Peter Dazeley, known as Dazeley, is an award-winning advertising and fine art photographer and a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. His new book, ‘Unseen London’ showcases the fascinating interiors of some of London’s most iconic buildings – including Battersea Power Station, Midland Bank, Big Ben, Aldwych disused underground station and Dead Man’s walk at The Old Bailey (so-called as it led prisoners to the gallows).
We caught up with Dazeley following the release of ‘Unseen London’ to find out more about the restrictions, challenges and rewards of capturing images of lesser seen facets of London…
What motivated you to shoot Unseen London and where did the series begin?
I ‘m a born and bred Londoner and I wanted to shoot ‘my London’. From my apartment on the River Thames I’ve watched property developers utterly destroy Battersea Power Station – that’s where it all started.
I began by shooting Battersea Power Station, four years ago. At this stage, I was shooting Battersea Power station because it was local and I could see what was being done to it. The project was merely an idea, it wasn’t until my agent, Sarah Ryder Richardson, published the images of Battersea Power station in our monthly newsletter, that the pictures went viral, after being picked up by Creative Review. I realised there was a huge interest in these fascinating areas of London.
I was really taken aback by the response to the images and the reception they had – as I said, all I wanted to do was to record my London as it stands in the 21st Century. That was back in 2010 and the series has really grown and developed since then.
It must have been difficult to shoot some of the locations you feature in the series. Were there any in particular that proved to be more challenging?
For different reasons Henry VIII’s wine cellar was a challenge. It’s right underneath the Ministry of Defence and this obviously imposes restrictions. The Ministry of Defence actually gave us permission to shoot there before changing their mind. Luckily, during my shoot at 10 Downing Street, Security there was able to help me gain access to the wine cellar.
Things were certainly a lot easier when the series got going and one thing lead to another. As I built up this series of work, there were many more images to show people to help them understand the project. It certainly helped me gain access to other locations once I could demonstrate what I’d been working on.
You shot in some fascinating locations – were there any favourites?
The Midland Bank in Poultry (London) was really quite an astounding place. The building dates back to 1925, a time when banking was reputable and the interior is incredible; all marble, like a palace. The management suite had an abundance of bespoke furniture – nothing off the shelf, each piece was specially designed – including a cabinet to hold the Board’s top hats and their canes in the drawer below. It really was quite something. The building which once served as a bank, is now a building site, so my photographs are the last record of this building’s interior, for future generations to see. The building is now being redeveloped into a hotel.
Not being able to shoot at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden was a huge disappointment. It was one of the more challenging locations to approach for access. I was really taken aback by the prohibitive £300 an hour they wanted me to pay for security, so sadly I declined the offer and it didn’t feature in the book.
The Bank of England, although very generous with access after I filled in 8 pages of legal documents, proved to be a disappointment as I wasn’t able to photograph any of our gold in the vaults.
Is there a single image, which stands out that you are most proud of?
I’m just so proud of the book as a whole. Producing a book from the series of images has given me a wonderful sense of achievement and I’m incredibly grateful to my publishers, Frances Lincoln, for their vision and support with Unseen London.
With photobooks there can be a struggle between a photographer and a publisher; a battle between images and words. Initially, I wanted a whole book of images but Frances Lincoln suggested a collaboration with Mark Daly, who is an historian and writer, with a passion for London’s history and its hidden architecture. His words really bring my images to life.
Your career spans many years, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt?
Some people say it’s a case of being ‘in the right place at the right time’, I would say it’s a case of being ‘in the right place for a really long time’. I’ve been a photographer since I was 15. I was wildly dyslexic and in the 1960s dyslexia wasn’t really acknowledged or understood. I went to Holland Park Comprehensive, the first purpose built state school in London, often known as the Socialist Eton. My school had a darkroom and it really inspired me. For me, being dyslexic is an asset; it’s a different way of thinking.
And if you weren’t a photographer, what do you think you’d be doing right now instead?
I can’t imagine a life without photography – I’ve been doing this for too long, but I now enjoy writing as well.
Is there a particular subject that you enjoy shooting the most?
No, everything is a challenge and a joy in equal parts. Working to another person’s brief is like problem solving, which I really enjoy. I’m lucky that throughout my career I haven’t been pigeon-holed. At certain times I’ve been thought of in different ways – as a car photographer, or a still life photographer for example – but now I probably shoot more lifestyle than anything else. I’ve always had incredible and varied opportunities to work with wonderful art directors and been able to develop my own style.
Dazeley’s photographic book Unseen London, with words by Mark Daly, is published by Frances Lincoln, and is his personal record of Unseen London, as it stands in the twenty-first century.