Review - Missing Buildings

A review of;


by Thom and Beth Atkinson

HWAET Books 2015

“Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?”

from; The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T. S. ELIOT

In the summer of 2015 the South London Gallery exhibited Thomas Hirschhorn’s ‘In Between’. The publicity photographs accompanying Hirschhorn’s display, showed a building interior torn apart by some act of destruction, tattered remains suggesting a fairly immediate capture of a terrible, but generic, event.

In the new book of photographs, Missing Buildings [Hwaet Books, 2015], a late document by recent graduates Thom and Beth Atkinson, a purposeful series is presented that has immense value as a social record, constructed and drawing from the familiar.

Whilst Hirschhorn’s ongoing trompe de l’oeil and artifice of ruin offered [amongst much else] a spectacular critique of the representation of conflict, it relied upon indexical connections in that the aesthetic of his practice was sourced from press photographs of distant acts of war.

The photographs in Missing Buildings, revealing temporally distant traces of London, are situated poignantly on an axis of photographic history and physical geography. They are the most appropriate response to the subject matter there could be; in their modernity, purpose and melancholy, and find commonality with Hirschhorns’s work in their conjecture.

Close to the outbreak of World War 2, Bill Brandt, amongst others, was commissioned by the National Monuments Register, in an attempt to photographically preserve various historic and religious statuary in the face of possible obliteration by oncoming war.

A similar salvage ethnography is evident within Missing Buildings yet is concerned with a more social history. Whilst Brandt’s work connects to the London Blitz, around the social displacement that occurred, the Atkinson’s work too offers hints of sweeping change; new office blocks appears on the edge of the frame and one or two buildings are covered with plastic sheeting, ready for the currently ubiquitous ‘luxury apartments’; new works, re-sealing history and part of the current corporate gentrification of the capital, that is dispelling families far and wide; an echo of history, a movement in time.

But the strength of the Atkinson’s work is, that they have intelligently resurrected a dormant representation of social history from the everyday. And with such subtlety, barely discernible traces are hewn from the city landscape, eked out with precision, persistence, and a need for absolute continuity.

In ‘Lupus Street, Pimlico’, differing brick stock offers the slightest shadow of what may have been a cataclysmic event, overrun by redevelopment, but impossible to erase completely. The works don’t need the specificity of an event to work as photographs, because what they encourage is rumination of a long view.

Akin to David Spero’s series, Churches, [2008], where spiritual truths are summoned by the same deadpan approach, the photographic craft of Missing Buildings reveals evidence that has been hiding in plain sight for 75 years; indelible elegies to London ghosts; small industries, family, and bedsits, lived lives, now gone.

Missing Buildings becomes a remarkable invitation to look again through a glass plate, for only through photography can we share this view, and what Thom and Beth Atkinson have found belongs to us all.

© David Moore 2015