After a Portrait off the Lines of Desire, Regent Street in the Sales by the London Archaeologist
It had seemed simple. Go to Regent Street, set up a tripod down one side street after another, photographing the thick paste of pedestrians smudging across the field of vision at its end, occasionally pick out a fleeting face, perhaps with the help of flash.
These plans rarely come off.
I’d long meant to work the street into a post, as a famous first in town planning, beautiful, successful, frightening. Part of the beauty lay in the elegant ensemble linking the new Regent’s Park to the North down to St James’s in the South, with two cleverly handled corners, a kink and the famous curve making picturesque sense of obstructions on the way.
Soon copied on an enormous scale in the Paris of Haussmann, this first step in a rationalised town planning process has now become only one weapon in a panoply, going under one of the science’s most evocative terms – because what I’d hoped to photograph at work was the phenomenon of the original planned-in ‘line of desire’. A phenomenon originating from informally formed paths across, for instance, grass, and perhaps extending to the internet, to routes between sites, a quick search revealing the term to have generated much traffic of its own, a site dedicated to their sightings perhaps a-plot, with the increasing planning demands of the growing metropoles, someone at some point had to learn to harness its forces for control, and that man was Nash.
If the city’s security forces can use this, clocking citizens as suspect for the simple fact of their having strayed from the more frequented thoroughfare, so surely could the blogger seeking to get a handle on the other forces at work in the city. Through this contrast in these shots, I’d be able to capture in the empty spaces some of what it is that eludes us, bringing us a step further, surely, to pinning down the subject of this blog.
Of course this sort of thinking’s photographic, and would come to nothing without shots. Such shots being almost of necessity portraits, I would have, of course, to approach, and, in the few minutes it would take their pretext to expire, elicit their complicity.
Talking to these people I experienced some of the rare moments when I regret having given up myself, all those years ago. Indeed, I was told by one that he had himself earlier given up, but the Regent Street job had got the better of this, these snatched opportunities too valuable now to forego.
But mostly, though no one said it, or even seemed particularly to respond when I offered it as a reason, I suspect that, if the purpose of the moment was withdrawal, release from the hectic transactions of the busiest time of the year on one of the city’s most crowded streets, even in its very midst, to have the lens come rooting around in there on its own agenda would be desecration.
And so the substance of this post is given over to those who, on Regent Street, or mostly off, if only for a moment, cease to engage. The absence of almost all of these is a measure, of their success, certainly, but also perhaps of the blog, at least to have sought, approached what, if unrecordable, may well turn out to have been at the heart of the events considered a city.