George Plemper worked in a then new Thamesmead; parts were still being constructed. A major Modernist development, a new society, new community, a problem solver perhaps. I’m interested in Brutalist and modernist architecture (and estates). How it can create and serve a community, how it functions generally and the unapologetic nature of the buildings and materials used in their construction.
George and I have released two books so far with two more coming in the new year, all archive work. The publication details follow this text from George, in response to me asking quite broadly, why he took these pictures.
“The camera and my love of photography came into my life uninvited” always comes to mind. By this I think that what I mean is that I was never that interested in photography and I bought a camera as a tool, in a vain attempt to rescue my failing teaching career. Of course, this quest was an abject failure but on a more positive note people liked my pictures and this encouraged me to do more.
A few years later I found myself in a Riverside School classroom with a camera in my hand. This time I was using photography as a teaching aid to reinforce my pupils’ sense of self and self-esteem.
One day around 1976 I was walking in St Martin’s Place, London and across the road I saw a poster of Paul Strand’s “Young Boy at Gondeville”; it stopped my world. Despite the distance I was stunned by the seemingly telepathic impact of the image and I never looked at a photograph in the same way again. As my fascination with photography grew, the work of the early documentary photographers (Julia Margaret) Cameron, (Lewis) Hine, (August) Sander, and (Eugène) Atget took me to their own place in time. I have come to understand that the power of a photograph is not defined by technique, form or line and neither is a photograph a memory trace.
In my existence memories are ephemeral and insubstantial and a photograph is always physical and substantial. The photograph provides an intuitive description of photographer’s experience of the world as it manifests to them. If we learn to look deeply, we can see through the photographer’s eyes, see what they saw, feel their presence in the world. This is what led me to take these pictures. They are a small testament to my existence on Earth. Although it is true that I took the photographs, I do not want to be burdened with the label “photographer”.
Plemper’s photographs aren’t nostalgic. They are very much a record of time and a place – a new place. A new kind of place, untested and unknown. This series puts Plemper in the role of community photographer and documentarian. What is also apparent is that today these photographs would not be taken, and certainly not broadcast or published. A mix of paranoia, safety and hype would sterilise the work, perhaps making room only for generic, over-priced and badly lit mottled back-drop school photographs in which the child stares blankly over the photographer’s shoulder into the eyes of the ‘entertainer’ employed to make the child face forward.
This particular series, published recently by Café Royal Books in ‘Thamesmead and Abbey Wood 1977 – 1982’ is almost devoid of people. Topographic photographs , like Baltz and Adams, not the Bechas. However, the inclusion of the boys on the bridge disrupt and perhaps soften the architectural images of construction.
Thamesmead Riverside School 1976 – 1978 One will be released next week, 27.11.14, and part two early 2015.
All images © George Plemper.