The roads are empty, the houses dilapidated and boarded up. Nobody is to be seen, anywhere. The harsh, sober daylight leaves you blinking in confusion. Have you somehow entered a post-apocalyptic world bereft of all forms of life? Perhaps, indeed, you have.
Welcome to the unloved outer suburbs of London; the forgotten hinterlands which slumber on with dreams of redevelopment, impossible fantasies of Olympic town-planners and cultural bids, Arts Council grants and community purpose.
Welcome to the place of dead roads, a place that takes precedence over those that populate it, where the landscape is characterised by fields of rusting cars, and yet more dead cars, smashed up and abandoned in rained-on scrap-yards.Travel to the end of the road with Mark Power, who has made a determined mission to expose what lies hidden within these apparently cultureless outposts of British civilisation, that might trendily be referred to as terrains vagues or non-places.
Making Phyllis Pearsall his muse (the geographer/cartographer who travelled 3,000 miles on foot to chart what we familiarly refer to as the A-Z of London), Power sets out to visually fill in those marks that Pearsall’s bestseller omits, the folds in the grid that smudge and blur both the demarcations of place and the characters that define it.
By photographing physical sites which have fallen off the map but not recording any human presence encountered there, Power recreates the peculiar sense that their inhabitants have been forgotten or have mysteriously disappeared as a consequence of this cartographic oversight too.
The result is eerie: a catalogue of the bleak, desolate, fraying edgelands of London – images snagged on the tidelines of the urban environment, where all the flotsam and jetsam of city life washes up in unwanted aggregates of rusting metal, abandoned tennis courts and often derelict, deserted conurbations.
The landscape of Power does violence to purpose, not to mention beauty and hope. After a wander through this vivid sadness, you don’t carry away the imprint of a single image but are left with the lurking memory of a murky journey to provinces you’d rather forget – flashes of monochrome (though Power shoots in full, less-than-glorious colour) distinguished by a prevailing sense of melancholia.
All is not lost. Reading Will Self’s Psychogeography columns or JG Ballard’s fiction in tandem with Power’s photo-book might work to fill these images with the colour, noise and surreal weirdness they are so bereft of but absolutely invite. That way, you may indeed read 26 different endings into Power’s narrative-less cul de sac. Otherwise, you may never figure out quite how the story ends…