:: Buzzwords

Five for: Paul Talling


1) You say on your website that you’re not a professional photographer nor is Derelict London “some trendy art school project”. What, then, made you pick up your camera? What’s the driving force behind Derelict London? Why are you fascinated with what many people would consider eyesores? Also, am I right in thinking you’re a fan of punk music? How much does punk affect Derelict London’s aesthetics, if at all?
During a long walk home early one morning I wished that I had a camera with me to snap a few of London’s less celebrated buildings, sadly decaying places unlikely to be around much longer and so far undocumented. These places all have history not for the picture-postcard hunting tourists but were important to people in their heyday, whether it be their home, factory, local greasy spoon, pool, hospital, etc. So from then on I started wandering around every bit of London often walking 15 miles a day just snapping away and wondering if anyone else would ever be interested in dereliction too. I thought everyone considered these places as eyesores but apparently not due to the popularity of the website.

Yes, I’m a fan of Punk music—I used to be a gig promoter and ran an indie label. The punk diy ethos is very much behind Derelict London—myself having no experience in photography or setting up websites similar to many Punk bands, fanzines and labels driven by a labour of love, learning as they go along without any set rules.

2) Derelict London‘s images are annotated by readers of the website, making it somewhat of a living history. Is that a fair description? Or, is Derelict London a visual pschogeography in the vein of Iain Sinclair or Stephen Gill?
It’s more of a living history and something to engage the public—all members of the public including the average person in the street. Some restoration and heritage groups and forums can be somewhat highbrow and cliquey and put off Joe Public. Derelict London is, judging by mail I receive, appealing to everybody—shop workers, musicians, footie fans, war vets, vicars and publicans…

3) Time Out thought the disused pubs section was “surely one of the
most depressing portraits of the capital”
. Would you agree? Is there a section you find more depressing?

It’s certainly sad to see all the Victorian boozers boarded up, but equally the old pools and leisure facilities closed due to lack of funding, considering that we are a nation supposed to be so much into sport and the cost of maintaining these places would be a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of the Olympics 2012.


4) Some of the locations you’ve featured on Derelict London have been restored. How does that make you feel?
It’s always better to see a building restored for any purpose rather than demolishing it. It’s ironic, though, that a place such as Tower House in Whitechapel was built as a hostel for the working man—even Joseph Stalin stayed there in a sixpence-a-night cubicle in 1907. After two decades of decay it has now been converted into luxury apartments for £300+ per week.

5) Derelict London has made the transition from web to print; how did you select what went in the book? What are some your favourite images?
I spent the whole of last summer walking around again retaking pics of all the places that were still derelict or had been restored. Many of the old pics on the website were taken with a tiny pocket camera and the quality of the pics weren’t good enough for printing. For the website, I include any derelict places whether I have info on the building or not, but for the book I had to have enough info to write a page to annote the picture.
My favourite images change frequently especially as I’m discovering new subjects every week (soon be enough to fill another book!). In the book my favourite images include Palmers Pet Shop (with its Monkeys and Talking Parrots signage), the knackered milkfloat  (the decline of the UK milkman), The Flying Scud pub (a real classic rough-and-ready boozer—my mate Keith tells me some great stories about this place including his Uncle stabbing someone there shortly after WW2). I love that picture of the Gherkin on the very last page viewed though a barbed wire gate into an overgrown alleyway. I always have an update section on the website with my recently taken faves—I’ve just uploaded one of a derelict pub in Vauxhall which had its very own swimming pool.

Derelict London by Paul Talling is published by Random House and is available now. Paul continues to document Derelict London here.

First posted: Sunday, May 18th, 2008.

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