If this blog is a little incoherent, it is because I am writing it on the train home from Upminster, the station at the East end of the District line.
I travelled to Upminster as part of End Points – a project to take pictures at the ends of all of the London underground lines. It is as much about the journey as the photographs – I wanted to get out into the bits of London (and beyond) that I would have no real reason to go to otherwise, discover new places, and wander around them for a few hours taking pictures (and usually getting something to eat). It is not explicitly an ethnographic study, but the places that we live are interesting, and I like to explore. Importantly, it has never been the aim to ‘capture’ these places in a photograph, or boil them down in some way to a few images – the project is all about my responses to the places I visit, and then, hopefully, getting some nice pictures.
Upminster is significant because it marks the half way point of the project – I have been heading to stations in no particular order, this one just happens to be the one I picked today. However, I thought, as we’re half way there, it might be a good time to reflect on the project, and what I have learned so far.
Learning 1: What is interesting?
What I hadn’t banked on is that I’d have to drastically re-evaluate what makes an interesting picture. Some of the places I have visited so far with End Points have been, subjectively, boring! I started the project with Chesham – ‘village like’, green, cute, nice graveyard, then Brixton – vibrant, graffiti’d, busy and exciting. After these, Morden seems lifeless. There is no graffiti in Morden, the streets are quiet on a Sunday morning and you only need walk for five minutes and you are into roads with seemingly identical houses for miles.
However, if (and it is an if) miles and miles of suburban houses really is all that Morden is, then this is what I should have been taking pictures of – just because I have thought pictures of people, markets and shops, trees and gravestones are cool elsewhere, this isn’t what makes a picture interesting, and it is certainly not what captures my responses to Morden.
Learning 2: It is important to wander
One of my favourite pictures from Morden is a set of tumbledown lock up garages. I liked it because it could be anywhere – the overgrown road feels like it is in some rural village. The picture was taken almost directly behind the train station, down a tiny alleyway with a sign asking people not to use it as a toilet, and past some kids hanging out of a window asking what I was taking pictures of. I didn’t have to wander far, but I did have to leave the high-street and venture down an unpromising looking alleyway to discover the picture.
I have not set any rules for myself about wandering – keeping vaguely close to the station is important, but some of the places I have visited are so small that finding 36 interesting photographs could be quite a challenge without walking a fair distance to see what I discover.
Learning 3: Prepare to be unprepared
Most of the places I have visited have taken a fairly significant amount of time to get to, more than enough time to do a little preparation – perhaps look up some significant buildings, see what the locals recommend, maybe even decide where to get some food. However, I didn’t do this with my first station, and I have decided I won’t do it for any of them. Somehow, being completely unprepared feels right. Sure, I might be missing some amazing photographs, I am sure that I have been just one more turn away from something special. But the project is about experiencing a place as it is – not through the lens of trip-advisor, yelp or Instagram. As a consequence, the pictures are representative of my time in that place, rather than someone else’s – and what I thought was interesting was what I came across on that day.
Learning 4: How many ends are ends?
I set out my end points at the start of the project. The issue was with lines that have more than one branch, so, technically, have more than one end point. In this situation I have chosen to travel to the station at the end of the furthest point from central London. As I see how significant the differences are across all of the places I have visited though, I am beginning to think this might do a disservice to the branch lines, and the stations at the end of them. It would be a much larger undertaking (I’d be perhaps a quarter of the way through now, rather than half) to visit the end of every line on the over-ground network (which I have assumed is one single line) and the DLR, however, it might be what makes the project feel like something that is really complete.
For now, I think I am going to finish the initial list – then I will make a decision about where to head next.
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