December 20, 2007
  Farringdon Castle

Farringdon Castle

(London, 1985. Image copyright Hamish Reid).

A long time ago when I lived in London I used to occasionally take the Metropolitan or Circle lines from Farringdon station near where I worked in Smithfield. This was the mid-1980s, and even then there were still a few bombed-out or broken buildings from World War II propped up or slowly keeling over here and there in the City and inner boroughs (in this case, Islington, but only just). The station itself was (and still is) a nice old well-preserved building, busy and workaday in that reassuring and well-architected early twentieth-century London Underground way; but right next door (to the left as you entered the station) was a classic old bomb-damaged warehouse right on Farringdon Road itself.

It looked pretty much exactly like this: broken bricks, broken beams, missing walls, arches, trees, pigeons, rats… and every time I saw it it reminded me strongly of an old castle somewhere in that imaginary British hinterland I never really visited when I lived in London, but that I'd explored a lot (and even inhabited) as a kid. I made a few half-hearted attempts to photograph it from Farringdon Road itself, but it never worked until I just stepped up one day and took it from this angle, just to the left of the station entrance. It's a shot I had to wait until the weekend to do, as it's a busy place during normal business hours, and there used to be a bunch of street stalls selling books and other stuff right where I had to stand to get this view. I got a couple of shots (with my old Pentax 35mm camera) and over the next few weeks managed to print it up. I wasn't very pleased with the results — it needed extensive dodging and burning in the darkroom, and at the time I just didn't have the resources to do that consistently. Still, I liked the image itself, and kept a test print up on my wall in Muswell Hill and later in Bounds Green.

A few years later, living in California, I printed the image up again, and this time I had the time and space to get it right in the darkroom (I was never much of a fan of the darkroom, and don't miss it at all, an admission that will probably surprise a few people out there). After a few hit-and-miss versions, I got a set that looked just gorgeous on Ilford fibre-based black-and-white paper, and I matted and framed a few of the prints. I took one into work with me and hung it on my office wall, and apart from my looking at it every few days, I basically forgot about it again. One day a colleague wandered in and noticed the print; after spending some time looking at it, he asked what it was, and without really thinking, I said "Farringdon Castle".

He — like pretty much everyone I've used that name with — didn't doubt that it was a castle of some sort, so the name's stuck. I've printed up a few more in the digital age, and now it's even easier to get it to look the way I wanted. No, I'll say it again, I don't look back fondly to the days of chemicals, film, and endless hours in the darkroom….

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Hamish Reid is a photographer, designer, and software engineer living and working in the Jingletown district of Oakland, California. This is his full profile.

You can get hold of Hamish at xyzphotolalia at ylayalixyz dot com without the xyx's.

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