Camera on the Carpenters Estate



September 13, 2021

The recent project entitled ‘Lund Point’ involved the transformation of currently empty dwellings in a 23-storey tower block on the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, into a multi-lens camera obscura to create ultra large analogue photographic prints. The work was created by young adults from East London recruited through Beyond the Box, working with Brendan Barry.

Here the group are using camera phone torches as an enlarger to expose the negative. Photo: Brendan Barry

Beyond the Box consultants organise co-design projects with young people, working with communities and organisations to build more equitable places to live, work and play. Brendan Barry is a photographer, educator and camera builder whose practice combines elements of construction, education and participation. He uses the mechanics of photography as a tool for experiment and collaboration.

Lund Point from The Dovetail Community Centre. Photo: Brendan Barry

The site of the work, Lund Point, is one of three tower blocks on the Carpenters Estate built in the late 60’s in the London Borough of Newham. Newham Council is now the majority freehold owner of the estate, with part being owned by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. The block will be refurbished for social rent by Newham Council and Populo Living (Newham’s housing company) as part of a wider re-development scheme. The work offers a unique perspective, created with young people, of the Olympic Park and the sites of the new V&A East Storehouse and V&A East Museum, opening in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

Working out exposure times to make the negative. Photo: Brendan Barry

This short photo essay records the making of the work in August 2021 on the 21st floor of Lund Point, where small groups of young people worked over four days in four separate flats. Most of the flats have been empty for a considerable period and the last traces of habitation was left by the BBC, who used the flats to film the Olympic Games in 2012. A small number of tenants remain in the block.

Each day began with the task of creating a working dark room and blacking out the space to make the camera obscura. With the lens in place the next task was to focus and frame an image in order to create a negative.  Photo: Matty Pye
Revealing the negative after washing away the chemicals.  Photo: Matty Pye

There was no running water in the flats, so we took the developed paper negatives and prints down to The Dovetail, the local community centre on the estate, to be washed. It was great to share the process and the work with local people who came to see what we were doing each day. The images were a means of locating where we were and making shared connections.

Some local helpers from the estate. Photo: Brendan Barry

The young cultural producers were simultaneously creating a week-long festival, Envision East, and designing and constructing a People’s Pavilion. The theme of their work was Making Space, reflecting on what it means to Take Up Space in a city in which physical space for young people is often extremely lacking.

James Riley Point negative hanging up to dry. Photo: Matty Pye

Lund Point, and the adjacent blocks, James Riley Point and Dennison Point, were designed by East Ham born architect and planner Thomas North. Kenneth Lund, North’s successor as Borough Architect for Newham, wrote a survey book about the architecture of Newham in 1973, and his words echo conversations which took place during the making of the work:

“Buildings form part of the memory of a community…They also provide an indication of the extent to which change has taken place and, in doing so they give meaning to the present.”

Buildings in Newham: A Survey of Buildings of Architectural, Historic, and Local Interest Recorded in the Borough in 1973
Denis and Alice Power being filmed about their experience of living in James Riley Point. Photo: Matty Pye

Former residents of James Riley Point, Alice and Denis Power came to talk to the young producers about living on the estate in the late 1980s and early 90s. They shared the challenges of anti-social behaviour, racism and inadequate care for people with mental health issues, balanced with respect for their neighbours, spectacular firework celebrations and the importance of having work close to where you live and grow as a family.

Experiment with the developing process. Photo: Matty Pye

Most people in the group have lived experiences of friends and family growing up on similar housing estates. Working inside dwelling spaces brought back memories and also focused the group’s resistance to the perpetual growth of the city and the decrease of homes for social rent, which causes displacement and precarity, especially for young Londoners.

“This project is unique because unlike a lot of things commissioned by cultural spaces, it actively engaged with the voices of the community that it situated itself in. We spoke to residents past and present to make the project as ethical and open as possible. The project allowed for young East Londoners to ‘take up space’, something that is at the heart of the Envision East festival.”

Condie Baiden, Lead Young Cultural Producer
The last day of printing outside The Dovetail community centre. Photo: Matty Pye

In the last decade extraordinary change has taken place in the local area surrounding the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with the skyline being continually transformed. High-density building has become the default setting for architects and planners racing to meet commercial demand for homes. The work is proposed as an act of cultural democracy reframing and inscribing a site through the lived experience of people living in east London who rightfully demand a space and a democratic role in London’s future.

 The Opening of the People’s Pavilion, Here East. Photo: Matty Pye

The work was created by Shirin Al’Rashid, Maia Ardalla, Doua Attafi, Condoleezza Baiden, Maddeline Balogun, Simone Casimiro, Tapiwa Cronin, Shirin Naveed, Aiden Nip, Fome Owuasu, Sumaya Rahman, Samreen Sabeer, Lucie Shackley and Seby Wright with Brendan Barry. Lund Point was conceived and curated by Matilda Pye, VARI and V&A East Public Engagement Fellow, as part of the ongoing research project, Show+Tell+Share. It was generously supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with assistance from Populo Living.

About the author



September 13, 2021

Matilda Pye is a V&A East and V&A Research Institute (VARI) Public Engagement Fellow within the VARI-led Show + Tell + Share research project. Pye works with the knowledge and...

More from Matilda Pye
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Comments

I have seen these prints on display at Here East, I walk past them daily but had just assumed they were just (albeit impressive) large urban landscapes. I would have been fascinated to know the context of these prints. Did I miss some additional information?

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