A community is about more than bricks and mortar. This is the story of one community in Hoxton, in London, and the demolition of their homes. It hopes to shed light on the impermanence of that which we take for granted; the fabric of our daily lives and the people around us. While it’s about change it is not intended to be about loss, but rather the appreciation of what is now. The block of flats, Longbow House, was built in 1929 and demolished in 2003 as part of the ongoing development of Hoxton. The photographs were taken over a four year period from 2000.
I had seen a lot of photography of derelict buildings which were good, but for me didn’t address the obvious questions about who had lived in them. I didn’t just want to see the clean patch on the carpet where an armchair had been, I wanted to see the armchair and the person who had sat in it. It took a while to find a building due to be demolished and knock on doors to see who would be up for taking part.
I took this photograph of Cornelius Kelleher on the first day. Cornelius had moved from Cork in the south of Ireland to the mining towns of the north of England where he spent most of his life. When he retired he chose to come to live with his niece, in Longbow House, rather than go home, as the Ireland he’d left behind didn’t seem to exist anymore. I would periodically bring round some pictures to show the residents (who were often more interested in seeing inside their neighbour’s flats than their own) . The day I brought this photograph round to show the Kellehers a neighbour told me they were all back in Cork at Cornelius’s funeral. He’d had terminal cancer when I took the photograph but no-one knew it at the time.
This picture was highly commended in the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Portrait Prize, won an International Photography Award in New York and won first prize in Le Prix de La Photographie, in Paris. The project has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, at the Museum of London where it forms part of their permanent collection, in New York and on the estate itself.
I remain profoundly grateful to all the residents of Longbow House, not only for letting me into their homes, but for the kindness and generosity they showed me in doing so.
Click here to see the project at foto8 with me talking about it.