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Real lives inside London tower block

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Bermudian documentary photographer Nicola Muirhead's work on a 1960s social housing tower block in London has featured on the BBC's website and online showcase FotoRoom.

Ms Muirhead spent a year documenting the lives of residents in Trellick Tower, designed in the brutalist architectural style and which sits on the edge of an upmarket London suburb, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for a series called In Brutal Presence.

She said: “When I first saw Trellick Tower, I was instantly struck by the building's fierce contrast to the idyllic and quaint Georgian houses of Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove.

“This 31-storey concrete block of apartments stood out like a spaceship at the end of Golborne Road, and I immediately wanted to know more about the community inside.

“I began to research the history of Trellick and other brutalist tower blocks like it, and soon realised how significantly symbolic an estate like Trellick Tower was in a borough like Kensington and Chelsea, especially within the context of London's current social housing crisis and the socioeconomic cleansing of boroughs like Brixton, Peckham and Elephant & Castle.”

Ms Muirhead's project started before the massive fire in Grenfell Tower in the same borough in June. The Grenfell blaze killed at least 80 and focused public attention on safety and housing standards in tower blocks across Britain.

Ms Muirhead, a former photographer with The Royal Gazette, said: “Most of these brutalist estates are torn down or refurbished into luxury apartments, and council tenants are removed through a process called decanting, which reassigns them to live in the far corners of the city, away from their family and friends.

“Trellick Tower was both metaphorically and physically a symbol of resilience in the face of hyper-gentrification within North Kensington, and has remained 80 per cent council flat tenants.

“This fact was at the core of my project and has since evolved into an intimate profile of the tower block, using interviews and portraiture to narrate the story.”

Ms Muirhead hit on the idea after she saw the contrast between the concrete tower and wealthy neighbouring areas in North Kensington while studying for a master's degree in documentary photography at the London College of Communication.

She spent a year getting to know tenants in Trellick Tower and recorded their lives through photographs and interviews. Ms Muirhead pitched the idea to the BBC, which agreed to feature her work and she was later approached by photography site FotoRoom, which also wanted to showcase the project.

She added that, despite creating a large body of work, she continued to meet residents in Trellick Tower and aimed to expand the project to include other social housing estates in the area.

Ms Muirhead explained that she felt there was more to say about social housing and the effects of gentrification in Kensington and Chelsea — especially after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Ms Muirhead said: “My hope is that this series will help humanise these estates and remind us of the life and history inside them. These communities should be looked at as an important part of London's fabric and not neglected or discarded by its council or the government.”

Ms Muirhead is working towards a teaching qualification through associate lecturing at her own university and other institutions in London.

She is also collaborating with recent graduates from her MA course on new projects and business plans in the field of documentary photography and visual storytelling.

Another day in the tower: In Brutal Presence, a project by photographer Nicola Muirhead was featured by the BBC (Photographs by Nicola Muirhead)
In Brutal Presence by Nicola Muirhead was featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website. (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)
In Brutal Presence by Nicola Muirhead was featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website. (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)
In Brutal Presence by Nicola Muirhead was featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website. (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)
In Brutal Presence by Nicola Muirhead was featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website. (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)
In Brutal Presence by Nicola Muirhead was featured on the British Broadcasting Corporation's website. (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

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Published August 25, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated August 29, 2017 at 3:55 pm)

Real lives inside London tower block

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