It would have been 1953; the year of the Coronation.I lived in Luton. I was nine years old and unpersuaded by the title of our all-around-the-classroom frieze: All Roads Lead to London.

“Chapel Street don’t go to London Miss. It goes to Farley Hill. If you go the other way it goes to the High Street.”

“But if you keep going it will eventually arrive at London.”

“No it don’t Miss. It goes to Bedford. Then it goes to Leighton Buzzard.”

I was a single child and my mother and I started off without a fixed abode. We moved around a lot and got to know places: Uncle Spencer in Bedford, Auntie Blanche in Broadstairs, Uncle Jack and Auntie Beatie in Beckenham. Uncle Syd and Auntie Honor lived in Los Angeles but the buses didn’t run that far.

The Coronation frieze went up with, no doubt, my contribution of a cut-out cat — Dick Whittington’s influence I guess.

Some three years ago I returned to Luton. Looking at the images of that day, it was a recognisable walk down Memory Lane.

Recently I’ve experienced walking down Memory Lane even without the memories.

What I mean by that is I have the feeling that I apply a series of filters to spaces; seeing the Georgian, the Victorian, the former cotton spinning factory, the Methodist chapel, the abattoir where none exist and possibly never existed. I call it ‘Wish Photography’.

It’s also tiresome. I’m walking towards a wish-memory. I’m willing some construction to be in place when I turn the next corner. This has nothing to do with Psycho-Geography. It has a lot to do with my mother. For her, history was the foundation of person-hood. The person you were and the person you would become emerged from all the malarkey that had gone before. It also had to do with my putative father who turned up occasionally with a bundle of encyclopaedias; upon the content of which I expected to be quizzed at his next emergence.

Enough family history.; back to walking.

This Summer I intend to travel the arc of the Lancashire mill towns. (I almost preceded that last phrase with the word ‘former’ but to me are not ‘former’ anything. I know what I’ll find — what’s there and what I want to be there. I’ll have a struggle between the two but the economic history will prevail.

Unless I deal with The Problem.

In fact, for me, there are two problems.

Problem One: do I photograph what’s there or what used to be there.

Problem Two: what’s there?

Start with Problem Two.

Last year I visited the exhibition in (appropriately) Deptford entitled The Future of Photography is Urban’. I always thought it was a killer title but it masks a problem and offers an opportunity.

The problem for me was that the exhibition didn’t address how Future Urban might look, how much photography will be allowed in Future Urban and how that photography will be regulated.

Won’t happen? Will!

The opportunity is to secure the means of image-making, the means of dissemination and the modes of resistance.

Resistance to what? Neoliberal Capitalism.

Question: why?

Answer: because it stinks.

The first thrust into this territory (or the first of which I became aware) was the publication in 2015 of Toscano & Kinkle’s Cartographies of the Absolute.

If it’s possible to summarise their argument in one sentence it might be: How can one photograph that which is in constant motion & continually shape-shifts?

Back to the mill towns.

The finest current writer in the field of social history is David Kynaston. The finest writer in the genre of autobiography is Alan Johnson. Both manage the writing of the minutiae of the dissolution of the fabric of the urban history of Lancashire and their urban space. Some managed the photography too: see Tom Wood’s Merseyside in All Zones Off Peak.

Back to Cartographies.

How does one photograph motion in such a way that does not represent another excursion into time-stop?  [Having said that, a presentation to The Crossing Lines group by Gareth Davies of ‘stitched’ panoramas (remember?) was wonderfully effective in his suburban context]

Back to the question: How does one photographically represent a phenomenon that is in constant motion and metamorphosis?

Importantly: how important is it to me?

I ask this for medical reasons.

Over the past month (and it’s not over yet) I’ve been undergoing a number of examinations of various parts of me to discover which bits need Sellotaping back. It was also a discovery to find out that I’m mortal and all mortals wind down sometime.

This means that my passage through the Kingdom might need to be speeded up and the metamorphosis given a tip of the hat and not much more.

So, where was I? [“Between the Chatterly Trial and The Beatles first LP”]

Back with the questions: How important is the photography that I undertake and what do I commit to?

For a couple of years now I’ve spent time on the making of ‘objects’; making (and often gifting) ‘pieces’ based upon the excursions that I’ve made. I’ve done this for no other reason than to make the image concrete; something to construct, handle, move about, drop into a street, place on a surface, ‘give back’ to a place that resonated with me; give back to a space that is now less than a memory — construction as a response to demolition.

Is this nostalgia creeping in? Between 1944 and 1972 I never lived in a home that had an indoor toilet. The question arises: “How can one be nostalgic for something that was rotten?”

Last year I placed beside the former Manchester Ship canal a series of treated images from stills of Tony Richardson’s 1961 film of Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste Of Honey. I never met anyone whom I talked to there who indicated in any way that they missed anything about Salford-as-was.

But I’ll still catch the bus there and the bits beyond.

“Dirty Old Town please. Single.”

John Levett
May 2016