Review: “The Crash” Photos by Stephen McLaren

Posted by in Activism, Culture, Economics, History, Politics, Reading

Seeing these photos of real life in the City of London puts faces to the complex story of global financial takeover by focusing on England’s financial centre between 2008 and 2012. In the author’s words:

“It’s the summer of 2008 and whispers of an impending financial meltdown carry in the wind. Walking from home in Bethnal Green to the City of London with a camera and a newspaper feels like a posting to the front lines.

Skirting Paternoster Square I notice the stockmarket’s scrolling LEDs have RBS and Lloyds shares taking while TV monitors broadcast politicians pretending they can control what is going on. Of course they can’t and all of a sudden everyone realises that the days of cash-back mortgages and zero percent loans are over.

I instinctively grabbed these scenes, and others, from the City of London in 2008, hoping the camera files would make some sense of this period. Does it take a slightly demented mindset to visit the City several times a week to take photographs of miserable people with security passes scrabbling between wind-tunnels of glass and metal towers?

Perhaps, but if, as I suspected, a delinquent mindset was at the heart of London’s financial industry, I could only come to terms with it by repeatedly going down there and looking for scenes which were suggestive of the moral hazards at the heart of this economic disaster.

Once the banks were bailed out (140 billion pounds at the last count), a sequence of events rolled through the City; job losses, anti-capitalist protests, a proper recession, and after a few years of relative parsimony, the re-starting of bonuses for those who still had jobs. During all this time I was down there sucking in diesel fumes, listening to inane chat about upcoming skiing trips, watching the lunchtime drinkers spark-up cigars, and trailing the posh boys in tuxedos as they headed for their summer banquets.

Sometimes it was fun, but more often it was a galling reminder that the City of London, the Conservative Party’s biggest source of funding, was so powerful that it would always have the government by the short and curlies.

Ten years on, the City is bigger and meaner than ever. It became Britain’s suicide hotspot, funds were routinely laundered for oligarchs and drug barons, codes of conduct and market metrics were gamed and abused. On the day that the top rate of tax was lowered by George Osborne it seemed fated that I would see a box of champagne being manhandled down Gracechurch Street by a grinning financier.

Despite that, the streets, alleyways and squares of the City don’t resonate with the same manic energy they had in those few calamitous years after the Crash of 2008. It was a time when liquidity was short and nervous laughter collided with the smell of sweat and cologne. Fear and greed ruled.

It will be the same next time.”

View the photos here:

“The Crash” (2018), photos by Stephen McLaren, is published by Hoxton Mini Press.