Anita Strasser, photographer profile
Anita has been photographing Deptford since moving here in 2009. This extract from her book explains her compulsion to document life in the communities where she’s lived, and what makes Deptford such an interesting place.
I come from a village in the Austrian Alps where I bump into familiar faces wherever I go, where I buy from local businesses and chat to people about issues concerning the village. I have lived in many different countries and I guess it is due to my background that I always long for contact with my new neighbourhood as well as an understanding of local history, and always try to make myself at home by finding my place in the local community. The desire to become familiar with my new surroundings increases my natural curiosity about the people, the shops and the products, the history, and whatever else a place has to offer, and photography is a means of establishing contact as it allows me to address strangers and ask about their lives, their origins, and aspects of life in that particular area.
Whilst I might shy away from exploring a space if there is no particular purpose, my photographic urge gives me the extra push to close the door behind me and dive into the world of an individual, initiate contact, and try the various products and services on offer. Repeated contact, encounters with different people, observing the happenings, taking in the vibes, and making myself known to locals creates this feeling of slowly becoming a member of the community and of feeling at home. This process of familiarisation and the collecting of stories also raises my awareness of problems in an area (often historical and political issues) which, in turn, helps me develop an understanding of a place, and it is this knowledge that directs many of the questions I ask. I take the photos some time during this investigatory period, some time when I feel that the presence of my camera is not perceived as intrusive, resulting in an artificial image, but rather goes almost unnoticed, thus allowing me to capture my impressions and consolidate the whole process. Therefore, the image becomes a summary of the very personal experience between me and the person.
When I moved to Deptford in autumn 2009, I immediately became aware of the strong sense of community here. Seeing the same faces again and again, groups of people chatting on street corners, shop owners addressing their customers by first names, shoppers actively supporting local businesses and speaking of the good old days made me realise that I had come to a special area. Many conversations confirmed my first impressions, and I and many others believe that Deptford has this special something that no other place has got. However, it is not all happy in Deptford, and I soon discovered many issues that have a huge effect on the seemingly strong community — many long-term shopkeepers reminisce about the past and feel neglected by the council, there seem to be no trade restrictions, the lack of quality products, the betting shop aspect (there are currently seven on the less than half-a-mile-long High Street), gangs and drugs, and all the development going on around Deptford threatening the survival of local businesses. Many people embrace the imminent changes facing Deptford, but many feel frustrated and worried, and that their voices are unheard.
Over the space of 18 months, I have collected what people have told me — happy and sad stories, positive and negative aspects of life here, embellished memories of the past and worries about the future — all of which indicate the different attitudes and opinions, the different cultural backgrounds, and the various ways people are affected by history, politics and change.