Since 2011, I have been making a series of portraits under a concrete railway bridge in Shoreditch.
None of the photographs have names or any biographical information attached. This has something to do with the formality of my encounters with a range of passers-by at an urban transit point where nobody would normally stop. In an increasingly privatized urban space ever more under surveillance, the encounters I record mark moments when public space is shared respectfully with others. Not including names or biographical information is a sign of a respectful distance bridged by the moments of our encounter. These are commemorated by the dates attached to each photograph.
Identity and place are imprinted on the surfaces of what might at first glance be considered a non-place. An organic material subject to internal decay, the concrete setting of the portraits is marked by the passing of time and people. Ultimately, it is the latter, in all their variety, pausing for the camera, their faces and eyes open to the moment, who make the urban space of the portraits hospitable to a sense of identity.
A question I continually ask myself has been: where do we find stillness in cities and what does stillness mean in our continuous transit through, or between, public, marginalised, and increasingly corporatised urban spaces?
I have been particularly drawn to the symbolism of concrete and bridges.
Bridges because they connect separate parts of the city and distinct populations. But also because bridges offer me the opportunity of interrupting their transit and creating temporary situations where encounters can take place, where dialogues can take place.
Concrete because it is a fluid reflector and diffuser of light whose hue and saturation follows the seasons. I started photographing under the bridge back in February 2011. At that time of the year, the light can be crisp and blue. What I love about concrete is the way it registers seasonal changes in light, as well as differences in hue and intensity during the day. For me, it is a perfect reflector and diffuser, providing even illumination but also sensitive to the movement of traffic. When I sometimes refer to the marine light provided by concrete I am not being poetic but am merely referring to the rippling reflections one notices on the undersides of concrete bridges built over rivers or, in my case, the reflections cast by the windshields of passing cars.
Over time, I have become increasingly fascinated by the juxtaposition of my subjects’ skin and the concrete skin of the city. A large proportion of time processing the photographs is spent rendering both types of surface. My underlying motivation is to represent the inherently organic relationship between cities and their citizens. Equally, there is a humanistic dimension to the momentarily intimate encounter with those I photograph and whose names I do not know. Photography is, in one sense, a way of registering the skin-to- skin surprise inherent in such intimacy between nameless strangers in a public space.
The photographer grazing on the chance events presented to them on the streets of a city might also say that they are also grazed by those moments. The term acknowledges that the open readiness required for such work also implies a vulnerability to chance, surprise, and even potential trauma.
Faded & Blurred Q&A with John Perivolaris
A podcast on the series here: