Photographer Kathy Archbold was born in Essex, but has spent most of her life in London. After a foundation art course at Harlow she attended Newport Art School in South Wales, which, she said, was only really notable by the attendance of a student dropout called ‘Woody’ – who later became Joe Strummer.
After her fair share of bartending during college, she found a job painting faces at a mannequin company. A few years later, she left to run a stall in Kensington Market, but because the skill she picked up painting mannequins is so peculiar, she continues to take on freelance work today. In 1983, Kathy relocated to New York to train mannequin artists. She returned to London in 1987 and has remained, in various parts of the city, ever since.
LLO: Tell us a bit about your background as a photographer.
KA: Although I’ve done quite a lot of illustration work, I always thought of myself as a pretty rubbish photographer. I knew how I wanted my pictures to look, but never got to grips with the technical aspects of [photography] or owned a decent camera and getting a film back was always a real disappointment. I only actually joined Flickr as a good way of keeping in touch with a pal who moved to Australia. But in doing so, I discovered that with digital and Photoshop, I could maybe alter my images to look the way I intended. I know a lot of people are opposed to any form of photo editing, and I’m not always a fan of what I call ‘The Science Fiction Look’, but I can say quite honestly that no one would even notice my pictures, especially when I started, if I hadn’t or didn’t edit them. Through Flickr, I discovered a lot of photographers whose work I really admired, and have been trying to emulate ever since, with varied results! I know Photoshop is open to much misuse and abuse, and neither is it quick or easy to learn. There’s a temptation to do something just because you can, and if I look at my earlier images, they often look overdone to me now. But four years on, I’m still learning, and although I am now experimenting with toy and vintage film cameras to get the look I want, My digital point and shoot remains constantly with me at all times, and has still produced most of my favourite photos.
Roupell Street, SE1
LLO: How does London influence your creativity?
KA: I think I’m definitely a city person, and what I miss about London if I leave is a certain diversity you don’t really get anywhere else. On the tube the other day, I sat opposite a Japanese girl wearing a flat cap, Jimi Hendrix T shirt, and talking to a friend about an Indian meal in a Manchester accent.
The John Snow, Broadwick Street W1
LLO: This set of photos is called Scuzzy London. What criteria do you consider to decide if a photo falls into this category?
KA: Definitely things that fall outside the tourist category, off the beaten track that maybe not everyone would notice, although its actually not about ugliness. I just find them more interesting, beautiful, or even humorous. A lot of the things I include are no longer there when I go back, so its also a bit of an affectionate document of my personal history with the place. I think cities suffer sometimes from being too gentrified and expensive, and all need a bit of sleaze and danger. When things get too expensive, and creative people can’t afford to live or work there, it all becomes very boring. Look at New York now – safer, but no one could say its anywhere near as exciting as it once was.
Salvador Dali’s Bike
LLO: How long have you lived in London?
KA: I first moved here in 1972. Although I left in ’83, so it hasn’t been consistent. But I’ve remained here now since 1987.
Covent Garden WC1
LLO: What type of camera do you use?
KA: A Panasonic Lumix TZ2 – a point & shoot. I’ve had it about 3 years, and although there are times now when I’d like a big serious ‘proper’ camera, its just so damn handy to carry around, has a great 10x zoom and people don’t notice it. As I quite like a ‘vintage’ look, I’ve also got some toy/old film cameras like a Diana Mini, Holga, Viv, etc. I just got a seconhand Lomo lca which I’m really looking forward to using, but the Panasonic is still the one I use most.
Strand Station: closed in 1994, now a photobooth
LLO: Which image in the Scuzzy London set are you most proud of and why?
KA: That changes, but I think maybe this one. I was scared the cat would run of before I took it, but it has a lot of elements I like, and the the little Winston Churchill in the shop window just makes it for me somehow.
LLO: Which area of London is your favourite for taking photos?
KA: I live very near the Southbank, so do take a lot of pictures there, although its one of the most over photographed areas I still seem to find something. But what’s so great about london is that no matter how well you think you know it, you can always find some area or something you’ve never seen, and when this happens, that’s my favourite! I just set off somewhere and walk, and have the whole of London at my disposal!
Kilburn High Road
NOTE: All images are copyright Kathy Archbold. Please do not use without strict written permission.
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