'26 Different Endings/A System of Edges'. Monograph: 26 Different Endings (Photoworks) ISBN 1 903796 21 0. Exhibition: 'A System of Edges' at the Centre of Contemporary Art, University of Brighton (2005); National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford (2006); Galerie National de la Tapisserie, Beauvais, France (2007)
Winter 1935. Bermondsey, London. A 29-year-old woman, standing a shade over five feet tall, is meticulously hand drawing all 23,000 roads and passageways she encounters during her daily walks around the city. She doesn’t use a guide, for precious few street plans of London exist and all are woefully inaccurate. It will take Phyllis Pearsall an entire year and 3000 miles to complete her navigation of the capital, but when she does her map is an instant success. The first copies – the original A-Z London Street Atlas - are delivered to WH Smith in a wheelbarrow borrowed from a neighbour.
The offspring of Pearsall’s epic work is now the most popular atlas of any kind in Britain, selling over 200,000 copies a year.
In the Spring of 2003 I was enjoying a picnic somewhere to the west of London. Leafing idly through my own A-Z, I noticed the stream in front of me ran along the very edge of the map and the field beyond was off the page altogether.
The coverage of the atlas changes with each new edition. Someone somewhere decides, year by year, where the map should end; which parts of the periphery of London should be included, and which should not.
There are 56 pages defining the edge of the London A-Z. Traveling to each of them (often several times) and finding that edge as accurately as I could, the photographs describe something of the spaces unlucky enough to fall just off the map, a kind of uncharted hinterland.
In many ways A System of Edges returns to some of the ideas I explored in The Shipping Forecast (1993-1996) although this time with a more rigorous framework. Both make obsessive use of a single map and explore a familiar British institution, and both involve the discovery of (to me at least) unknown landscapes at the edge, a dialogue between real and imagined space.
There are 56 pages defining the edge of the London A-Z. Travelling to each of them (often several times) and finding that edge as accurately as I could, the photographs describe something of the spaces unlucky enough to fall just off the map, a kind of uncharted hinterland.
"To live and work here," writes David Chandler, drawing on his own experience of growing up on the edge of South West London, "is in many ways to be trapped by it’s sense of unending dislocation; trapped because the area - like urban peripheries all over the world - fosters lifestyles where place and identity become irrelevant, and where time drifts forward inevitably but lifelessly, like a mechanical heartbeat."
I did not grow up at the edge of London spent the vast majority of my childhood in a suburban sprawl on the edge of Leicester. Three miles from the city centre, Oadby had once been a tiny village but it had been consumed by the growth of the city, and, therefore, it became no different from thousands of other such places all over the country. As the spaces between the city and the town were filled there was a sense that nothing was planned anymore. Things were just put. So I grew up not in Leicester itself, but somewhere on the edge, in a messy, incoherent place that clung limply to it’s ‘village’ status. That, I realised after I’d completed A System of Edges, was my real inspiration in making it.
A number of other photographers have worked at ‘the edge of the city’. In Spain, for instance, there are three projects which immediately spring to mind. I remember Jim Cooke producing a piece, perhaps 20 years ago, about the periphery of Madrid, the home of his wife Maria. Another colleague, Xavier Ribas, made a series, which he calls 'Sunday Pictures', about the use of the outskirts of Barcelona for leisure. Jean Marc Bustamente’s 'Tableaux' explored the inexorable growth of the same city. In America the so-called New Topographic photographers, in particular Lewis Baltz and Robert Adams, were concerned with the disappearance of precious land beneath the burgeoning settlements of the New West. The concept of Suburbia has lent rich pickings as well: from the gentle observations of Bill Owens to the nightmarish visions of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson.
"The large landscape format of this book and the fine Italian printing encourages the reader to study in detail these quiet and thought provoking images, revealing Power to be one of the best photographers of place and the built environment currently at work today."
(Justin Partyka. Source, Issue 52, Autumn 2007).