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Damien Hewetson: ‘Photos from this time could be historically significant’


In the latest in a new series giving voice to the photographer behind the lens, Damien Hewetson records the emptiness of the capital’s streets in lockdown

Producing the AJ involves a continuous schedule of commissioning photographers to go and shoot buildings, make short films, compile material boards and – in summary – furnish our art editor with great imagery to bring architects’ drawings and models and the text of the building studies vividly to life.

Coronavirus has put a freeze on the regular rhythm of things, but we are still keen to feature and promote the work of photographers – and rather than bring you their silent imagery, we have asked a handful of regulars and those previously unfeatured to explore what life as an architectural photographer is like in lockdown.

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Damien Hewetson is a London-based photographer who has always had a particular fascination with abandoned places. During lockdown he has taken hundreds of pictures while on the move in his day job as a street safety inspector (sometimes walking up to 10km a day) – pictures mostly of architecture ‘because you never see it without people in the way’. He hopes to re-take the same shots once the city is populated again and put on an exhibition showing the comparison.

When was the last time you took a picture?
Yesterday afternoon on my way home from work. I’ve been taking some every day while the lockdown has been in place because I’m in a key worker inspecting the streets for safety reasons.

Photos during this time could become historically significant in the future

How has coronavirus lockdown affected your work?
As a street safety inspector it makes things easier to spot when there are no people around. At lunchtime I would normally go somewhere for a nice lunch but there is hardly anywhere open so I’m having to eat snacks on the move. Instead I’m using my lunch break to take photos.

Does the potential for deserted streets appeal to you as a photographer of architecture and the built environment? If so, what is your dream location/building? If not, why not?
I usually photograph abandoned buildings so seeing the whole of London practically abandoned has been like a dream for me as a photographer. My dream building to photograph would be the Old War Office building on Whitehall as it is very much off limits and has some stunning architecture inside.

How has the way you think about photography more generally changed?
I’ve realised my photos during this time could become historically significant in the future. This is why I’m trying to document as much as I can while I have the opportunity.

Check out Damien’s Deserted London series and follow him on facebook, Instagram and twitter.


Readers' comments (2)

  • keith williams

    These photos are such an important record of our extraordinary time.

    I wrote a blog piece for the Architecture Club website "Touching the Void : Art and Architecture in the Time of Pandemic" in which I wrote

    "Cities do not function on emptiness. Yet this de Chiricoesque void in our cities allows us to appreciate them differently. Though symptomatic of the suspension of normal life, the present has an important transitory aesthetic state which I hope can somehow be recorded visually as part of a social and architectural historical record of now."

    A book or an exhibition in due course surely!

    Keith R Williams founder + director design : Keith WIlliams Architects

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  • This will be an extraordinary record, on a par with Bedford Lemere's lifetime work in the late C19/early C20. Can Damien Hewitson's work join BL's glass plates preserved in the National Monuments Record, and now available to view online? Without people and vehicles, the whole of a building's facade can be seen. Given the rate of rebuilding in London, this will be a valuable record and archive.

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