Thamesmeade; the setting for Stanly Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange", through the eyes of a photographer | Tom Sebastiano

Some say that you should never go back but keep looking forward, finding new themes and projects. As a photographer, I’m always looking for new subjects too but sometimes returning to previous locations, places and ideas can be just as rewarding.


Returning to a place will never result in replicating an earlier experience, things will always be different. Light, time, season and weather are near impossible to duplicate. Places evolve, walls, roads, buildings change. Using a different format or lens present new perspectives. Even being in a different state of mind and mood are factors that can lead to new photographic opportunities.


Two years ago on a cold wet Sunday morning, I went to Thamesmead.


Thamesmead was built by the Greater London Council in the late 1960s, promoted as an ideal of affordable housing with its lakes and parkland space it was to provide a solution to some of London's postwar housing shortages. The architects dreamt of high rise streets-in-the-sky living, but these visions of future living did not work. Residents did not like them, vertical communities did not work and many estates quickly became more dystopian than utopian.


The delusion of the town planners urban fantasies was immortalised on film when director Stanley Kubrick wanted a suitably futuristic location for his 1971 dystopian film A Clockwork Orange, it was the concrete towers, sky-walks, subways and the man-made lake of Thamesmead that he chose. 


As a photographer, I am attracted to these brutalist buildings with their geometric modular blocks linked together by sky-walks and surrounded by green. I guess it's the mixture of forms that appeal to me along with the symmetrical lines and shapes. This together with the concrete!  Concrete with its grey, raw and often unfinished surfaces cast into brave shapes, strong blocks and open expanses. All this mathematical design interacts with perspective and works with light and shadow that for me, almost create photographic compositions automatically.


On closer inspection surfaces reveal details of their casting method, impressions of wooden planks can often be seen, a tiny bit of natural interest on an otherwise unremitting manmade construction. Constant cycles of hot and cold crack facades and rust streaking from the internal reinforcing bars mark walls and surfaces.   These details have their own photographic qualities and contrast strongly with the modernist and utopian ideals of their original designers.

My second visit fell on a sharp and crisp winters day with clear skies and cold blue light.


I found low shadows and distinct contrast.


The low shadows and contrast, together with changes in the buildings and landscape resulted in a very different set of pictures from my original overcast damp visit two years before.


Like so many places Thamesmead keeps changing and with the £1 billion Thamesmead Regeneration plan due to start in 2019, it looks like another return might be due before too long.


Tom Sebastiano lives in the UK. You can see more of his work on his website, or follow him on Instagram accounts: IG medium format & IG 35mm