From Alexandra Palace to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, photographer Peter Dazeley is serving up a view of London that we have never seen before
They say that inspiration comes from within, but for photographer Peter Dazeley he found it right outside of his window, literally. The Battersea Power Station, which has served as a view from Peter’s flat for nearly 30 years, has undergone a series of drastic changes, leaving him sombre about its current state of affairs. ‘It has been in a sorry state of decline for a very long time,’ he laments. However, throughout his long term observation, he found himself curious to study what lied behind its decrepit exterior. ‘I’ve seen bits of it and I thought it would be a really interesting project to photograph.’ It was this insight that gave him the light bulb moment of uncovering unseen London.
Upon finally gaining access to the power station, Peter was quite taken by the style of architecture, as well as how generally grand the building was, and photographed accordingly. The biggest surprise, however, he discovered was that the station had become a safe haven for local wildlife, with Peter spotting pigeons, foxes, rats, and even peregrine falcons.
Elated by a job well done, Peter posted his photos online and went viral, with the project eventually being picked up and featured by Creative Review magazine which prompted him to consider extending the project altogether. ‘As someone born and bred in London, I really loved the idea of sharing my London with people,’ he smiles. Thus, Unseen London was born.
Unseen London is a 300 page tome, written by Mark Daly and captured on camera by Peter, chronicling the life of architectural gems hidden around the city. The locations featured, equipped with photos and text, feature stories squashed between and underneath city office buildings and dwellings as well as the behind the scenes production of some of the capital’s most iconic buildings, including Big Ben and Tower Bridge. ‘The book is aimed at lovers of London, people with an interest in architecture and history, tourism and photography,’ Peter says. ‘Most places you don’t even know what’s behind the doors.’
A great example is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry located in East London, which Peter was quick to compare the structure of a building to a key prop on Doctor Who. ‘It’s sort of like Tardis,’ he says, ‘it has a tiny little front entrance then it goes into this huge place.’ There, not only was the liberty bell created, but Big Ben as well. It is also the oldest manufacturing company in the UK. Another great example is the oldest find in the book, the Billingsgate Roman bath houses, which dates back to the second century and is currently sitting underneath a corporate office building on 100 Lower Thames Street, with limited access to the public throughout the year. Other local gems unravelled include Alexandra Palace and Abbey Road Studios.
Unseen London took four years to make, with a stand out feature – stunning buildings aside – about the project is that Peter wanted the photos to be devoid of people. ‘We wanted it to be mostly about the location. We also didn’t take in lighting or anything, we just used the lighting that was there and if it wasn’t there we used long exposures.’ Although a positive experience, the project didn’t come without obstacles, such as gaining access to desired locations. ‘Every place was different,’ Peter explains. ‘We tried to get into the Royal Opera House and Covent Garden who decided that they needed to be paid £300 an hour for security for me to be allowed in. I thought that was very unnecessary.’ Others required connections, lots of begging, and a little bit of luck. ‘The Ministry of Defence gave us permission, took it away and then said I had to have a sponsor, which meant I had to know someone in the building and I didn’t know anybody in the building,’ he recalls. It wasn’t until shooting at Downing Street, which he gained access to from previously working with the Chairman of the Conservatives, that the head of security in charge of looking after him offered his services ‘and within a couple weeks we were in the Ministry of Defence’.
Although his journey presented its fair share of frustrations, Peter likes to look on the brighter side. “Obviously at the beginning of the project it was very difficult to get into certain places but they say a problem is an opportunity so it was a sense of achievement by the time you get to the end of it.’ You could say Peter took his window of opportunity.
Story by Rachel Center
Unseen London by Mark Daly, photography by Peter Dazeley, is published by Frances Lincoln (£30)