Amos Estate was built in the 1930’s in Rotherhithe, London. It was one of four housing estates built along a thin strip of land running between the River Thames and Rotherhithe Docks. The flats were originally built as homes for dockworkers and their families. By the early 1980’s, the docks had closed down and the area was undergoing a wave of rampant development. A dispute over the Estate’s ownership left many habitable flats empty. From 1984 to 1987, some of these flats were occupied by squatters: a collection of people, driven by urgent housing needs, personal circumstances or lifestyle choices, who came together and shaped themselves into a community.
I was both a photographer and a squatter living on the Estate. One of my motivations was to challenge prejudices and preconceptions. I wanted to present a positive document of a community – to inform often hostile external organisations, such as the Council, the Development Corporation, and local Tenant Associations. Instead of the negative and simplistic stereotypes often held about squatters, I wanted to present a picture of a community that was far more diverse and nuanced. We were a group of people utilising and managing a much-needed housing resource since flats that weren’t squatted were often vandalised or stripped for scrap. I didn’t seek out positive images of squatters. I trusted in the power of photographic ‘truth and objectivity’. I hoped this would challenge the negative views about squatters.
In retrospect, there is an obvious naivety to this approach. – A photograph and a photographer can never be fully objective, and truths can be problematic. In addition, the interpretation of an image is informed by a viewer’s own prejudices, values and beliefs. As a photographer, no matter how hard one might wish otherwise, in themselves, photographs cannot change the deeply held prejudices of others. They also don’t change poor housing policy.
In 1987, we were all evicted. These photos now form a record of a personally transformative experience. They are also a document of a community that found itself together through necessity and circumstance. In some ways it is a messy, incomplete and random collection of images, but a collection that, hopefully, captures something of the energy and spirit of the people, and the uniqueness of this time and place.