Along the Hackney Canal by Freya Najade
(Hoxton Mini Press, hardback, 96 pages. Out now and available here, priced £14.95.)
Review by Nick Fallowfield-Cooper
The Lea and Hackney marshes in East London have always had an air of uncertainty: a place that has never been defined, a hinterland of neglect, a place that is neither urban, industrial, suburban nor open country, a place on the fringe. Over a millennium there has been a constant ebb and flow between nature and human intervention. Where other places in London have lost their natural identity, the Lower Lea area can still claim a sense of wilderness. In the past the marshes have been darkened. The underbelly of East London had taken refuge here. Using the isolated location and its remote hostelries, these interlopers could lie low, seeking sanctuary amongst the gypsies and the workers on the cut. Today, this common ground no longer harbors such troubled souls, but the area still retains an air of the unruly, a world on the edge of normality. Sometimes there is a sense that the ghosts of its dark past still linger in the woods, over the marshland and on the towpath.
Freya Naiade has compiled a photographic essay that explores the subtle contrast of the area through a collection of landscape and detailed images that are personal, ethereal and occasionally gothic. Often, the landscapes are shrouded in mist, the horizon unseen. The viewer can never experience the whole vista: a mystery unfolds but there is this sense of uncertainty. Throughout there are images which are impressionistic, soft light and tones of colour replicating the touch of Degas’s brush as he would have painted a ballerina’s tutu. Najade creates beauty from conflict; an Iceland plastic bag is caught suspended in mid flow, an eyesore turned into something sublime.
Along the Canal is important as it shows us how unique these spaces are: there are no obvious rules set here by local authorities, no signs, no closing times. This is not a municipal park or nature reserve, kept and ordered. This is a place to discover with few boundaries. A place that represents freedom. For the inquisitive it is a place of liberation and exploration. Najade seeks out the Hackney cut and marshes without fully exposing them; she explores the layers but still leaves a ghostly reminder of this area’s rich and varied history. She offers us the opportunity to consider the fringes, and savor their stillness and space.