City Dramas Frozen In Time

London Was Caught In Photos By A Lover Of Cities And Street Corners

London has fascinated artists for hundreds of years. And yet nothing about London is so glaringly obvious these days as the modern office worker and the enormous sky scrapers that loom above them with manifold menacing glares. Having lived in London for 50 years, photographer Nicholas Sack is one of the few who take a keen interest in these busy rat-race office workers as they scurry around the areas of Canary Wharf and the City of London. “I’ve been photographing in these areas of the city of London for 30 years,” he tells us, “My publisher, Martin Usborne, identified a common thread: office workers overwhelmed by towering buildings. It was him who came up with the title, Lost In The City.”

Brought together under this single rubric, Lost In The City is his new book, which follows his 2004 sequel Uncommon Ground. Within its pages we follow black and white images filled with huge juxtapositions between the human suit and the architecture they dwell within. The book comes with an introduction by Ian Sinclair, who recalls the urban psychogeographers of 1950s Paris and their playful revolutionary wanderings around Parisian streets.

They appear estranged, dislocated – isolated even among a crowd, lost in thought or reverie. Lost in the City also alludes to film noir, and the frisson of surveillance and pursuit through a labyrinth of alleys and courtyards. These minor dramas are re-enacted every day in the City.

Nicholas, through years of practice, has mastered the art of light and shadow, creating beautiful effects which suck a viewer right into the photograph. As a result, we gain a sense of awe about this city, as well as of its ominous, threatening and alienating atmosphere. “The City is a relentlessly serious place,” Nicolas affirms.

We spoke to Nicholas to find out more:

The Plus: Tell us about your fascination for the modern metropolis.
Nicholas Sack:
I have lived close to the centre of London for 50 years and am continually finding new sights, new angles, new hidden corners. Unlike Paris, for example, London wasn’t laid out to a grand plan, so there are startling collisions of architecture: a seventeenth-century Wren church slap-bang next to a monolith of glass and steel. Take a walk between Cannon Street and King’s Cross stations: in just one hour and a couple of miles you pass through a sequence of districts each quite different, each with its own special character and atmosphere. This disparate patchwork fascinates me.

TP: Is there an art to getting lost?
In his introduction to the book, Iain Sinclair writes: “The definition of a great city is that it is somewhere in which it is still possible, in the age of the app, to get profitably lost. Materially, ethically, spiritually.” The early French psychogeographers, like Guy Debord in the 1950s, drifted around Paris with the specific aim of getting lost. It happens to me by happy accident.

TP: Tell us about how you practise your photography.
I stalk the streets on foot, preferably in bright sunlight that sharply defines the surfaces of buildings and the textures of clothing. I shoot on film, have never gone digital: a Nikon camera with a 35mm lens. Many pictures are caught on the hoof – a passing pedestrian, a fleeting gesture – while others are carefully composed. A striking architectural backdrop might entice me to lie in wait for the right arrangement of pedestrians, rather like a stage set ready for unwitting actors. I do a lot of loitering on street corners!

TP: What was most exciting about creating this book?
The most exciting aspect is being out in the streets, alert and primed, looking for action. Of course not all of my explorations produce worthwhile pictures; I might shoot three rolls of film in an afternoon and come up with nothing of interest. Yet, unexpected luck or a joyful surprise could lie just around the corner.

TP: What other projects are in the pipeline for you?
I am breaking out from familiar territory, tramping long arterial roads through Tooting and Ilford to the somnolent suburbs. You can find bungalows and semi-detached houses that have a strange anthropomorphic quality, and I’m planning an exhibition of these quieter, unpeopled pictures for next year.

Lost in the City by Nicolas Sack is available to purchase at Hoxton Mini Press.