Esoteric London

Enough with the summer novelties; it’s much cooler now, I’m pleased to say. Earlier in the week your faithful blogger was as the wrung-out teatowel. Most un-Londonish.

For one reason and another I’ve been thinking a lot lately about London  – what it is, what we see and experience versus what is actually here – as energy, if you like, or as memory, or as the remains of the people who built it. The past, unsexy as it sounds, is I believe everywhere with us. You can’t escape it: it sustains us, almost literally in the same way the ground sustains us.

Once, years ago when Mlle B was a little girl, we were walking through an alleyway in Stoke Newington, towards the high street. Suddenly she stopped, and said: “That was weird!” What was? It was that, as we walked along, suddenly the whole environment had given way and, as she put it to me, “everything was olden days.” What was? Ladies in long dresses? Horse & carts? No cars? No streetlights? Yes, that was exactly it, and then as quickly as it had happened it vanished, and “now” was back. She was an interesting child, always eminently sensible and organised but prone to seeing witches.

Well, the picture above, from Esoteric London, has this effect on me. To declare my interest: I am connected to Esoteric London. For months, here in Baroque Mansions and in the erstwhile Brockley Annexe, we have been putting together a concept website which I think is now deeply beautiful, and satisfying in a poetic way.

Basically, the concept is this: Like Mlle B, we inhabit a London that is both here and not here, which we both see and don’t see. We see barely any of it, and it is in fact infinite: “crazier and more of it than we think,” as MacNeice might have said. Looking at the past via the (literally, physically present) present, enriches and deepens our habitation of the place. At least, that’s my take.

Here’s the blurb from the website:

No two people inhabit the same London. The city remains as bewilderingly huge, various and mysterious as it was at any time in its history. The richness of its past is only equalled by the violence which the city has had inflicted upon it, from within as well as from without. Perhaps fittingly for a city that was founded by the Romans, London has traditionally had an aggressively unsentimental approach to its history: just in the past thirty years, so many districts have changed in function and character that even native Londoners find it hard to grasp the changes. In the 21st century, the accelerating shift towards a more homogenised and corporatised city has increased the danger of London becoming a theme park parody of itself. Fortunately, the power and energy of the city, along with its sheer size, militates against its transformation into merely a British Lifestyle Product.

Esoteric London is an attempt to draw connections between London now and London then, illuminating the correspondences between the city’s past and present.

The format is simple. David Secombe and Roger Dean, the two bloggers – almost curators – are photographers, so it’s a photography blog. They inhabit, as you might expect, two different Londons (north and south, for a start), but they share their obsession with its (MacNeice again), incorrigible plurality. Alternating between David and Roger, each day features an original photograph of London, plus a passage of text from (mainly) the past, which reflect on each other symbiotically.

The site is designed as an archive, a resource. Photographs are shot on film, and are thus available for use in any format. Quality standards are stringent. It’s not quite a website, not quite a blog, not quite a picture library. It is, as early readers have said, unique.

Esoteric London is also on Twitter and Facebook.

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