World

Beauty and brutality of London high-rise estates captured in five-year photo project

Marco Sconocchia accepts he must have seemed an unusual prospect.

For five years, this skinny Italian became a regular fixture among the pubs and precincts, the walkways and stairwells of some of London’s oldest – and most notorious – high-rise estates.

Plenty of times he knocked on strangers’ doors. Many more, he simply approached them in communal areas; over cafe breakfasts, perhaps, or pints and pool tables.

He always had the same question: can I take your picture?

“People looked at me like I was a lunatic,” he says today. “Like ‘What do you want photos of this s***hole for?’ But I don’t know. To me, these places are beautiful, they need documenting. The people here, they get forgotten by those in power and by gentrification. But the community, it is still strong.”

They capture the people and the built environment of everywhere from Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar to Thamesmead in Bexley, from the now demolished Heygate estate in Walworth, to tragic Grenfell Tower in Kensington.

“As a kid growing up in Turin I was fascinated by the culture that came from the English working classes, especially bands like Oasis and The Stone Roses,” says the 31-year-old, who moved on to Rome earlier this year. “So when I came here in 2011, I suppose I gravitated towards those sort of places. That’s where I liked to have a drink, have a pork pie. I like the people there. They talk to you. They don’t have agendas.”

He decided to start taking pictures around 2013 and, while working as a professional photographer on various publications, continued this personal project for five years in his spare time.

Among his images are kids playing on bikes, residents in their flats, police attending incidents and at least one full breakfast with chips.

Despite some of the places he visited having a reputation for crime, he says he never once felt intimidated.

“I know there is that stigma but I think this, it is exaggerated,” he says. “I never had any issues even carrying around cameras. I always felt welcome. People were curious, that is all.”

Is there a danger, though, the he might be romanticising what are often tough and impoverished areas?

“That’s not my intention,” he says. “I don’t shy away from that. There’s a picture of one guy who had just had his eye ripped out in an attack. He was in a bad way. But I wanted to get the brutality and the beauty. These two things, they coexist, not just in London high-rises but everywhere. That’s the human condition. That’s part of the point.”

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