I’ve lived in Chelsea for the past 35 years. Since 2002, I’ve photographed everything I find interesting here — churches, streets, door knockers and pub signs, plus two old Chelsea pensioners chatting on a bench with their medal ribbons and rank pinned to their scarlet coats. I’ve recently finished my project and added these 1,800 photographs to the historical research I’ve done about Chelsea, which is now sitting safely on my bookshelf.
My love of photography comes from my Uncle Jack. When he returned home at the war’s end, he had a Leica camera, which he got by trading his cigarette rations with an Italian civilian. He gave me his old Brownie box camera. As a child, I would wander around my local neighbourhood — Penge, in south London — always looking for a quiet, still moment when my subjects were unaware of me taking their photo.
I was born in south London, on the wrong side of the street as they say — dirt poor. By 1940, our family was evacuated to Nottingham, a city where we knew no one and where we were forced to stay with a family of strangers in their home. I talked with a Cockney accent, which made it difficult for me at school. A stranger in a strange land. I played truant, got caught and was put on a train by myself, aged five, to live with my gran back in London. Gran showed me the tools of resilience that would stay with me my whole life. She encouraged me to keep a diary, collect cards that came in the Players Weight cigarette packs that my grandfather smoked, and how to use the tea kettle to steam off the postage stamps that arrived on the letters my mother would write to us.