London Street Art: Pearly Whites at the Heygate Estate

Mighty Mo, Malarky, Sweet Toof (of course)… have been painting lots of big old teeth in all varieties on the walls of London’s abandoned Heygate Estate lately, judging by Alex Ellison‘s latest additions to the Flickr pool. I haven’t been since my Elephant & Castle walk, but here’s a few photos (All from Alex, all at the Heygate!):

Malarky, Mighty Mo, Gold Peg & Sweet ToofMalarky, Mighty Mo, Gold Peg & Sweet Toof


Gold Peg / RowdyGold Peg, Rowdy


Paul Insect, Sweet Toof & Gold PegPaul Insect, Sweet Toof, Gold Peg

Mighty MoMighty Mo

Mighty Mo & RowdyMighty Mo, Rowdy

It’s hard to choose but I think the stairs and the one using garage doors for teeth are my favourites. So creative. You?

Exploring Elephant and Castle

Beyond the disorienting concrete roundabout, the derelict hollow hallways of the doomed Heygate Estate and the few Colombian restaurants I’ve been to on numerous occasions (La Bodeguita and Leños & Carbón), I admit I don’t know too much about the Elephant and Castle.

I was invited on a walking tour of the area last week with blue badge guide Sophie Campbell. She lead us first to the Cuming Museum on Walworth Road, a tiny place with an odd selection of objects.

I’m not a museum person, but it did have some interesting stuff. Bear grease imported from Russia, used to smooth men’s hair in the Victorian days. Information about Southwark’s connection to the slave trade.

We stopped into London’s oldest apothecary G Baldwin & Co. Poked our noses around the glass jars with interesting labels and the very old sets of catalogue drawers.

The rain started to spit down, as it has been doing incessantly this summer, but we made our way down to Amelia Street, a fascinating little piece of history, Victorian terraces with open front doorways backing onto Pullens Yard.

This is a fabulous little cobbled alleyway, quietly inviting, lined with artist studios, most of which are still used for their original purpose.

100 years ago or so, these red-door studios included everything from industrial clog makers for the Fire Service, manufacturers of x-ray machinery, bookbinders and furniture restorers.

There was even a ceremonial swords maker to the Lord Mayor of London.

Now, in Pullens Yard, you will find ceramicists, jewellers, graphic designers, web-designers, furniture designers, film makers, photographers, writers and film-costume makers to name a few.

Many of the doors are open. Twice a year, the artists hold open studios for the public.

At the end of Pullen’s Yard, we came to the Electric Elephant cafe, where a kind woman brought us cupcakes with elephants on them.

The address for the Electric Elephant is 86a Crampton Street, Walworth, London SE17 3BF. If you mention my blog until July 31st, you’ll get a free coffee.

We chatted about the controversial plans for regeneration of Elephant and Castle, the street art of Leake Street and the very interesting history of the original building that now houses the Cinema Museum.

It used to be a workhouse where families who were poor would be sent to work.

The men separate from the women and the kids send down to a school in another area of the city. Charlie Chaplin spent some time there as a child.

At this point, we headed up to the Imperial War Museum and I skipped out on the second half of the tour to run back to work.

There is a very interesting mixture of architecture.

And buried in it, tons of stories.

Parts of it have that fun Latino vibe and a great place to pick up food from South America.

The shopping centre with its dodgy characters hanging about the traffic jammed road system really don’t do much for offering a first impression.

I have a few friends who lived there for ages and they just adore the area.

I don’t often go on tours in London, but it made me realise that although it still feels like a dodgy part of town, there’s plenty to explore and a whole lot of history in the old Elephant and Castle. It’s definitely a colourful place.

The Old Heygate Estate

My aunt sent me a few paperback books she found in a thrift shop a few months ago. They were part of a project by the London College of Communication’s photojournalism students to track the re-development of Elephant & Castle over the next decade. She sent me the first two photo books called Home and Community. Many of the documentary style photos in these books focus on the famous Heygate Estate and the people who once inhabited this massive building that is about to be demolished.

The Heygate, which once held 1,200 families, is nearly fully empty now, the residents forced out, some who had lived their entire lives in that building. It’s reputation for crime, poverty and dilapidation has been sited as a main reason for the regeneration. After looking at the LCC books, I wanted to go explore myself. It was nearly empty and easy to find my way into the building, but most of the corridors were fully sealed off already.

Here’s a few shots from inside, and some of the view looking out from the top:
Heygate Staircase

Empty Flats


Heygate Tenants Association

The Fast Train

No More Post

Living Here

End of the Hall


Abandoned Halls

Looking Down

Council Estate

Garage Graffiti

The Outside World

Crack of Light


Heygate's London Eye


Heygate Pipes

For more on the Heygate, check out these links:

London Art Spot: Maximiliano Braun

Meet Maximiliano. Born in 1983 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he studied at the University of Utah and then in completed his MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in London where he now lives and works.

While I found his still life photography in the Elephant & Caste Community book published by the London College of Communication, his real interest lies in reportage photography. He is currently expanding on a project called Stay With Me, building a database of multimedia and photographic experiences from families and individuals who have been affected by brain injury.

Maximiliano has taken some time out to answer a few questions for this week’s London Art Spot. He talks about his experience working in the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle, lets us in on the expected outcome of his Stay With Me project and shares some of his wonderful photography.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your photography?
I think the fact your have so many galleries, awards and other contests based in London, and the UK as a whole, helps seeing the diversity of work coming up from the young emerging photographers to those who are more established and, in many cases (like the Barbican’s This is War and the travelling World Press Photo exhibitions) works that are seldom seen in other cities.

LLO: I first came across your work in the Community book put out by London College of Communication as part of the Elephant & Castle project, an area that is now being regenerated. Tell us a bit about your experience working on the book
The book was edited by Patrick Sutherland and promoted by the London College of Communication and Southwark Council. As the book mentions, Southwark Council and LCC’s MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography students are commissioned to produce a body of work about the Elephant and Castle area and the changes and life that develop there. The area, as you note, is being regenerated and the book helps keep record of the Elephant and Castle life, architecture and it’s citizens seen through the eyes of those attending the MA at LCC.

The idea from doing Cast Off came after a colleague of mine told me that apartments were being sealed permanently at the Heygate Estate. They do this to avoid squatters to populate the vacated apartments which, eventually, will be demolished to allow for new estate housing projects being developed. I always thought that objects possessed by people tell something about themselves. So I set out to document the objects left behind found in the vacated apartments to speculate about what kind of people lived there.

LLO: You said this still life work was a one off and you are now a reportage photographer. What have you gained both personally and professionally from switching your approach?
I began doing reportage, or trained for it, before the Elephant and Castle project. The idea of the work is not far, if at all, from the idea of producing a photographic reportage, though it does not contain the traditional approach to reportage. The viewer is welcome to assess the work however they want, but it would be misleading to imagine that I was not doing reportage before the Elephant and Castle project. There were other more traditional reportage ideas that I would have wanted to do during that term, but neither of them came to fruition.

LLO: Your most recent project is called Stay With Me, quite different from what you were doing in the Elephant. How did this project start?
Stay With Me has been a long running project that began during the MA at LCC. I would say Stay With Me, so far, and compared to my Dad series, is what I have always dreamt of developing since I began doing documentary photography. Roughly in 2004 I read an article in a newspaper about a mother who visited her child who was then, and maybe still is, in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). As my father is old (99 now),  I’ve had the experience of being in hospitals throughout my youth and I could clearly sympathise with the woman written about in the article. It struck me deeply and I never forgot about it. When, for our thesis project at LCC, I was given the chance to document whatever I was interested in, I remembered the article and I decided to find out what is life like for families who have a relative in a PVS. Stay With Me, since then, evolved into looking at family and brain injury as a whole and the way life goes on.

LLO: It’s a worldwide project. Where have been shooting and researching for it so far?
I have documented families in the US, England, Northern Ireland, South Africa and soon will do some work in Bolivia.

LLO: Tell us a bit about what you hope it will achieve and what will be the final result.
Stay With Me will, in time, become a segmented story of families around the globe and the lives they lead dealing with brain injury. Stay With Me’s own website will become more interactive not only for the viewers, but for the families that participated by allowing me to document their everyday. There will be a blog type page for every family for them to update the site and its viewers on the latest developments in their lives.

LLO: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far to get a shot you wanted?
I cannot recall specific shots I ‘wanted’. I pretty much go with the flow with everyone I document. Challenges come out every time when you are shooting. The real and constant challenge is to convey in a photograph what you see and make sure it is good enough the audience gets a hint of it.

LLO: Before completing your MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, you studied Anthropology, Mathematics, French and Photography at the University of Utah and then Fashion Photography in London – an interesting mix. How does this background play into your interests and work today?
I think that all you do and have done in the past influences you in one way or another. Anthropology is useful in photojournalism, as well as speaking other languages. I did fashion photography because I like the idea of creating imagery from nothing. I liked the commercial aspect of it and thought of it as an interesting vessel to communicate ideas, dreams and lifestyles. I began doing documentary because I wanted a more interactive and investigative approach to things I was interested in. As you know and encounter several people around you during your life, you learn several things. All those I have know from the US and those I got to know in the UK and abroad have helped me in looking at things with a diversity of viewpoints. I think the most important aspect I have learnt is how to interact with different people when working.

LLO: You have some stunning and emotional images in a series called Dad on your website. Can you share one of your favourites and tell us a bit about this collection?
I just want to remember my father and my time with him. There really isn’t much to it beyond that.

LLO: Have you thought about other subjects you’d like to tackle photographically in the future?
I only tackle things photographically, I don’t know what else I can do, really. I have several subjects in my mind. I always run with at least 3 projects in my mind; the one I am shooting, one that I am about to shoot and one I am beginning to research into. Unfortunately some of these are time sensitive and I won’t be able to elaborate more on them.

Thanks Maximiliano!

For more about Maximiliano or Stay With Me:

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.