1: The Pictures
To view the pictures larger, click on fig.1 and then scroll through the rest.
When I started thinking seriously about this assignment in January, I didn’t realise that it would turn out to be as hotly topical as it appears to be now. I did not know that, as I began to write this introduction, the Guardian would be running a week-long series of short biographies of each of the seventy two dead; or that the next issue of the London Review of Books will contain one single article – an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire and its political aftermath by Andrew O’Hagan. I did not know that the Grenfell enquiry would be finishing its second week as I prepared the pictures for printing. And I did not realise that the fire, its horror and its possible causes would be all over the media once again.
There are a lot of words and a lot of pictures out there at the moment; can mine possibly add anything to them that hasn’t been said or shown elsewhere, better? Possibly not.
But then, most of the media coverage has been aimed straight at the public’s emotions, maybe with the aim of disarming them. We are all angry and we are all looking for individuals to blame. Perhaps we are – once again – being misdirected.
This series should perhaps be seen as structured around a simple rhetorical figure. Each diptych panel comprises an oxymoron – a direct statement of opposites. The texts and the photographs do not easily occupy the same space (or at any rate they should not); in the gulf that separates them, it is to be hoped that the viewer – who, like me, is more likely to be the sort of person who has benefitted from housing policy over the last forty odd years – will find space to consider how the stated goal of an action could fall so short of its mark and of the way the people who actually lived there were never truly at the heart of the rationale for the tower block’s renovation.
The pictures here are mine but – like Martha Rosler’s 1974 photographs of the Bronx – ‘they are not ‘reality newly viewed.’ There are only a limited number of places that you can get a recogniseable view of Grenfell and in researching this, I have seen minor variations on almost every picture I have taken as I circled the tower and the scaffolding, watching the grey shroud creep up floor by floor and week by week.
The words quoted from the Kensington and Chelsea Planning documents in the first four diptychs shown here are certainly not mine either; while they more closely match my position, nor are Gary Younge’s in the sixth.
What is mine – what I hope comes across here – is the disbelief I felt when I first read the extracts from the planning documents and saw the direct contradiction between the words and their final outcome, shown in the pictures. That, and some sense that something about the whole way we treat where we live needs to change.