Creating a new visual dialogue

Seeing Tottenham in a different light with pinhole photography

Words and images by Stephen Furner

We are surrounded by digital visual images that claim to show what or who we are and how we live. They make up a visual language that tries to define our identity and make us accept and believe in it.

Too often, I see Tottenham depicted in news and social media as a deprived
inner-city area of bleak, rubbish strewn, high rise, concrete, desolation populated by postcode gangs of violent youths fighting each other over recreational drugs sales or other criminal enterprises.

This picture is not the Tottenham I know and see around me, or the Tottenham I grew up in. In my photography of my home area, I wanted to show a different complex, subtler, compassionate, and more human view of its history and the life taking place within it.

I believe we need a new visual dialogue about Tottenham. This dialogue of the bleak, inner city wasteland is unhelpful and damaging. It drives down the self esteem of our young people and perpetuates a mythology about the people living here.

I decided to find a way to look at Tottenham through a different pair of eyes than the conventional high resolution digital camera.

My solution was to step back and experiment with simpler analogue alternatives taken from an earlier age of photography. A time when photographers made their own cameras and photographic chemicals and anyone could have a go with what was available in the home.

I made some simple pinhole cameras out of soup tins, and used these to take the images. I developed the negatives from my cameras using a mixture of coffee and a couple of other household products. After copying the negatives into my computer, I then used graphics software to invert them into ordinary photos.

Looking at these images, I see the modern Tottenham as if from a viewpoint in the past. I see a more rural, softer Tottenham, as a green field space on the edge of industrial growth, creativity and innovation.

My grandparents moved out of inner-city London for a better life in rural Tottenham in the 1920s, which was at that time outside London, in Middlesex. Some of this rural history lives on in the green spaces we are lucky to have here and is, I believe, made more visible by these images.

Download the November edition for details of how you can make your own pinhole camera.