London Is Turning Into a Depressing and Dumb City of Living Stock Images
Every city has its visual cliches. The stereotypes, falsehoods and cheery slices of xenophobia sold to us on cheap postcards and in crap films that reduce the world’s great cities to a handful of worn out cultural cues. If you’ve never been to Paris, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all girls who look like Charlotte Gainsbourg skipping along the Seine in Breton tops, doling out filter-less cigs to homeless accordion players. When in actual fact, it’s more like a bunch of exchange students laughing at dachshunds and dudes who are still bang into Justice plying rich schoolgirls with shit MDMA.
For New York, the cliches are motor-mouthed cabbies and kids fucking around with water hydrants. For Barcelona, it’s psytrance beachbums and animal cruelty on La Rambla. Tokyo? Weird fish, games machines and businessmen throwing themselves in front of bullet trains.
But what about London? Pearly Kings and Queens? Pie and mash? Foxtons Minis tearing down Brixton High Street, on fire? Rita Ora?
So I decided to pull back for a moment, and consult Getty Images’ wide range of London stock photos. What do they see when they look at the UK’s capital?
"London City Hall"
The vast majority of the London stock photos on Getty are scenic wide shots of the city’s skyline, usually taken at sunset and very rarely from anywhere east of Tower Bridge. Of course, this makes perfect sense. If you’re a journalist writing something about London’s chronic housing crisis, or a body in the Thames river, or Millwall’s terrible run under Ian Holloway, you probably want to illustrate your copy with a picture of the Shard and a few anonymous riverside yuppie-farms when the sun’s going down.
From the outset, it’s clear that this is the London that Getty are most interested in selling to their customers, the London with all the big glass buildings and shimmering water, the one that girl from your school has as her Facebook cover photo, the one on the opening titles to The Apprentice. Not the one where there’s three Paddy Powers on a single high street, or the one of food banks, pigeons cannibalizing fried chicken bones and crack squirrels.
But this one, the nice one by the river with the big buildings.
"Couple Having Coffee At Sidewalk Cafe"
The people in Getty’s pictures are predominantly happy young heterosexual couples who drink coffee, take selfies, and love life and London. And that’s fine. It’s not like they’re going to embark upon an investigative social project about co-dependent heroin addicts crying and vomiting in each other’s arms, or abandoned widows lying catatonic in single bedrooms in Catford.
Reasons Why San Francisco Is the Worst
2014 is slowly turning into the “Year of San Francisco.” The East Coast media in America has anointed SF as the new hub for innovation, conspicuous consumption, and comically absurd rents. New York Magazine parachuted a bunch of reporters into the Bay Areato figure out how to steal their douchebags back. The article asked “Is San Francisco New York?” No, it’s much worse. The existential crisis around San Francisco’s ascension to the heights of assholery stands in stark contrast to the fact that it is damn near unlivable for most normal people.
The end is nigh for a city that used to be a magnet for the counter-culture. San Francisco was strangled, so we decided to go over the numerous causes of death.
Photo via Flickr User Jay Galvin
Everyone Worth a Damn Is Moving to Oakland
San Francisco used to be that place you moved to if you were too weird for LA, but too lazy for New York. It was a perfect city to ply your trade as a quirky motherfucker with a penchant for “edgy performance art” and whimsical scarves. That was just dandy. We liked that.
Around every corner, there could be an anarchist bookshop or a dude covered in glitter, wearing a Spongebob t-shirt, and sporting a raging hard-on. Where did that San Francisco go? Across the fucking bridge, that’s where.
Oakland is cheaper than San Francisco (but not by much), it’s close to Berkeley’s cultural gravity, and it’s just a BART trip away from what’s left of SF’s relevance. It’s also an industrial wasteland full of crime and Raider fans. You might ask yourself, What happened to San Francisco’s iconoclastic spirit…? Well, in two simple words:
Photo via Flickr User Tech Cocktail
There’s always been a bourgeois element to San Francisco that we all just ignored. The landed gentry of Nob Hill, Pac Heights, and Sea Cliff have always been there. They have owned their home for years, love wearing fleece sweaters, own nothing but real wood furniture, and are the type of people who tool around McCovey Cove in their yachts during Giants games. They are from a different planet and don’t mingle with the plebs. They have their world of brandy snifters, champagne flutes, cheese tastings, and obscure European automobiles. They honestly don’t care what you think.
The tech bro, on the other hand, seeks to engage in city life. They go to the same bars you do. They eat at the same restaurants. They badly want to be accepted as “cool,” while also having more money than you and getting chauffeured to work in a free corporate bus. Their insistence on trying to infiltrate the real San Francisco has pretty much killed the real San Francisco. Dolores Park, once a safe haven for burnouts to drink 40s and smoke weed at 2:30 PM on a Tuesday, is now the world’s biggest networking event for dudes who wear khakis to the gym.
In New York, Wall Street people know they’re pricks. In Los Angeles, Hollywood people are too stupid to know they’re pricks. In San Francisco, tech bros think they’re saving the world with their crackpot schemes aka “start-ups.” They’re the fucking worst.
I Accidentally Got a Scammer Tortured by Police in Tanzania
It was when they manhandled him onto the table, tethered him to a water pipe coming out of the ceiling, and pulled his pants down to his ankles that I experienced a change of heart. For weeks I’d been consumed with hatred for the man on that table. But it’s funny how your perspective changes when someone is about to be tortured, especially when you’re the one that put him there.
It had begun, like many tales of misadventure, in that most anarchic staging post for travel: the Tanzanian bus station. Ever been to one? This is how it goes: The long-distance buses tend to leave at dusk or before; schedules are mind-bogglingly irregular; a tourist tax on the price of a ticket is all but inevitable. Like transport hubs the world over, they’re a magnet for the wretched, the transient, and the dispossessed. And you endure it all for the privilege of cramming yourself into a bus driven by some prepubescent boy-racer in a country with a traffic-accident rate six times worse than that of the UK.
I Ate Dinner at Pyongyang’s Cambodian Outpost
Monivong Boulevard is a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So it’d be easy to wander by the low-profile restaurant that, at first glance, resembles any other Khmer food joint—if it weren’t for the billboard revealing that this restaurant has ties to the most repressive regime in the world. Welcome to “Pyongyang,” a little piece of North Korea in Cambodia.
It’s actually one of a dozen or more Pyongyang restaurants located all over Southeast Asia, all of which are owned and operated by the North Korean regime. Bona fide North Koreans staff the restaurants, which are widely believed to be laundering money and ferrying intelligence back to Kim Jong-un. TripAdvisor gives the one in Phnom Penh 3.5 stars.
I make a reservation for 7 PM and am sure to arrive on time —I imagine tardiness is frowned upon by totalitarians. Either despite or because of the fact that the restaurant is run by a dictatorship, the place is punishingly well-lit thanks to a ceiling covered in compact fluorescent bulbs. Maybe this is to help ensure no sneaky Westerners violate the ban on snapping photos.
The Sienese Are Whipping Each Other with Dried Bulls’ Penises As Their City Collapses
"The world you’ve entered," Alarico Rossi warns us on our first night on Siena, "is very different to explore." Here, "We fear everything." It’s a sentiment we encounter repeatedly in the small Tuscan city that wears its long history—the battle for republican autonomy in the face of Florentine domination being a central theme—very much on its sleeve.
Alarico is a local journalist. His beat is the Palio, a spectacular 90-second bareback horse race run twice a year around Siena’s central plaza, the Piazza del Campo, in which jockeys are encouraged to whip each other with dried bulls’ penises, typically followed by a ritualized public brawl. More than a medieval pageant for the benefit of visitors’ holiday pictures, the Palio is the focal point of a distinctly Sienese way of life.
“It is not for the tourists, it is for the city,” insists Michele Pinassi, a newly elected member of the municipal council from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. “It’s the one appointment a Sienese politician can’t miss.” A local journalist clarifies: “If you are a politician and you criticize the Palio, you are politically dead. Also physically.”
Thailand’s Full Moon Parties Have Been Taken Over by #YOLO Idiots
It’s an old cliché to bemoan what is compared to what used to be. But as the morning sun rises over the fluoro debris and thousands of empty plastic cups from the night before, it’s hard for me to do much else.
I’m standing on a crowded Haad Rin beach on Thailand’s idyllic Koh Phangan, home to the original and now infamous Full Moon Party. Hours before, 20,000 bodies writhed together in motion to pulsating house music, fuelled by cheap alcohol and magic mushroom milkshakes. Now, among the rapidly sobering hardcore who continue to dance, a smattering of those bodies dot the beach, their semi-conscious, half-naked torsos slowly roasting in the Thai sun. They lie surrounded by beer bottles, shattered glass, and plastic buckets.
It’s all a bit depressing, but of course there’s nothing particularly original about any of this. The descent of the Full Moon Party from fabled hippy love-in to an 18-30-club-rave-on-sea has been in motion for years. Once arcane events attended by 30 or so loved up psytrancers who, for all their faults, at least seemed to be striving for some kind of spiritual experience, now the Full Moon Parties seem to be yet another hedonistic playpen for actuarial science students whose idea of a spiritual experience is getting a henna tattoo.
North Korea Is Frighteningly Boring
Last November, Maxime Delvaux went to North Korea, which isn’t easy for a photographer. She entered as a tourist with a permanent guide and driver. Like most visitors to the hermit kingdom, she was only allowed to see approved sites. The tour, and others like it, are basically propaganda to convince outsiders of North Korea’s stability, civility, power, and grandeur. The resulting images document this eerie sterility. The viewer can sense that there are unpleasant things going on behind the monumental closed doors.
In an introductory piece about the photos, Mikhail Kissine writes, “The few people in the surrounding emptiness give the scale of the buildings; the sober explanations, provided by the regime itself, give the scale of the folly… One should be scared of a regime that builds to fool visitors. What Maxime Delvaux’s photos show is very real. Sufficiently real, indeed, to gently distillate a disturbing feeling, where the nauseating vertigo of some of the Borge’s Fictions mixes up with a genuine Orwellian fear.” Maxime’s pictures, while peaceful and unshocking, get under your skin and hint at the true nature of the country. If such a visit is so highly controlled, what fucked up stuff goes on when visitors aren’t there?
Bangkok Is a Paradise
About a year and a half ago, photographer Theo Cottle sparked our “Paradise” series with his idylic pictures from his hometown of Bristol. A few months later, he followed those up with a bunch of graphic scenes he captured in Berlin.
This time around, he sent us some pictures from his recent trip to Bangkok, and I think I can safely say these are the grimiest of the lot. Or the most paradisiacal, if you’re deranged. To each his own, I guess.
To get to Bangkok’s Siriraj Medical Museum, which doesn’t appear in most guidebooks, ask a local to write “Siriraj Hospital” in Thai script and present it to a taxi driver. He’ll take you to the “wrong side” of the Chao Phraya river and drop you off in front of a sprawling complex. From there, show that same piece of paper to a friendly-looking passerby to be pointed in the direction of the medical museum. The museum opens at nine, closes at four, and costs $1.25 to get in—$4.25 if you want a set of headphones with a British-accented guided tour and a probably-unlicensed U2 fade-in. Incidentally, it also has a “No Photography” rule, which is strictly enforced by armed security. Consequently, the photos in this article were found online.
If the whole holding up bits of handwriting to strangers thing sounds like a lot of effort, believe me when I say the exhibits are worth it.