Bill’s field notes

Map1Just arrived at Woodgrange Park station to meet Sarah. The Romford road is sunny a bit noisy from construction works. This is definitely what I’d called as a peripheral road of simple lives. Central London’s kind of dominance is far away from here and the asphalt is different. The old Victorian bricks give me a sense of old British ambiance. The beginning of High Street is a crossroad – lots of passing people and cars but suddenly while walking sounds are off. Smells taking place here: smell of chicken, petrol mixed with a bit of noise and wind. The pavement is leading us towards a long straight road.

I notice the texture and sings of asphalt and pavement. I always do it. Asphalts are somehow living and lived terrains of everyday life – they capture every moment of social and urban heartbeat and they can reveal an entire range of silence and vividness. Some grass at the edge of the streets together with British bricks makes the atmosphere somehow familiar. We pass a bridge – cars beneath our feet. They come and go certainly from somewhere out of London. The sense of East England from here gives me a familiar ambiance.

The shops’ smells come to us. Potatoes, tomatoes, chicken, grass, lots of colours from vegetables together with various posters of mobile companies. You can call someone in Somalia for 3 pennies / minute from here by having a bunch of Brazilian fruits on your side. “Can I take a photo of your vegetables please?”, I asked the Indian guy. “Of course my friend, take as many as you like and you can take one of me as well” he laughs. Asphalt begins to getting crowded as lots of legs move rhythmically by our sides. As I smell and listen to the atmosphere of the street, I look through my camera, which has focused on Sarah’s and my legs. They have their own symphony as they have moments of “tuning” and “detuning”.

“Sarah, this is a cultural shock for me”, I said. “Why?!”, “here is Ruskin Arms legendary pub of rock music where one of my favorite bands Iron Maiden did their first gigs back in 1979. I can imagine this street back there where Thatcher vibe would be much apparent to the capital. Parallel roads with long series of cars and Victorian houses are extending before my eyes. They are all the same – kind of faceless – but it is not. This place here is neighborhood for other people. They live, shout, fall in love and breathe here. It is definitely a place.

The street now has become much more vivid; with flows of cars and people be regulated by sympathetic traffic lights and zebra crossing. Road surface and yellow line keeps following us while walking – or is it us that follow it? Smells and sounds become clearer now as more Asian shops embrace each side of this road artery. Groceries, Asian textiles, chicken, local small super markets that have the same visual logo with Tesco but they have different name. I suddenly encounter an empty lot. It is an urban void full of grass and concrete – this is certainly a space for thinking and looking to the future for me – even if it is an ugly, empty space for the eye. I take a look but suddenly an a friendly Indian man speaks to me. His English are not so good but it is fine – he looks so happy. “This is our temple sir”; he says to me with a big smile. “Oh yes, I just take some pictures of it”. I look again inside to the empty grassy concrete surface. “Our temple will be moved here in the next months” he adds. “Oh great”, I answer. We speak to him and try to understand his instant sensorial mood. He does not understand but he seems to pay attention to the lots of smells, as he owns a restaurant – place that he points to us with a big smile. “The area here is simple and for poor people” he says. We thank him and continue our walking.

We pass an arc; the area has been more central now with lots of shops, buses and people coming down the street. Lots of sounds there due to some waves of traffic. The shops are close to each other and people are mostly Asian families and young people. Lots of shops but my attention focuses on a shop window, which displays various gods. I can feel the pavement being multicultural here, while observing Jesus Christ, Buddha, Confucius or other Asian, African and Latin American statues of gods. The window is static and all the gods are facing outside in a street of chicken restaurants and grocery shops. A van stops by the other side of the road; making an instant noise. His logo name is “Global” something. The encounters are such that my vision strangely conducts a kind of moving montage. Every time my eyes close; a new frame of interesting ambiances comes up.

We have passed a threshold. Buildings, pavements and sounds are different now. As we walk, Sarah takes some notes and we constantly observing every side of this road. Left to right and right to left. This produces another line of rhythms. We pass several roads of dominant buses sounds and visual patterns of houses in perspective and we find ourselves at the intersection of High Street and Barking Road. There is a huge orange building there – indeed another kind of architecture. We walk Barking road, which I expect it to be more crowdy. However, it is not so crowdy and the pavement pattern attracts me. It reminds me of several Ancient Greek patters in the Greek archaeological sites. I follow it by turning my head and senses towards all the shops by it. The instant montage of my eyes sees new haircuts, groceries, old armchairs and sofas, chocolates while suddenly the pavement becomes totally new. Some pigeons on our left side, a zebra crossing and some construction works.

The weather is partly cloudy – partly sunny. We have already entered in one of the parallel residential roads where the series of cars, white arrows and houses are extending before our eyes. These places here are very quiet. Some flowers, trees and a very friendly cat. Sarah touches it as I approach her friendly face. This area seems friendly and familiar although it is empty – and in some moments totally still. Only the wind makes things vivid. Several blooming trees remind me that the spring is finally here. I walk, the pavement is not so good but I touch with my vision and hand some brick surfaces of the houses. A door opens: “Ok bye…another job for free” – a voice comes to our ears. We suddenly encounter an Indian man around 40. “Hi sir”. We ask him about his senses. “I am not sure but things are going down at the moment” he responds emotionally. He talks us about his concerns and thoughts on the difficult economic situation of this area; where shops open but people cannot afford; because of the lack of money. He seems steady but quite pessimistic. The road next to his small shop is empty and quiet. I try to depict in camera what he just felt by expressing it to us. I take a picture of a broken wall brick; that fissures and small green textures have been developed. This brick is what I can share with him as sympathy about his emotional expression.

We are a bit lost as lots of roads are the same and empty. We find Wayne, a middle age man with green borough uniform. He is friendly and simple. “How can we not get lost here?”. He answers to our question with some directions. “Thank you sir – by the way what are you sensing right now here?”. His facial expression smiles with several question marks in the air. […!...]. “Erm…Don’t know! Fresh air maybe?!” he laughs. He admits us that the area is nice to work and he leaves us as we thank him.

It is windy now and some clouds are apparent. We are near West Ham’s stadium. We take a walk in the near-by park. It is empty as well. This road must be crowded every Sunday, we guess. A smell of grass coming to my nose, while we walk and face big flags of West Ham Football club. This place must means a lot for the East Londoners, I think. By the corner of the road the sky has become purple and a big thunderstorm breaks out. We are a bit soaked but the smell of rain fills the ambiance of Barking road.

Youtube: Bill Psarras – Photographs from Sensorial Ethnographic Walk

Filming, Video Editing and Mapping of senses: Bill Psarras
Walking and Fieldnotes: Sarah Feinstein, Bill Psarras
Date, Duration and Distance: 18 April 2013, 3 hours, 5 Km.
The walk was realized for the purposes of the ‘Every Minute of Every Day’ project, Richard House & Goldsmiths, University of London; led by Les Back & Yasmin Gunaratnam.

Leave a Reply