picture from the project is the dancing couples at the weekly tea dance at a town hall.
Owen Harvey: Morden
Owen has embedded himself into subcultures around the world, focussing on group identities. He often works on long term documentary projects, exploring the notion of masculinity and style.
I was allocated Morden, the final stop of the Northern Line, as my area to explore as part of All Change. I’d never been to Morden before, having no prior connection to the suburban area that I discovered.
Based there is the Baitul Futuh, the largest mosque in western Europe and with it, a very large Muslim community. The mosque attracts up to 10,000 visitors every Friday.
I decided I would like to focus on the young men within this community who were training to be Imams, as they would be regarded as leaders of their community on completion of their studies.
I was granted access to photograph these young men within their gated community and living quarters, where they study and live for seven years. During this time, they have limited connection to the outside world, with no access to distractions such as mobile phones or internet access. I wanted to learn about what drives these young men to dedicate their life to religion.
I’ve chosen this image of Adeel Tayyab, as it holds a feeling of solidarity for me, that comments on the dedication to faith and the isolation that these young men commit to, throughout their journey of study.
Jocelyn Allen: Watford
Jocelyn Allen a Liverpool-based artist who mainly works with photography, video, performance and dance. She primarily uses herself within her personal work, whilst exploring the themes of hiding and revealing, body image, self-esteem, self-confidence and anxiety.
My assigned station was Watford. I had only been there once before the project.
My project is called Going Round The Houses, All Around The Houses as I photographed everyone – over 40 women and one person who identifies as agender – at home. I met them through social media ads. I asked them all the same set of questions, which were mainly to do with body image, self-esteem, and self-confidence, though health and motherhood came up a lot in the conversations too.
Early on with my shoots I noticed that my favourite pictures were those where hands and arms were consciously posed. The pictures seemed more interesting to me, but I told myself to stop instructing them this way as it seemed repetitive. However, I soon realised that I should play up to this more and the presence of arms and hands in my previous work became more apparent.
I chose this picture of Chloe as it is my favourite one from the series and I think it shows off the playfulness well. Meeting her was also the first time that I had heard about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
I really enjoyed the conversations that I had with everyone in the project and I am grateful to them all for giving me their time and sharing their stories with me. As cliche as it sounds, I learned that you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, as just by looking at someone you don’t know what they are going through or have gone through.
Alice Zoo: Lewisham
Alice Zoo is a photographer and writer based in the UK.
For my work in Lewisham, I decided to make photographs in the private space of the home, focussing on simple, intimate details of family life. I’m interested in learning about people via their environments and relationships, and I was quite consciously trying to work with subject matter that felt universal, even though it was taking place somewhere specific.
What’s happening in my pictures of Lewisham is happening everywhere, that is: people at home being close to one another, tender with one another, getting on with cooking and cleaning up and playing. And, of course, never more so than now, in lockdown. I’m glad to have made this work given today’s context, as I think being able to picture the ways that others are spending their time is especially useful and important during a period in which we are all separate, and town centres and other communal gathering spaces are largely empty.
This image of Meije, Hafiz and Rumi is a good example of what I was trying to document: the small moments that take place at home when people are comfortable. It feels like the image in which I’m most invisible as the photographer, and in the context of someone else’s home that feels like success.
Lewis Khan: Hammersmith
Lewis Khan is a photographic artist from London, working with stills and moving image. His portrait based work is a study of emotion, relationships, and identity.
I was working in the Hammersmith area of west London, and I was focussing on youth communities and organisations. Most of the youth clubs in the area of London I grew up in were shut down years ago due to a lack of funding, and through this project I had my eyes opened to just how much of a detriment to my area this has been.
In Hammersmith I saw a genuine community of young people formed around the youth club, with both mental and physical space on offer for the young people there. These kinds of vital spaces that young people can inhabit are increasingly in decline, and there is a strong correlation between government cuts to youth services and the rise in knife crime.
I saw these young people as empowered and I wanted to celebrate this whilst at the same time offering a visual metaphor for both the fragility of adolescence, and the impact of government austerity upon it.
Sam Ivin: Brixton
Sam Ivin is a photographic artist who explores social issues and the people connected with them through collaborative projects. By documenting their stories and perspectives he hopes to provide a more personal, tangible understanding of them.
Mosaic Clubhouse aims to bring people with mental health issues out of isolation. The clubhouse approach to recovery emphasises community and coproduction; it is deliberately understaffed so its members are encouraged to take part in the day-to-day running of the centre, enabling them to meet new people and build their confidence. There are over 300 clubhouses in 30 countries.
I was interested in exploring Mosaic because I had never heard of the clubhouse model before and was curious to see how it worked. It seemed relevant too, as there was a lot of news on men’s mental health and suicide at the time.
You don’t know how people will react to the invitation to participate. I was aware I was working with vulnerable people who were at the clubhouse to get better, I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary pressure or stress. People were very welcoming and even if they didn’t want to take part they were happy to chat and explain their own experience of being a member at the clubhouse.
I began by offering a small series of free photography and craft workshops where members were encouraged to explore their identity, their mental health journey and the friendships they had made at Mosaic. This was done with Polaroids, collaging and other artwork. During this process we made “collage portraits”, a process where each person decorates a headshot template (that I had made in advance) – with images they feel best represent themselves – family, friends, pets, holidays, anything that is meaningful to them. The portraits seemed to be an effective way of people sharing their stories with others and helped communicate aspects of their story that would have been difficult with words.
Through numerous visits I created a series of collaborative collage portraits exploring members’ identities, which give the viewer an insight into their lives and time at Mosaic. Alongside these portraits I made a piece of writing with each member to give them an opportunity to share how Mosaic has impacted their lives and helps us further understand their situation.
My biggest learning during the project was that being on your own for long periods is one of the worst things you can do for your mental health, it’s important to spend time with others.
I’ve chosen Idara’s portrait because I love the images she chose and the way she’s arranged them. It’s a strong portrait that conveys her personality and story in an engaging way.
Tom Farmer: Harrow & Wealdstone
Tom’s work is rooted in narrative and explores themes of community and belonging, whilst conveying the intimacy of personal stories. Tom studied documentary photography at the University of Wales, Newport and has been the recipient of an Arts Council England Grant and the Magenta Flash Forward Foundation Award.
I had never been to Harrow & Wealdstone before undertaking this project, my only thoughts were of the famous Harrow school, but I soon realised after my first visit that there is much more to Harrow. My initial approach was to wander around with my camera and see what I found, I gravitated towards the bus station as this was where people were naturally congregating as they waited to carry on their journeys. I made some images, but something was missing, I wanted a more immersive experience rather than just being an observer passing through. I had seen a poster for a monthly roller disco called “SK8 City London” in the local sports hall and thought that this would be something interesting to explore.
After my first visit to the roller disco at Byron Hall (named after the poet Lord Byron who studied at Harrow) I was instantly captivated by the intricacy of the dance moves and the speed and agility of the skaters. It wasn’t what I expected at all, these skaters are much more like dancers, often exhibiting subtle skill, balance and flair. Over the course of two years I focused on the culture and scene around the disco and the intensity of the movement and style of the skaters. I discovered a small but thriving scene, a melting pot of age groups and backgrounds where people unite over their love of roller skating. There is a strong sense of community, with dedicated people coming from all over London to skate there, hang out and generally escape for a few hours from their daily existence.
Being part of this project forced me to be creative and to push myself to experiment with different processes and ways of image making, it was very challenging, especially the lighting conditions inside the hall. I chose this image to represent my project because I think it captures the subtlety of the movements and the style of many of the skaters at this roller disco.
Will Hartley: Stratford
Will Hartley grew up in north Devon. He studied documentary photography at Newport University in Wales, going on to win several awards and competitions. Will makes projects about places and people with a strong interest in youth culture.
My station was Stratford and I only really knew Stratford from crossing through the station interchange or cycling past the Olympic park.
I found out about a group of dancers called Rain Crew based in Stratford and was invited down to one of their open practice sessions in Centre stage studios. I wasn't sure what to expect when I first started photographing the sessions, but I was blown away by the skill level of the dancers. I was amongst professionals who train hard and win “Breaking” battles all over the world.
Over the course of two years I continued to shoot the sessions as well as Rain Crew’s Jams held all over London. I started to understand who the best crews and dancers were and slowly I immersed myself in the culture of the scene.
I chose this image of B-Girl Vanessa at one of Rain Crew’s Spring Jams. I really wanted to capture the intensity of the competitions, the camaraderie of the crews and also the sheer physicality of the dance moves that were put together, seemingly effortlessly. The battles are such an important part of the dance scene, it’s what all the hard training day and night is for. At a time when social distancing is so prominent, who knows when breaking battles will be allowed to happen again. When they do, will they still be the same?
My project took different paths throughout, I started on digital, moved to film and then went back to digital. I love shooting on film and was determined to make this project about dancers on film, but in reality, most the places I shot were dimly lit rooms, with dancers moving quickly. I learned that shooting on film isn’t always the best tool for the project and isn’t always going to give the best results. Being involved in All Change forced me to work in a way that was different to what I was used to. Although at times challenging, it helped me to grow as a photographer and learn new skills.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.