On the banks of the River Thames at Limehouse there's a pocket of resistance. A small rectangle of foreshore appears on no maps and was left off the plans for the looming Canary Wharf development. Now the orphan place belongs to no-one. Returning twice a day at low tide, this liminal space exists between earth and water, shifting between private and public space as the moon chooses. Suspended between wealth and poverty, earth and water, past and present, and an unknowable future, it’s a tiny anomaly.
Briefly exposed as the tide recedes, the small foreshore was host to a series of performances between the winter solstices of 2020 and 2021. Celebrating imagination as an act of revolution, these Come Hell or High Water events, fuelled by around 60 artists over the year, celebrated the connection, expansion and strength of wind and water, of light and sound, of flesh living and breathing.
This is Elspeth Owen performing using voice, descant recorder, percussion, music box, birdsong and a great deal of yellow string at the Summer Solstice, 21st June 2020.
With no internet presence and word of the events passed discretely only between performers, friends and a few other carefully selected beings, it was a privilege to be frozen by arctic winds, soaked to the underwear by Storm Dennis and, together with my camera, repeatedly coated in stinky, slimy Thames mud.
The foreshore is muddy and extremely uneven with jagged buried rocks, chunks of scrap iron and rusting steel cables snatching at my feet just beneath the sludgy surface. Staying upright at all was a challenge, more so with my ancient arthritic knees, but I needed to be a bit nimble, so I shot all 13 events with just one camera, no flash, a Nikon D500 with a 12-24 zoom – that’s an 18-35 in old money.
Technically some days were easy, sunny with enough cloud to soften the shadows and a comfy 500th at f8 but working in dark driving rain with frozen fingers, wide open at a 15th, an iso higher than the national debt and a mud splatted viewfinder I struggled to take anything home at all. Still fun!
More images from the series can be seen here: Come Hell or High Water
I have a box set of Café Royal books and also a rather fatter hardback book about the East End in the 1970s and ‘80s coming soon. Forty years on from the Brixton riots I have photographs in Steve McQueen’s forthcoming series “Uprising”. I’m proud to have work selected for Martin Parr’s “Island Life” at the Bristol Festival later this year as well as a longer series from the Brixton riots in an exhibition at Morley College & Carnegie Library. Once that’s done I’ll be starting to edit down around 20,000 photographs for a book on Protest.
David Hoffman's biography:
Arriving in the East End as a squatter in 1970 shaped me as a photographer. Documenting squatting and homelessness from the inside spurred me to focus on oppressive policing and state control. I’ve built up a library that was briefly, in a previous millennium, a primary resource for photographs of protest, racism, policing, drug use, poverty and social exclusion. I grew increasingly interested in state surveillance and social control, and the way that this plays out in management of public order and the suppression of protest. Alongside grappling with rights grabs and protecting intellectual property rights, I have plenty to keep me busy.
See more work by David Hoffman