Beneath the City Doves
Location: London
Date: 2019-20


Beneath the City Doves is a project exploring the redevelopment of Social Housing in London focused around a number of significant regeneration projects located all over the city in their various states of renovation.

A homogenised London, filled with new, ‘luxury’ (and often empty) apartments. Achieved through frequently unfair compulsory purchase orders and the oxymoronic promise of affordable housing. Redevelopers seek legitimacy by promise of a higher quality of living, but for who? Essential homes for those in need are replaced with metallic high-rises designed for the wealthy. Gambling chips for overseas investors in the failed casino that is London.

Beneath the City Doves utilises the new mediums of 360º and drone photography as a means to document various social housing estates which will eventually cease to exist. These photographs have been captured in the space between sky and ground, providing an evocative allegory for the current condition of these estates, plots of land suspended between their own existence and eradication.

These images are then converted through the cyanotype printing process. The archaic practice of cyanotype printing dismantles the convention of modernisation, taking shiny aestheticism and transforming this into rugged beauty. The imitations of happiness found in the new builds are enveloped by the construction sites surrounding them, overshadowing the displacement of prior residents. This blend of contemporary and traditional methods offers an alternative visual perspective when framing a commonly explored subject. The deep blue tone produced by the cyanotypes create a mood of melancholy, the landscape both natural and fabricated are flattened, their purpose feels ambiguous as new and old overlap in a state of imbalance.

The 360º camera flattens the world taking what the human eye can see and warps reality, stretching this into planets. A sense of isolation is inescapable. The warped walls climb towards an eerie sky whilst the skeletons of trees cling to each sphere. Empty buildings stand alone confined by their barbed wire prisons. Drone photography contextualises these locations in relation to their surroundings. A collection of monoliths erected amidst the eternally convulsing city, soon to be erased to fit into accordance with a new London. These images further mirror urban topographical imagery taken by regeneration companies when surveying land due for ‘renovation’ and at the same time resemble familiar satellite imagery and online maps used by the masses, preserving an angle which is constantly being updated.

Aspects of the contemporary sublime feature within the project also. Each image creates a spectacle, which once contextualised illustrates the demise of nature and power of human technology. The dying trees loom under a stormy cloud, enclosing each estate, nature is confined and enclosed as the earth is torn away to make space for these new builds.

Distorted by the monochromatic light engulfing them, the dichotomy between the recurring images of construction and the remaining architecture on the estates illustrate that these redevelopments are a small example of the countless number of similar redevelopment projects happening across London. Each image acts as a microcosm, resembling their own isolated scenario but as a sequence reiterate the extent of development across the Capital. As a consequence of this, a level of familiarity grows between the work and its audience.

The ring shaped images created by the 360º camera further illustrate the circular nature of redevelopment. Aerial photography documents the estates as they are now, many of which sit between the past and future. Old buildings, a construction site and the start of the new builds can be seen in this order. This sequence revolves around the images in a cyclical manner. The constant ebb and flow of redevelopment gives each microcosm a pulse. This infinite rotation is indicative of the way development never finishes. Cityscapes especially are forever modernising. New builds are inevitably torn down only to be rebuilt and replaced.

This project specifically explores Elephant and Castle, Aylesbury Estate, Fenwick Estate, Woodberry Downs Estate, Robin Hood Gardens, Fred Wigg & John Walsh Towers and Balfron Tower. All these areas documented are in various phases of redevelopment. There is a focus around Aylesbury Estate as it is the perfect allegory for the current redevelopment situation nationwide and has experienced large amounts of media & government attention and tenant & activist opposition. The body of images finishes with a photograph of Glenkerry Housing Co-operative situated next to Balfron Tower that offers near idyllic housing at below market rates.
© Sonam Tobgyal