(London, 1985. Image copyright Hamish Reid).
A long time ago when I lived in London I used to occasionally take the Metropolitan or Circle lines from Farringdon station near where I worked in Smithfield. This was the mid-1980s, and even then there were still a few bombed-out or broken buildings from World War II propped up or slowly keeling over here and there in the City and inner boroughs (in this case, Islington, but only just). The station itself was (and still is) a nice old well-preserved building, busy and workaday in that reassuring and well-architected early twentieth-century London Underground way; but right next door (to the left as you entered the station) was a classic old bomb-damaged warehouse right on Farringdon Road itself.
It looked pretty much exactly like this: broken bricks, broken beams, missing walls, arches, trees, pigeons, rats
and every time I saw it it reminded me strongly of an old castle somewhere in that imaginary British hinterland I never really visited when I lived in London, but that I'd explored a lot (and even inhabited) as a kid. I made a few half-hearted attempts to photograph it from Farringdon Road itself, but it never worked until I just stepped up one day and took it from this angle, just to the left of the station entrance. It's a shot I had to wait until the weekend to do, as it's a busy place during normal business hours, and there used to be a bunch of street stalls selling books and other stuff right where I had to stand to get this view. I got a couple of shots (with my old Pentax 35mm camera) and over the next few weeks managed to print it up. I wasn't very pleased with the results it needed extensive dodging and burning in the darkroom, and at the time I just didn't have the resources to do that consistently. Still, I liked the image itself, and kept a test print up on my wall in Muswell Hill and later in Bounds Green.
A few years later, living in California, I printed the image up again, and this time I had the time and space to get it right in the darkroom (I was never much of a fan of the darkroom, and don't miss it at all, an admission that will probably surprise a few people out there). After a few hit-and-miss versions, I got a set that looked just gorgeous on Ilford fibre-based black-and-white paper, and I matted and framed a few of the prints. I took one into work with me and hung it on my office wall, and apart from my looking at it every few days, I basically forgot about it again. One day a colleague wandered in and noticed the print; after spending some time looking at it, he asked what it was, and without really thinking, I said "Farringdon Castle".
He like pretty much everyone I've used that name with didn't doubt that it was a castle of some sort, so the name's stuck. I've printed up a few more in the digital age, and now it's even easier to get it to look the way I wanted. No, I'll say it again, I don't look back fondly to the days of chemicals, film, and endless hours in the darkroom
(Oakland, 2007. Image copyright Hamish Reid. Click on image above for larger version).
The tangle of masts and wires and cranes that is my extended back yard
. My studio's right next to the Oakland Estuary in Northern California's San Francisco Bay Area, and the place always fascinates me; I walk or ride my bicycle around the place (and neighbouring Jingletown and Alameda) with my camera, looking for shots like this. I knew what I wanted, and I got it: a long lens (Nikon's excellent 70-200mm VR on my handheld D2x), an image busy with shape and activity (in the larger version you might be able to see the figures working on the old tug in the foreground), the colours of sunset, the icons of my neighbourhood (the salvage cranes and dredges moored next to the Dutra yard, the Coast Guard cutters in the background, the running waters of the Estuary, the masts of some of the yachts moored in the marinas, the long bulky shapes of the ocean-going scows, the semi-derelict tug being worked on
. It's a part of the Bay Area that few people notice, let alone see
, but it's where I live.
As usual, some of the things I simply didn't notice at the time are probably crucial to the way this image works: the colour of the tug's funnel mirroring and emphasising the colour of the sky, the slight lean of the tug towards the left complementing the masts and crane leaning the other way, the organic textures and reaches of the rushes to the left complementing the steel and straight lines of the rest of the image
but otherwise, for once, it's pretty much what I saw, and what I wanted others to see.
Incidentally, the old green and yellow(ish) tug in the foreground, the "Respect", keeled over and capsized in the channel while being moved, a month or two after this picture was taken (no one was killed or injured, apparently), leaving behind a couple of lighted obstruction buoys and the problem of how to salvage an already once-salvaged vessel. It's still underwater, just to the right of the image, months later as this is being written
(This image has, not surprisingly, become the splash image for my Around Jingletown site and its associated Around Jingletown photoblog