London as Venice

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, aerial photograph by Jason Hawkes

Like a modern day Canaletto, this disturbing yet strangely peaceful aerial view of a flooded Thames was inspired by shots of New Orleans submerged under the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. Curious to know how London would appear under similar conditions, Graves and Madoc-Jones transposed projection of a 7.2 metre flooded river on to their digital 3D model of London and aligned with a photograph of the Thames shot by Jason Hawkes. 7.2 metres is the level at which flood waters would breach the Thames Barrier. The low light of the photograph creates an evocative sense of dimension to the view, forming the impression that we are looking at a partially submerged stage-set.

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Parliament Square Paddy Fields

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones.

A new global economy demands that we become more self-sufficient as former food sources become less reliable and shipping food around the world becomes unsustainable. Austerity encourages us to ‘grow your own’ – even 10 Downing Street and the White House have allotments now. Self-sufficiency also challenges the value of power formerly invested in symbolic sites of political power. In Parliament Square Paddy Fields Graves and Madoc-Jones take a quintessential tourist view of Big Ben and re-present it as a watery landscape inspired an environmental project in East Asia during which Europeans were taught to plant rice. The final image invites us to imagine how the population of central London could re-appropriate the land on their doorstep. Replacing the statues of Churchill, Lloyd George and Disraeli are urban farmers harvesting iridescent green shoots amid the London smog.

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Thames Tidal Power

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, aerial photograph by Jason Hawkes

The bold composition of Thames Tidal Power was inspired by a photograph of fishing huts perched above the waters of the Gironde in France by French aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. a striking image of graphic quality and dramatic contrast between light and dark. Combined with separate research into water turbines in Canada and New York, Graves and Madoc-Jones created an image that encapsulated the immense tidal power of the Thames. Using Jason Hawkes’ photograph of the Thames Barrier as a foundation, they dotted a series of tidal turbines around the Barrier, to create a striking uniform pattern. Focusing attention on the force of the river is a clear reminder of the tides that once literally powered London via Bankside and Battersea.

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‘The Gherkin’

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

Continuing the theme of Living in London, Graves and Madoc-Jones accumulated images of life in the high-rise tenement blocks of Hong Kong and Sao Paulo. Of these, most striking were the distinctive structures of framed windows, behind which were the signs and minutiae of life that individualized the otherwise uniform setting – clothes hung up to dry and curtains billowing in the breeze. The Gherkin presents an unusual perspective on 30 St Mary Axe in the City of London, the building designed by Foster and Partners on the site of the old Baltic Exchange. Resisting the urge to photograph its iconic bullet form, the artists focused on the textural surface and patina of its façade that they altered in colour. Honing in on the faceted surface and grid pattern of the façade reveals an absorbing layer of depth that reflects glimpses of surrounding buildings. Like Gulliver peering into the miniature lives of the Lilliputians, we search out the intimate details of human life inside.

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Skating at Tower Bridge

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, aerial photograph by Jason Hawkes

Skating at Tower Bridge takes a bird’s-eye view of the frozen surface surrounding the landmark bridge. Tiny human forms skate beneath it, casting extraordinarily long shadows, yet appear as inconsequential as pinheads or iron filings.

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Kew Nuclear Power Station

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, aerial photograph by Jason Hawkes

In a neat finale to the exploration of power, this thematic group concludes with Kew Nuclear Power Station, a subject that addresses current debates considering the resumption of nuclear power. Where London’s power stations once produced clouds of steam over London, a new generation of nuclear power stations, like Sizewell B in Suffolk, would leave no visual trace on the landscape other than their own distinctive forms. In a perfect marriage of middle-class suburbia and industrial architecture, Graves and Madoc-Jones inserted an image of Sizewell B to an aerial view of Kew Gardens, over which hangs a pall of invented steam. The formal aspect of the power station’s domed structure mirrors the curved form of Kew’s famous 19th century glasshouse, while any quasi-religious connotations associated with the form of the power station are replaced by the recognizable nuclear symbol emblazoned on its façade. Glowing with a natural, almost ethereal, light, Kew Nuclear Power Station is a provocatively unsettling, but compelling image of 21st century London power.

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Buckingham Palace Shanty

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones, aerial photograph by Jason Hawkes

Day-to-day life in London takes advantage of new and formerly, inaccessible, spaces. Graves and Madoc Jones explored ideas and images that convey daily life in a transformed London, where the relationship between private and public space is re-evaluated.

The artists were influenced by Tuca Vieira’s stunning photography of shanty towns in Brazil where rich and poor live alongside each other. Sprawling favelas develop around luxury flats, which stand like beacons, each one a separate oasis with private swimming pools on their balconies.

In 2010 Graves and Madoc-Jones worked on a housing project in Kariobangi, Kenya. They were struck by the inexhaustible ways that each owner customized and humanised their patch of land. Aerial views of shanty towns in Africa revealed unexpected visual beauty as by necessity, the conurbations of an urban community grow organically around areas of commerce or food sources.

Inspired by the ingenuity of the Kenyan shanty homes, Graves and Madoc-Jones modeled up a sample of 90 homes of which multiple versions were digitally positioned on to an aerial view of Buckingham Palace. Individual details were added, from wisps of cooking smoke to a myriad of different coloured roofs. The final image depicts 20 million separate shanty dwellings emphasizing how many separate families occupy the space. They live on top of each other right up to the perimeter of the Palace that floats in a private enclave of land that exists to house one family.

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Trafalgar Square Shanty

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

The key influence for Trafalgar Square Shanty was Norman Parkinson’s 1949 photograph of two models standing in the portico of the National Gallery (Wenda Rogerson and B. Goalen, Vogue). Looking out to Nelson’s Column, the photograph idealises the Square, a spot which today has been over-developed as a giant traffic island. Contemporary photographs taken by Graves and Madoc-Jones of street life in Kenya and covered souks in Morocco also influenced their image. Typically the front of each dwelling are the focus of trade and commerce, everything has its use and value. In Marrakech, trade, business and human activity continue through day and night under the semi-covered shades of the souk. Back in London, Graves and Madoc-Jones photographed Trafalgar Square looking south towards Nelson’s Column and used this image to create a model of an imaginary shanty town. Sunlight slices through the partially shaded interior that bustles with life. Amid this ‘new establishment’ Nelson’s Column assumes a secondary, almost inconsequential significance.

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Camel Guards Parade

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

With the arc of the London Eye on the horizon, Camel Guards Parade represents the famous military and ceremonial parade ground in Whitehall in a new guise. Amid a dusty haze of heat and sand, camels have replaced horses for the Queen’s own household guard.

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The Mall – Royal Power

© Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones

Like every major world city, London embodies and perpetuates different forms of power, from economic, financial to historical. For this theme, Graves and Madoc-Jones explored specific facets of power, from the ceremonial symbolism of the Royal Family, to the tangible power generated by, and located on the Thames.

In The Mall – Royal Power the flagpoles that line the road leading up to Buckingham Palace are substituted with sentries of windmills – a moment where new power replaces the frippery of royal symbolism. All is not lost however as each windmill is decorated with the standard royal crest, mimicking those found on the flagpoles on the Mall. As security controls restricted normal photography on the Mall, the artists took a series of furtive shots and stitched them together to re-create the fictional processional route.

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