Lewis Bush, Metropole

JTF (just the facts): Self published in 2015 (here). Softcover, 32 pages, with 15 black and white photographs. Includes texts by the artist. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Cities, like any natural organisms, constantly change and grow. In recent years, London has been drastically transformed by a massive growth in property values, perhaps even more so than other major cities around the globe. Increased income inequality and encroaching gentrification have meaningfully affected London’s mood, driving away some of its creative energy, diversity, and rich history.

Lewis Bush, a photographer and writer born and raised in London, has made a photobook exploring these changes via a penetrating look at the constant bustle of London’s new architecture – Bush is interested in the rapid construction boom in the British capital and the way it has affected the city and its landscape. The book title, Metropole, obviously evokes the 1927 film Metropolis, the futuristic urban dystopia by Fritz Lang. It also refers to a term used to define London as the center of the British Empire, its hierarchical structure, and its unequal use of resources. In a more contemporary context, Bush repurposes the term to refer to the domination and the rise of global capital and how it is once again restructuring imperial power.

Metropole is a medium-sized book with a soft cover, almost like a ‘zine. Its title – long and vertical – is placed on the cover like an echo of a rising skyscraper. An introductory essay creates the context for the visual narrative – Bush is focused on the noticeable increase in enormously tall towers, mostly corporate and luxury residential blocks, both finished and unfinished. He photographed this series in the winter 2014, deep at night. The book opens with an atmospherically blurry black and white image depicting London’s skyline; it is a dark mass with a few flared lights and an unbelievably large number of construction cranes. Bush goes on to photograph various development sites, capturing industrial structures, half-finished skyscrapers, and empty offices with strong bright lights, the dense images piling upon each other with increasing multiple-exposure urgency. In this world, there are no signs of human presence or indications of life, just the endless replication of structure. The last photograph is a quiet dark shot of the city – it is London’s financial center, “the dark heart driving its change”.

Bush’s blurry photographs with fuzzy grain and high contrast were inspired by the visual sensibility of the Japanese Provoke movement (late 1960s to the mid 1970s). The parallels between Bush’s imagery and that of Moriyama, Nakahira, Takahashi, Tomatsu and others aren’t only aesthetic – the Provoke photographers were radically rethinking photographic practice while consciously reacting to the social issues of the day, just as Bush is. In this case, Bush is stylizing the spectre of unrelenting development, and using in-camera double exposures that create visual layers of mixed angles and patterns to highlight the speed of the transformations taking place.

Metropole is an elegantly slim book. Full bleed images create an enveloping and continuous flow, while the visual rhythm is slowly intensifies from single shots of construction sites to images that become increasingly abstract, merging into each other and overlapping into one. By the end, the photographs look flat and compact, just like a city that has tried to squeeze in as much construction as is physically possible. Bush manipulates the scale and dimension of the photographs, creating a powerful sense of disorientation and unsettled loss. Don’t we feel that same sense of no longer belonging when we go back to a once familiar neighborhood that has drastically changed in just few months?

Bush’s visualisation of London’s ongoing transformation is dramatic and aggressive. As a native Londoner, he is obviously concerned that money and power – in the symbolic form of luxury buildings – are changing both the socioeconomic and physical layers of the city. Old neighborhoods are being replaced with clean anonymous luxury buildings, forcing people to move and forever changing the dynamics and spirit of the city. Once diverse and vibrant, the city is morphing into a homogeneously plain landscape.

Bush writes that this series was partly inspired by the city symphony movies, a genre which emerged in 1920s, offering a poetically experimental portrait of the spirit of city life. But contrary to these optimistically glorious depictions of urban developments in the early twentieth century, Bush is not so positive about the current changes; he sees these ongoing transformations as a substantive decline. His energetic photobook, with its frenetic geometric patterns and nightmarish atmosphere, is a statement and a warning. This imaginary walk leaves us with a heavy feeling of chaotic disorientation and loss. As the tall towers continue to rise and the skyline gets ever more cramped, Bush’s Metropole feels more like a requiem for London rather than a joyous celebration.

Collector’s POV: Lewis Bush does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked above in the sidebar).

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