SOUTH QUAY – MODELLING IN A DESERT
I found an email in my Junk Box. It was from a Grace Ng and about a possible job.
I wrote back, hoping she hadn’t given up or found another mature model. I wanted the assignment: a shoot fulfilling her wish to redress her beloved grandmother’s lack of a childhood. This was intriguing – I am a grandmother and my childhood has informed my life.
Is South Quay the loneliest place on earth? Between 8.30 am and 3.30 pm I think it may be.
At 8.30am South Quay is crowded and purposeful, like bees exiting a hive, or ants a nest. I arrived for the shoot just in time to see these sweet-smelling metro males; black trousers, smart jackets, grandad shirts, scurrying en masse to the DLR, to the Overground; their cars and taxis swooping into Canary Wharf.
At 8.30 + 1 minute:
One delivery van.
I stood in an empty square looking up, up, up at the sharp cornered structures that filled the space like arrows in a quiver.
I had the photographer’s address but no-one in any of the few shops, including an estate agent, could tell me where it was. I had the stylistst’s phone number, but she was in a taxi, so couldn’t help.
The photographer lived in a tower. Up in a lift twenty-two floors. The flat in darkness; no windows, no lights. ‘Bulbs have gone.’
All shoots are different, all are fun and all are hard work. This had its own peculiarities: the fitting room was about eight foot square, all hugger-mugger. Three chairs for four of us and a clothes rail. A lap-top, a television, a coffee table and miles of cable. It was a lair.
The corridor that wound around two sharp bends had no windows and no lights. The lavatory did not flush; there was no lavatory paper, no water from the taps.
It had to be better outside.
However, the photographer was a delight; calm and helpful, despite our colonising his flat.
Our first scene was a playground on the twenty-third floor: a concrete path between concrete tubs filled with dead plants. The high walls were pierced by small portholes; there was one slide and no children. Looking up, I was reminded of ‘that little tent of blue which prisoners call the sky’ and wondered if wistful-eyed children ever played there.
Back at ground level I was very small standing alone in the middle of all that concrete and glass.
During the shoot, traces of South Quay’s previous life shone through: a few yards of paving stops abruptly as it hits a street of Victorian cottages.
And the washing in the back yard, flapping like sails.
Next stop an outdoor playground. It was about ten metres square. A slide, a climbing net, a seesaw. And one child, two years old, celebrating her birthday with her mother – all alone except for us.
‘You really don’t mind being watched?’ The stylist asked.
‘Not in the least,’ I said. ‘I don’t notice anything.’
We walk back to the flat; happy with the way the shoot had gone and on the way, at 3.30, like a conjuring trick, the streets were full and noisy again; with children; big, small, fat, thin, with uniforms or without filling the streets. Running, jumping and shouting. All the colours, shapes and sizes of this kaleidoscopic city.
I turn, and they’ve gone. Once more there is silence, empty spaces. And the small playgrounds, dwarfed at the bottom of the towering blocks; out of reach, out of sight and out of sound, are empty.