[THIS WEEK] How quickly things can change when the Olympics come to town, writes James Pallister
At the southern end of the Lower Lea Valley, several outlying areas of central London – Hackney Wick, Leyton, Bromley-by-Bow and Stratford – converge to border the 2012 Olympic Park.Security on the 500-acre site is tight, and in addition to the razor wire, perimeter fencing and legions of cheery security guards in hi-vis jackets, there’s also a small ‘security boat’ that tootles up and down, checking that all is as it should be on the site’s adjacent canals.
Giles Price’s Macroscopic Olympiad has captured the rapidly emerging park at building-site stage. Now on show at Hackney Wick’s See Studio Exhibition Space, the selection of aerial shots (pictured below) picks out large sections of the park’s emerging layers of infrastructure; tight cropping and slightly oblique angles abstract the subject.
For better or worse, the Olympic Park has already indelibly changed the area. And if you – as I recommend – look at this work in conjunction with Jason Orton and Stephen Gill’s 2007 shots, it’s clear that the speed of change has been breakneck. The elegiac quality of Gill’s wasteland shots in Archaeology in Reverse (2007) is heightened when seen against the planar lines of Price’s work.
As Gill’s shots of discarded beer cans attest, forgotten places provide venues for transgressive behaviour; I remember running along the canal near the Olympic site but two years ago, and being surprised to interrupt a photoshoot under a bridge. A man was crouched on the towpath, pointing his camera at a woman wearing not much more than some scanty underwear, high heels and plenty of make-up. Given the local changes, it’s hard to imagine interrupting that scene now. Fences and guards have pushed this out to a degree, but their hard power is slight compared with a softer, more pervasive type of influence: the instinctive feel for a place that invites activity, which elsewhere, would not be permissible.