Whilst sitting on the deck chairs outside The Bystander Cafe on London Road, a man walks past in a green lumber jacket as oblivious of me as I was of him – that was until I called out “George?”, and a puzzled yet pleasant face greeted me back.
After 30 years of doing just that, photographer George Coles embarked on a project ‘London Road A-Z’ to show Brighton’s neglected and continually dismissed London Road in the light that he knew it. George Cole describes his moment of inspiration as looking at a Henri Cartier-Bresson piece – ‘I thought, I could do that, I want to do that’. Insisting that it isn’t all ‘winos and junkies’ Cole describes today’s London road as Pound lane. So what does Pound Lane mean? In response, Coles referred to the 18th Century Artist William Hogarth’s prints Gin Lane and Beer Street; the dystopias and Utopia’s of a town, Gin lane where distress, death and decay are everywhere with Beer Street as it’s jovial opposite. ‘It isn’t quite Gin lane’ adds Cole. Instead the photographs, on the old Co-op window on London Road, show the street to still contain the old England sense of community. ‘I want to open people’s eyes’ to the bigger picture, where the high street isn’t just a rejected dwelling for the working-class and a necessary through-road to Sydney Street – and we should not rush to condemn the street eternal degradation.
The photographs in the abandoned co-op window, unlike the other socio-historical images of London road, show not just the buildings but more importantly, the people. In his humble desire to show that ‘everyone has a story’, Cole records images that make you realise that ‘even the drunken bum lying on the pavement got there somehow’.