Deptford is Changing Study Visit – 24/01/2020

Although not strictly photography related, I went along to a book launch of Deptford is Changing (2020) by Anita Strasser. I follow her blog (which has the same name) which has helped me form a better idea of how gentrification and austerity is affecting Deptford. Strasser was also at the Engaging in Urban Image Making Symposium (2019) at Goldsmiths which I attended on 03/05/2019. However, I didn’t write about her presentation as I was admittedly more interested in the photographers at the time. This time round I feel I have more appreciation of how theory informs practice so I decided to visit Deptford Town Hall where the book launch was held and I am glad I did.

As soon as the time for the book launch had arrived, we were greeted by the sound of loud banging of drums and a man dressed in bright orange clothing walked down the stairs behind us in Deptford Town Hall. It turned out he was an artist living and working in Deptford and had helped with a lot of protests aimed at thwarting the bad change occurring in Deptford and starting good change. After this, I knew the book launch was going to be different from a typical book launch!

Strasser talked a bit about her book which is basically the blog Deptford is Changing found at: https://deptfordischanging.wordpress.com/. However she iterated that by putting it in a more tangible format, lots more people could access the book, including schools and libraries. She introduced that the book was about interacting with people who were facing gentrification and austerity in Deptford so other people can understand the problems that can arise and perhaps change Deptford for the good.

There were some interesting terms in Strasser’s introduction too. One of these was ‘managed decline’ where councils invest less in estates they want to regenerate. The estates become neglected and deteriorate which then are prime in the eyes of the council for redevelopment. I find it fairly shocking that ‘managed decline’ is a thing but after the book launch I was so interested in this term that I emailed Strasser about the excellent book launch but also about ‘managed decline’. She was kind enough to reply and gave me links to online material that showed experts talking about how ‘managed decline’ works. It is hard for me to fathom what this ‘managed decline’ can do to communities living in the estates but it must be extremely hard for them to live there. I feel it might be a good topic for my Contextual Studies extended essay although I’m not sure how it will relate to my photographs. My diptychs/grids show change in Deptford but it isn’t on estates where change isn’t so visible in my experience. That was one reason I didn’t select estates when deciding where to shoot my repeat photography. Now it seems like a bit of a mistake not to include any of the older estates like Sayes Court or Pepys estates as regeneration is occurring there too, even if it isn’t visible to a camera.

Strasser then introduced 9 speakers who all had either lived experience of regeneration in Deptford or who knew a lot about regeneration. Some of them talked about ‘managed decline’ from the perspective of someone who was living with it with their homes right now. It was very sad and shocking to hear two speakers talk about their homes being deliberately neglected so planning proposals could go ahead to demolish them. This was despite the residents speaking both joining groups that protested against the proposed changes. This proves to me that consultation isn’t listened to when the council have big money involved. Particularly saddening was the fact the residents couldn’t make plans to rejuvenate their houses because it seemed futile in the face of them being demolished.

There were also two speakers talking about Tidemill Gardens which I researched before in Research into Deptford’s Regeneration. I thought before it was a shame and a mistake to take away green land against the will of local people. Now I think it was a travesty because of two reasons. Firstly, when hearing the two speakers talking about Tidemill Gardens, it was clear how much they loved spending time there and how it felt like a different world. The second reason – that there were other areas the council could have developed on like brownfield sites – is why I think it was a mistake. I am aware that housing is badly needed but so are fresh, green spaces where people can escape. If other areas were available to develop on then destroying this natural habitat which was home to much wildlife as well doesn’t make much sense to me.

Each of the speakers had only 5 minutes to talk but all of them managed to speak about Deptford with clarity and passion. One of the overriding impressions I was left with was that Deptford was unique in that its community was stronger than other areas which gives it its character. This also could potentially mean gentrification hits harder as people are displaced who may have been integral to the community. However, this idea of Deptford having unique character did leave me with a thought. Even though Deptford is changing, the people tend to stay resolute through their character.  By including people in my images, especially when they appear in the same places across the repeat photographs, I am reconstructing Deptford to show while the place may change, the people stay resolute.

References:

Strasser, A. (2020) Deptford is Changing. At: https://deptfordischanging.wordpress.com/ (Accessed 13.02.2020)

Strasser, A. (2020) Deptford is Changing. London: Anita Strasser.

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