This week will involve you going out to really look, explore and record a local geographic area. Be prepared, plan your trip and visit several times; perhaps even at different times of day / night.
- Identify your chosen geographic location. Select a street nearby to you within 1 or 2 miles from where you live.
- Document it, explore it, evidence it.
- Come up with something unique to your street.
- Present your interpretation of your street in the media and format of your choice.
- Load your work to the ideas wall, and post a link to your blog demonstrating your development and your reflection.
I’m new to Walthamstow, so I’m using this week’s brief to get out and about around the area and to really explore what’s going on. I have visited in the past, but never have I really looked. On Sunday I set out with only one initial aim: to visit the William Morris Gallery and then to go to a cafe to sit down and absorb this week’s course materials. It wasn’t a true dérive as coined by Guy Debord, because I did have an aim, but in between I let myself wander.
Here’s the post describing what I found.
This is the area I have chosen: from St James Street station heading east to Hoe Street. This is a long stretch, and it’s possible to see the history of the street and where different sections begin and start. On Sunday, I took 3D photos on my phone every 50 steps or so, and also ten seconds of audio. At this point, I wasn’t sure what my final piece would look like, but thought that I could start my gathering raw data and observe the changes down the street. The 3D images on my phone look great, but I can’t extract them very well to display: a failed experiment, but I’d like to look into this type of media in the feature.
As I walked down the high street, I noticed how international it is and how many cultures thrive together. I’m looking into the last census and the area is amazingly diverse: signs and food shops in over ten languages. I’m finding a way to incorporate that into my piece.
There were a few graphic points of interest that I noticed as I was walking, namely the unification of shop signage on the West End of the high street. After research, I found that in 2015, money was raised by the council from the Heritage Lottery Fund, shop freeholders and leaseholders and volunteers, with the aim to:
… repair and improve 59 properties and restore a number of historic features.
This included restoring the original brickwork as well as removal of unnecessary signage and clutter, installation of new shopfronts, and architectural lighting to landmark buildings.
It also transformed the St James St/High Street junction to improve access with new heritage paving and lighting columns, benches, landscaping …
St James’ Street Improvements
The shop fronts now use muted colours with business names displayed in a fine-line all-capital serif font. It’s quite the change from the typographic mishmash at the eastern end of the high street.
Owen Hatherley has been critical of the changes made at the St James’ Street end of the high street, saying that although it is good to have funding for the area, the step to unify the shop signage is an “anally retentive mistake, driven by a total misunderstanding of what makes London interesting”. I have to agree: although the shops would have looked uniform, since four years ago, other businesses have moved in and not kept with the new aesthetic, spoiling the original vision.
Shop signs tended to use 3D type, whether physically, like the knock-off Tesco, or simulated like the Romax coffee shop, eel and pie shop, and pieces of street art. Definitely a skill I would like to master!
William Morris was born in the area, and there are lots of references to him! The first two images are technically not on the street I choose, but I thought showed a lovely project by school children to paint Morris-esque patterns onto the railway bridge, elevating what would otherwise be an overlooked spot. The irony that Morris was sceptical of technology can’t be lost!
These birds are definitely not William Morris, but I feel like the colours, birds and swooping tails are intended to evoke his style.
Adverts of days gone past
I managed to find one example of a ghost advert on the high street, and there are a lot more around the high street. I like the juxtaposition between the Printing Works advertised above the “Mobile Solutions” shop – how the dissemination of information has changed!
Lots of handwritten signs in shop windows in different languages, offering rooms, food, and services (what else to call a Japanese Massage?!).
Terrible neon signage
I feel overly harsh including this because neon is hard, but compared to the beautiful signs of God’s Own Junkyard, I feel like the Nando’s and Turtle Bay signs are badly-executed tributes. There are also Christmas lights left up all year, c’mon guys!
After a look at the street, I wanted to draw these elements together, and also to include a map. The National Library of Scotland has a huge resource of online maps, and I chose the earliest map I could find with clear details from c.1890s.
I used a lightbox to create a map of the high street and the surrounding area in the style of Madge Gill, another local artist (explored in my CRJ post). She uses black ink on paper with lots of different patterns, which I utilised to show different land use. Along the high street I used overlapping ripples to show the importance of the shops in the community. The checkerboard is residential, the railway lines are hashed and the clear areas with stars are green open spaces.
In the 2011 census, Walthamstow was shown to be a very diverse area, and other than English, these languages are commonly spoken: Polish, Urdu, Romanian, Turkish, Lithuanian, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali, French and Bulgarian. I thought about incorporating textiles from each culture into the piece, as there are many fabric shops on the high street, but came to the conclusion that it made it much too busy.
Instead, I chose to use language to show this diversity, and used the phrase Welcome to Walthamstow, because I feel this is fitting! It was a challenge to find out the correct phrase in each language that was suitable for the context, and also to then find correct typefaces to display them. I did a taster course in Arabic in sixth form, so know that there are usually four versions of each letter depending on the position in the letter, and vowels are marked not but their own glyph but by dots above and below the consonants. But I think I got it!
The background of the piece is an acid-bright depiction of a William Morris print, and he would have hated it because he took a stand against artificial pigments and chose to print his work using natural colours, however I feel it is more representative of the area now.
I twisted the map around because the high street takes a more natural top-left to the bottom-right path, and serves to cut up the page. Of course, this high street does it opposite, it connects people and communities, and I love juxtaposition (see above paragraph). The text crosses over the map to bridge the divide in the page, whilst keeping enough of it on the less patterned background to make it legible.