Sep 5 2011: London Citizens Take It In Their Stride, 1944 (from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Gordon Stowell, Waverley, c.1955)
Something I’ve been doing this weekend is working on a clearout of some of the layers of crap that have a habit of gathering around my workspace and alongside the laborious typing out of descriptions of records for online auctions and the piling up of books on a whole row of teetering ‘out piles’ in front of the lightened shelves (there were around 350 in the departure lounge at the last count), a lot of battered odd volumes of 1950s encyclopaedias and other such items had mounted up in the area of the office dedicated to the ongoing fabrication of works by Robert Holcombe and those needed a thorough sort out, too.
To that end I set about slicing out the pages, images and other fragments I can use – the things I bought each volume for, I suppose – and putting the remains of the books into recycling: a strangely cathartic activity. Along the way all sorts of intriguing images I hadn’t really noticed before surfaced from the general mass of paper I’d been accumulating. One of those is the photograph above, titled London Citizens Take It In Their Stride, showing a scene near Aldwych in 1944 as Londoners go about their everyday business against the backdrop of debris rising from a bombing at Fleet Street, a few minutes from the scene we’re looking at.
It’s a startling shot for many reasons, not least because it has the look of a much later scene – it might almost be a still from Peter Watkins’ 1965 pseudo-documentary projecting the potential effect of nuclear attack in Britain, The War Game, which itself often referred back to footage of the 1940s Blitz to create wholly convincing scenarios. Here, though, it’s the striking contrast of the girl in the foreground – whose casual stride and clothes might date from the 60s rather than the 40s – and the second girl alighting from the bus while the devastation unfolds elsewhere that gives this photograph its very notable charge.