In this short essay, Lewis Bush contextualises his recent photobook Metropole. By photographing double exposures of luxury corporate and residential buildings in London, Bush reflects feelings of loss and dispossession, in a once accessible and familiar city, now gentrified and privatised. Originally published in March 2015, Metropole quickly sold out, garnering critical acclaim. This month, the Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University, present a solo exhibition of the work in London. Full details follow the essay.
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At the start of the last century film makers heralded the life and energy of urbanisation with the city symphony, cinematic celebrations of the benefits of urban living. Today it is sometimes easy to feel that this energy and life has given way to a form of canker or rot. Metropole is about London, and the way the city has been transformed in recent years by a massive increase in the value of property. This has made the city an extremely attractive location for investors, leading to a glut of construction across the city, often only for these buildings to sit largely empty afterwards, their value accruing profit even in the absence of paying tenants. Metropole responds to this issue by taking the viewer on an imaginary walk through the city, visualised through a series of photographs which document these new corporate and luxury buildings.
While the structures in these photographs initially appear to be relatively normal, as the series progresses they begin to shimmer and merge into each other, creating impossible arrangements and disorientating scenes where all sense of scale and perspective is lost. In doing this these images intend to emulate the feeling of disorientation that I, a born and raised Londoner, increasingly feel when I traverse the city. Where once I knew swathes of the city intimately, now I often experience a sense of total confusion on emerging from underground stations to find the layout of an area has been changed utterly since my last visit. Long known buildings or even entire streets are found to be missing, as if some great and unknown devastation had been wrought on the city while I was below ground.
Metropole is not about criticising change per se. This is in the nature of cities, and it is a large part of what makes them attractive places to live. But it is about resisting a particular malign form of change, a transformation of London into a place where profit comes above other principles, and where as a result the city is becoming an increasingly unequal, unaffordable and sterile place. While the city’s huge wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small minority who often do not even reside in the city, a growing number of people exist on a rent treadmill, spending a disproportionate amount of their earnings simply on a space to lay their head between shifts. Meanwhile a generation of young Londoners remain living with their parents well into adulthood, and for an entire generation the only possibility of ever owning a home in the city will be if they inherit one. Many others have no hope even of that. If the film makers of a century ago made city symphonies, then Metropole is a city requiem, a memorial tune to a city which outwardly still appears sound, but which inwardly is suffering an almost terminal decline.
– Lewis Bush
Lewis Bush (London, 1988) studied history and worked at the United Nations before working as a documentary photographer. He has since developed a well regarded personal photography practice, is lecturer in documentary photography at the London College of Communication, edits the Disphotic blog and writes about photography.
The exhibition at Central House is the first installation of the entire Metropole series as well as being the first event of INSIDE / OUT [LONDON], a program of exhibitions of photobooks examining the contemporary city, curated by Andy Lawson. A new print of the Metropole book will also be available during the exhibition.