Photographs from Grenfell Tower

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I said I had some things to do before I left London; one of them was to go see if I could take some photographs of Grenfell Tower. We don’t normally do photo essays at Naked Capitalism, but since I was on the spot, I thought it made sense. The Grenfell Tower Tube Station (Ladbroke Grove) was closed, so I took a cab and asked the driver to let me off within hailing distance, which he did. By this time, there was police tape blocking access to the tower, but I could circumambulate it, which I did. I put the photographs into three categories: The Tower, Documents, and Shrines and Offerings. (I didn’t take any photographs where people were the subject, lest I be charged with sincerity.) In each category, the photos are in the order taken.

The Tower

I took the above photo in the doorway to a medical clinic in the neighborhood (imagine that), and a lady came out and told me that “We really don’t like tourists coming here to take photographs.” I explained I wasn’t a tourist, which seemed to mollify her, and she gave me directions for how to walk around the neighborhood. The normality of the scene, in all the photographs in this section, is in striking contrast to the centrality of the dark, burnt, jagged tower, rather in the way that an axe plunged into one’s chest is in striking contrast to the chest itself, especially after the blood has clotted.

Sorry for the lens artifacts and the blurred leaves, but I thought the view past a cottage was important. There were many really splendid gardens in the neighborhood; it looks like a nice place to live.

I like the “Plan Your Escape Route” sign.

Grenfell Tower rising behind a viaduct of the Circle Line.

Statements

I like lists. (The image behind the list is an advertisement on a bus shelter.)

Shrines and Offerings

Sorry to have intruded into the frame, but there it is.

* * *

For myself, I sense lack of correlation — even a contradiction — between the depth of feeling shown by the artifacts in “Shrines and Offerings,” and the language used by the more political documents in “Statements,” some of which strikes ne as shallow.

NOTE

Just as in 9/11, there were a lot of photographs of the “missing.” They all had contact information, so I didn’t think it was a good idea to put them up on the Internet.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

32 comments

  1. Juneau

    Thank you Lambert. A respectful record of the aftermath.

    I appreciate your keeping out the photos of people. Sometimes it seems wrong to photograph people without their permission. Especially in such circumstances.

    Reply
  2. Clive

    One big move in local (county or borough, depending on the local administrative setup) government has been the trend to what is colloquially referred to as becoming a “virtual authority” which means that the county or city council moves to not directly employing anyone except some contract managers and, to varying degrees from “some” through to “most” then even for some authorities “all”, services are outsourced.

    I will add a pretty superfluous “ka-ching” here.

    My local authority did this and now if you want refuse collection that is a privately owned quasi monopoly which has just recently got taken over by a mega corporation, property taxes are collected by scandal-prone Capita, community social care by private HMOs, schools increasingly being taken out of local control and turned into “academies” (charters) — on and on it goes.

    Which is fine, until something happens that isn’t covered by the contractural provision. Then, as with Kensington and Chelsea, even if the local authority is legally responsible (such as to provide emergency accommodation) they simply are unable to do this because there is no-one there left to do it. At least, not until the contact has a change request submitted, a quote is prepared, the financials agreed, the change request or work order signed, the outsourcer does some recruiting (and screws labour down on price to maximise profit)… by which time, there’s probably been a riot in the streets.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      The neoliberal concept of the “market state” has no stopping point for the state selling bits of itself off, so far as I can tell. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

      Reply
  3. integer

    An informative and respectful series of pics detailing the reality of neoliberalism. I like how you managed to capture both the anger and the sadness that this tragedy has brought to the surrounding community. Nice work. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. Dead Dog

    Thank you Lambert and Clive. A respectful piece.

    As you have both remarked upon this, it is worth repeating that one of the advantages of contract companies doing the work of public servants (ie tenancy management) is that plausible deniability thingy – you know, hands are removed and clean when things go pear shaped

    When is anyone going to jail the decision makers? /r

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That’s why I found the last document, of the list, so attractive.

      One sort of photography I like to do is like setting up a hunter’s blind: I get the framing right, and then wait for something interesting to wander into it, which nearly always happens, as a matter of statistics, if the site is well-chosen. This strategy lends a pleasing air of chance to the images.

      So, it will be interesting to see if any predators end up doing whatever development deal is the happy outcome of the tragic fire, and how they are related to the decision makers on the cladding. Create the right circumstances, and wait for statistics to do their work. So much classier then accelerants.

      Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      There was a demonstration of several hundred under the Westway (which is near the site). I tried to take some pictures of it, but my wide-angle lens (I could only pack one given my requirement to go carry-on) wasn’t really suitable for it, and the acoustics under the way were so bad all I could hear was shouting anyhow.

      But this also goes to what I had (still have) a hard time figuring out: The lack of correlation* between the magnitude of the event (I’m deliberately avoiding the word “tragedy”), and the political statements made about the event. For the former, we have the thousands of years of religious tradition (as shown by the shrines and offerings). For the latter, we have the language of parties. I don’t think the language of parties is adequate to describe either the causes of the event, or solutions to it. At least that was my takeaway from my walk round Grenfell Tower, and I felt it very forcibly. I don’t know where to go with this, but I feel the idea applies to US politics as well.

      * “The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked” (TS Eliot)

      Reply
  5. RUKidding

    Thank you for that tribute. It’s very moving plus puts it in perspective.

    Condolences for the terrible loss an suffering to those involved in this preventable tragedy. A sobering lesson for us all.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thank you. “Tribute” is a good word. I’m trying to let the objects (subjects) speak for themselves, rather than to take the most heart-rending picture EVAH. (Hence my strictures on sincerity, an over-rated virtue.)

      Reply
  6. Stephen Gardner

    Hmm. One of the pics had a US dollar in it. Nascent recognition that their country steps lively to the beat of the American drum? Or maybe even nascent anti-Americanism in our “closest ally”? That would really be sweet. If our ruling elite couldn’t depend on their faithful vassals they might not be so bold. It has to start somewhere.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Did you see the title? Black Money. My LightRoom skills were insufficient to tone down the reflection on the book’s cover. I did feel that the person making the offering had views they wished to share…

      Reply
  7. Mike

    As always,Lambert, you think beyond the immediate, a rare quality these days. I often wonder whether a class in some reflective philosophy and a swift kick in the butt before sending them off to political life would ‘ve made some difference in the councillors resultant behavior.

    Some might say the kick would suffice – I’d add a threat of immediate recall when caught failing.

    Reply
  8. John

    Nice peice!
    My thoughts are that there is always enough money for bombs, missiles, planes, war ships etc…
    But not enough for bringing public housing, services & infrastructure upto date.
    RIP
    Poor people!

    Reply
  9. JustAnObserver

    Thanks for this piece. I used to live nearby and used the Westway sports center a lot & the whole tragedy makes me alternately want to cry my eyes out or rip the K&C council a large number of “new ones”.

    Just a note for non-UK readers: Those towers (IIRC 6 of them) are visible from a long way away so the burnt-out wreckage of Grenfell will be the first thing anyone sees coming into or going out of London along the elevated section of the A40 (aka the Westway); Its a main artery going through north central London past the mainline train stations and on to the “City”. I suspect pretty much everyone in London – locals and visitors alike – goes past the area at some time or another.

    Reply
    1. Jim Young

      It would seem too difficult to have the Grenfell Tower preserved as a powerful and very public memorial to the failures of responsible governance, somewhat like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Atomic Bomb Dome, but a substantial public memorial that promotes thoughtful reflection on one of the worst and most graphic examples of accumulated public private-profit partnership failures.

      Contrasting examples of pure public, and public private partnerships, that provided better public benefit should also be provided, perhaps like Hoover Dam, or great drinking water and sanitation systems.

      For those who remember it, Arthur Miller’s, “All My Son’s,” in one of its later television adaptations, was a personally taken lesson in morality, regarding participating in, or any tolerance of shoddy or corrupt practices. In the original play and subsequent versions it involved knowingly shipping defective P-40 cylinder heads that resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots (and the son of one of the participants).

      Those that were negligent, or corrupted by personal gain, may not have lost someone dear to them in the Grenfell Tower, but it might help a bit if they were to perform some compensatory public service, such as learning and explaining the consequences to a chosen specific individual and their family, comparable to a somewhat similar member of their own family.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous2

        I drove past Grenfell in the middle of the night on Monday (had to make a rush visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital – fortunately it was diagnosed to be a minor problem).

        In the night sky the tower looms dark and ominous next to the other lighted towers. It is a very powerful statement, a testament of evil.

        Reply
        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          > It is a very powerful statement, a testament of evil.

          With better technical skills, I would have made the burnt towers even more of a contrast then they are in these images. The area is like England’s “green and pleasant land” (if I have the cliché right) in urban form, with trees, and gardens, and then, in the middle, this blackened gigantic geometrical thing.

          Reply
  10. Ed

    Superb stuff. You missed your calling. Well, at least, you should convene an instructional on photojournalism.

    Reply
  11. robnume

    Thank you, Lambert for taking the time to visit Grenfell for all of us. Can’t get to London this year. If you ever go back during another heatwave you might want to book into the Copthorne Tara Hotel at Kensington; it’s where I always stay and is reasonably priced but most importantly, to me, its rooms are air-conditioned. I was in London during the 2003 summer heatwave and my room was nice and cool throughout my stay.
    Can’t wait to hear about your meet-up there. Hopefully Clive and other entertaining and knowledgable UK commentariat were able to be there.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Thanks for the tip. There was indeed no aircon in my hotel, but in mitigation it was steps from Paddington, which is the terminus of the Heathrow Express. So I could crash early on my arrival, and not leave too early for my departure (5:10AM, ugh!).

      Reply
  12. John Zelnicker

    Lambert – As a long-time semi-professional photographer, I want to compliment you on these photos. Some of them are certainly professional grade shots with good framing and content. They gave me real insight and feeling of both the horror and sadness of the event, as well as the response that goes beyond the immediate issue of the poorly built structure. That’s what good photographs are supposed to do.

    Thank you.

    Reply
      1. John Zelnicker

        Lambert – I don’t know if you’ll catch this since it’s been 10 days, but I’ll accept the challenge to cut to six and let you know by email via correntewire.

        Reply

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