The Secret History of Peckham

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Except for an unwitting pass round the back of one of the sites on a drunken midnight ramble in February, there’s a major London pilgrimage I still haven’t done, even though I’m living right in its backyard. Since 1973 artist and Peckham native Tom Phillips has been working on 20 Sites n Years, one of the great works of rephotography:

Every year on or around the same day (24th May – 2nd June) at the same time of day and from the same position a photograph is taken at each of the twenty locations on this map which is based on a circle of half a mile radius drawn around the place (Site 1: 102 Grove Park SE15) where the project was devised. It is hoped that this process will be carried on into the future and beyond the deviser’s death for as long as the possibility of continuing and the will to undertake the task persist.

As someone who has attempted a similar undertaking – much smaller and less thorough, but based on the same principle – I understand the fascination these projects can exert. The city is revealed as a living thing, continually changing, but with each element changing at its own pace. A temporary sign can endure for years, while the building behind it vanishes. Then again, some scenes will suddenly travel backwards in time, reverting after a succession of revisions to way they were some years earlier after.

Phillips has uploaded all the photographs from the past 35 years on his website, with his own analysis and discussion of the history of each site (although these written observations end at 1992, the 20th anniversary). [amazing late-night observation eaten by dodgy web browser]