James Cambridge: photographer merging Islington past and present

25 Mar

Everyone has a story. James Cambridge’s university project saw him hunting old photos of Islington (from 1975-1982) and then merge them with modern shots of the same location. The resulting Islington Series are a gripping mix of magical realism and time travel. You might have heard this type of photography mix-up as histronaut (like a history-astronaut) but James’ influences are two very established photographers. Here’s a Q&A with 22-year-old James – who works as a sportswriter on dailyexpress.co.uk – about life in Islington by Nicola Baird.

James Cambridge

James Cambridge -photography project at City University inspired a series of Islington photographs because “it’s such a great place to live.”

Q: Do you live in Islington now?
I lived in Clerkenwell for two years whilst at City University, but I have unfortunately had to move back home to Essex since graduation. I’d love to move back to Islington as I’ve had some great times living here and it now holds a lot of memories for me, and in a way feels like home.

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Q: When you were living here what did you make of it?
I moved to Islington and lived near Farringdon Station in my first year studying Journalism at City University – that was my first experience of the place and I loved it. I moved out to Tower Hamlets in my second year, but I missed Islington so we made sure we moved back for final year, where we lived a stone’s throw from Farringdon station again. It’s such a great place to live, you feel like you’re close to everything, St Paul’s and the river, and it’s even not that far to walk towards Holborn and the hustle and bustle of Oxford St. You find yourself walking the streets and you feel like you’re in amongst everything. I love it there.

(c) James Cambridge

islington Series (c) James Cambridge

Q: Why have you been making photos of different Islingtons merged together?
My inspiration for the Islington series came from a number of photographers, most notably Amit Sha’al’s series Altneuland and Sungseok Ahn’s Historic Present. Sha’al’s work consists of old photos held up in the present scene in Israel and then a new photo taken, whilst Ahn’s work projected an old image on to a screen that was then placed in situ and photographed.

(c) James Cambridge

Islington Series (c) James Cambridge

I wanted to show the cultural and superficial changes that happen in a place in just a few decades. I think the prime example is the ‘spastics’ shop. To think of that word being used today by a charity is unthinkable, yet there it is in the window on a shop in the 1970s, it’s crazy how what’s deemed acceptable can change so drastically. I’ve not come across this term histronuaghting before, but I can remember seeing an article on the Daily Mail website that had pictures of Allied forces liberating French towns put in place over the modern shot. And I liked their energy and the sense of a place being lived in and history that they captured. They made you realise your town or city is alive, and it makes you feel like you’re a part of shaping it, even if you don’t realise it.

(c) James Cambridge

Islington Series (c) James Cambridge

James Cambridge’s five favourite places in Islington

  • One of my favourite places for photographing is definitely Exmouth market. It’s busy, It’s diverse and you can get some great food there. It’s a real hive of activity on a lunchtime.
  • Camden Passage in Angel is another great place. It’s bustling, the shops serve amazing food and the market stools on the weekend have a diverse range of trinkets and intriguing things.
  • If it’s a cool pub you’re looking for the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell (55 Britton Street, EC1) is a pretty quirky place, you just have to go there to get what I mean, It feels like it’s in a time warp and has a huge range of ales if you’re into that.
  • On a more personal level, the O2 academy in Angel (at the N1 centre) has some great memories for me. In my first year of uni we were always in there on a Friday night, who knows why, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Many a hilarious night spent there.
  • And if you’re looking for an escape the New River Walk that starts in Canonbury Grove is incredible. I never knew it was there until I stumbled across It one day, but it’s like a little oasis in the heart of London, If you follow it entirely it will take you right out of the city and into Hertfordshire! It’s a beautiful walk.
(c) James Cambridge

Islington Series(c) James Cambridge

Q: How did you make these photos?
I took both approaches of Sha’al and Ahn into consideration when creating my images. I wanted the style of Sha’al’s work but with the free placement of the original photo as seen in Ahn’s. So, I sourced five black and white photos from the library dating from 1972 to 1987 and set about finding the original site to photograph and to combine using Photoshop.

I literally just took some print outs of the originals and then got out there with my camera and hunted down the places. Once I found them I tried to put myself in the shoes of the original photographer and just snapped away. I liked this approach as it meant I could vary my field of distance and not be constrained by having to hold the photo in place by hand, as seen in Sha’al’s photos. I didn’t manipulate the photos in any way, I merely put one as a layer over the other and rubbed away at the top layer to reveal fragments of what lay below.

(c) James Cambridge

Islington Series (c) James Cambridge

I’m not selling or showing the Islington Series as it was a Uni project, but I like that they’re getting a showing on websites like islington faces and StJohnStreet because it means local people can appreciate them and maybe learn something or have memories triggered by them, which is what they were always about.

You can follow James on  his twitter account @JamesLCambridge 

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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2 Responses to “James Cambridge: photographer merging Islington past and present”

  1. Michael Riley April 3, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    Truly amazing work. Love the photos and the photoshop.

    • nicola baird blogs April 3, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

      Hi Mike, I’m glad you like James Cambridge’s work. I wish he’d do more photos like these – but I want to see much older first versions with horses or trams! The nUmber 19 bus route was apparently the first that women were employed on, although I do need to check this fact. Nicola

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