The white phone box
A city that lies in the convergence of two rivers.
A city that lies in the convergence of a continent and an island…
The eyes focussed no longer on the travel book, a white telephone box was all what could be seen on that moment. The elegant classical lines of a rather dilapidated theatre was my companion on one side, whilst the sweet smell of beer being brewed was invitingly close on the other, and nowhere to stay. The date was September 1976.
This was my encounter with Hull, friend and foe. The reality and the fiction, all at once then and there.
The curiosity of those early two or three years led me, and my impatient camera, to the then welcoming embrace of the streets. The term street photography was not known to me on those years, if it had been coined at all.
Hessle Road environment attracted my eyes, as many of my compatriots were working on the fish processing factories. These images feature not so much the topography of the city as it might have been, or not, but more of a morphology of my mind, of my memory, of an interaction with an environment which was, still is, new to me; one to be viewed from this time.
An environment which, as the years have dug deeper into my consciousness, has become increasingly stranger, clamshell like.
Argyle Street late 1976 or early 1977.
The rich smell of freshly baked bread permeated Argyle Street whilst further up the road a daily dance of headlines brought the turmoil of events from far away: “Don’t miss the Sun today”, “New style Daily Express on sale now”, and, oh yes, the now defunct “News of the World” from the time Rupert Murdoch bought the company. Yet, none of this was meant to last. The smell of bread can still be felt, although rising from the chimneys of an industrial bakery rather than from the in-predictability of a small oven offering every day a delightful surprise.
I remember those invisible steps echoing through the hardness of deserted streets, of alleys overflowing with the detritus of a time that no longer was; those childish scratchings on the greyness of the white paint covering the impossibility of the glass still standing on an abandoned shop window, barely visible under the gentle touch of the late afternoon light, murmurs of hard earned pennies and shillings and half-crowns lost in the nooks of memories, of jars of Marmite that had since long been emptied of old times. Above, bright red splashes of colour danced with impudence, swirling their insolence all over the wasted topography of the glass…
By 1980 the end of this milieu was already in sight, as more and more houses and shops were vacated. An Edwardian porcelain basin laid in shards on what remained of that bathroom, pondering on a glorious past built on pomposity and bones, already having become ash and dust. I had managed to rescue most of my possessions, even on one occasion snatching a suitcase from the hands of a couple of intruders, as I abandoned the house just ahead of the tidal of vandals and scavengers preceding the demolition squads.
One evening the whole block was no longer there, having thoroughly vanished throughout the day, a pile of pitiful rubble having replaced it, just detritus of a time that was inexorably receding more and more deeply into forgotten fissures of history.
The sharp point of a key on the no longer pristine whiteness of the glass, a brush tentatively finding its way on the texture of the canvas, deft fingers spraying the poetry of a paint can on an unsuspecting wall, an impatient camera lens encapsulating fragments of forgotten corners, fleeting glances and hours that long time ago ceased to be: all whispering on the vastness of a white surface of the roughness of time and space.
Perhaps the fingers are not always so sure of where to go next, or how to move with elegance and skill.
A dark cold winter night was when Girl, exiled as we were, came into my life,
founding a dynasty that enlivened my home for the next two decades.
With her remaining strength, onto a window sill she jumped,
a farewell to the world she had come from, for, in my arms, to die.
Another dark cold winter night that was.
All I know is that the white phone box resides in the haze of years past…
An imprint of the city in my imagination.