London In The 1980’s (Photos From Another World)

CHIP (Off the old York Way, London, 1986)

I lived in London in the 1980’s. I loved a lot about the culture — it suited me — and it’s where I first picked up a camera. But back then London wasn’t the shiny modern city it is now — it felt like a decrepit, broken dystopia where almost nothing worked properly, where Dickensian beggars with incomprehensible accents loomed in the shadows, a place of peeling stained concrete walls, dirty cracked windows, uncollected garbage on the footpaths (sidewalks), instant coffee and bangers and mash in the cafes, endless queues in the supermarkets, a phone system that never seemed to work, coin-in-the-slot electricity boxes for flats and bedsits, etc. You could still see unrepaired World War II bomb damage here and there in the City and West End.

I took a lot of photos on and under the streets back then, trying to learn how to do photography to document what I saw. These are some of my fave images taken from that era. They are some of the first photos I ever took, scanned from the original 35mm film negatives and transparencies as part of a low-key print show I did at a local (Oakland) coffee shop They’re also technically pretty bad in most cases (I had a lot to learn).

They’re really photos from another world — many of the places shown here don’t exist any more; or if they do, they don’t look much like this now. I’m glad I captured some of this London before it disappeared forever — but I can’t say I’m nostalgic for what the photos show. London could be a grindingly hard and poverty-stricken place to live or work in back then (it certainly was for me).

I’ll probably revisit some of these images individually here over time to talk more about the specifics; some of them have a backstory probably worth telling (or not). See also Hungerford Bridge, London, Mid-1980’s, which is logically also part of this series (but already has its own post).

Oxford Circus Tube Station

Oxford Circus Tube Station

After the fire that gutted the station, sometime mid-late 1980’s. It looked like this for years…

York Way

York Way

Just north of Kings Cross and St Pancras stations, now a massively-gentrified and redeveloped area. But back when I took this photo (and CHIP, top), it was pretty much exactly what it looks like here: a post-industrial wasteland struggling to leave the 19th century.

Mind The Gap, Camden Town, and Warren Street

Mind The Gap (Embankment)
Camden Town
Warren Street

Obviously the Tube (London Underground) was a big part of my life back then; it creaked and groaned and struggled on a daily basis, and we passengers just had to learn to cope with the decrepitude, the constant equipment breakdowns, and the relentless overcrowding. But it looked great on film!

Farringdon Castle

Farringdon Castle

Not really a castle, just unrepaired WWII bomb damage, near where I worked in London.

Angel

Angel

My fave tube station, overcrowded, encrusted with mold and dirt, crawling with rats…

SUPERKINGS

SUPERKINGS

A classic grimy South Of The River building (a tenement in all but name, really), right on one of the railway arches carrying the busy railway lines into London Bridge station.

Little Britain

Little Britain

A typical anonymous grime-covered office building on the aptly-named Little Britain (a street) in the heart of the City, long-ago replaced by shiny apartments and offices.

Last

Last

I’d watch the advertising posters on the walls and walkways in the Underground change in a matter of days from bland shiny nothings into subtle works of art, surreal montages of torn layers and exposed fragments (part of a much larger series). Part of a much larger series I might get around to resurrecting (or not).