Today I’m excited to share one of latest additions to my shelf: Missing Buildings by Thom and Beth Atkinson.
First, lets start with the concept, the story. This is the kind of photo book I love – it combines beautiful, sensitive imagery with a fascinating historical story. During the course of WWII, over a million buildings in London were either destroyed or damaged by German bombing. These bombings were often very erratic and the targets chosen at random to install fear in the hearts and minds of Londoners. The result was mysterious gaps in the built environment all over the city – from the suburbs to the inner-city.
Many of these sites were rebuilt, but the scars remain – and this was the focus of the Atkinson’s images. Working with a large format camera, they traversed the streets of the capital searching for evidence of the blitz that still stands today. As they explain on their website, they did this so “that we might memorialise what remains and contemplate its effects upon the British psyche”.
The book is designed subtly – the focus of the project is not instantly clear when you first leaf through the pages of the book, although the title does give you some indication of the subject, but not its relevance. Each image is carefully composed to show an absence, and this is where Thom and Mary really excel. How do you photograph something to show what is not there?
The locations range from all over the city, showing different places that were bombed and either rebuilt in another fashion, or left idle. I came across this book at Urban Spree in Berlin, although I had heard about it online previously, and I felt it was the perfect title for my new home. One of the most striking things I’ve noticed about Berlin so far – especially the area I am staying in – is the sudden change in building styles on a street. On the street next to me for example, there are many apartment buildings typical of the late 1800s, and right next to them are apartment buildings built when this part of Berlin was part of the GDR. Did these buildings fall victim to bombings too, only to be rebuilt in a more Soviet style?
The most important thing is that Thom and Beth’s images do justice to the story they are trying to tell. Many a photo book has a great concept behind it, but the images can’t live up the standards – but thankfully not in this case. The images are just as mesmerising as the story itself.
But more than this, this book is a story about London, its past, present and future. As Them mentioned in an interview on Paper Journal “London’s landscape is changing incredibly quickly as property values have shot up. Even while making the work, we’d go back to sites and find they’d been demolished or there’d be hoarding for new builds where there used to be a gap. This evidence is threatening to disappear; but that’s part of any city; there are other traumas buried and long lost underneath the city we have now: plagues, fires, battles, lives lost. It’s just that this one still feels within reach; it’s still in living memory.”
I, for one, am thankful for this project and the story it tells about London’s past and present. Having lived in London between 2009 and 2013 I saw how fast it was changing. Thom and Beth’s work is a testament to the city and its legacy, no matter what its future holds.
Missing Buildings Standard Edition Book
Edition of 600
With an Afterword by David Chandler
Printing: Full colour offset with spot machine varnish
Binding: Debossed hardcover in Havanna
Trim Size: W 245 x H 285mm
Extent: 96 pages
Plates: 42 colour
Interested parties can read more & purchase by visiting Hwaet Books website.