Picture London without Londoners
December 31, 2008 10:24 PM   Subscribe

Abandoned London is a Flickr set by photographer IanVisits of London on Christmas morning when the city is (almost) denuded of people. Very disorienting if you've been to London (or any major city, really). I got this via William Gibson's blog and I'll let him describe it in his inimitable way: "Christmas, particularly in the early morning, has always seemed so much more liminal to me than New Year's eve. Spectral, deeply in-between [...] something about the way in which traffic, pedestrian and vehicular, controls one's depth of field, fragmenting and animating the experience."
posted by Kattullus (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Oops! Here's the link to Gibson's blogpost about the pictures.
posted by Kattullus at 10:25 PM on December 31, 2008

This is amazing, and thank you for directing me to William Gibson's blog!
posted by BabySeven at 10:45 PM on December 31, 2008

Wonderful set. So November 27 was the date the anger illness broke out?
posted by maxwelton at 11:28 PM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

Wow, that's amazing. I've lived in London, and I've never seen the streets that quiet, especially as many places as he was able to shoot. It's eerie to see.
posted by dejah420 at 12:14 AM on January 1, 2009

I was going to call foul until I read this on his blog:

Despite the early hour and nature of the day, there were still some people around, and as I started heading home at around 11am, some of the tourist locations were almost as busy as a normal day.

Below are some of my personal favourites, and the whole collection of 68 photos can be found on my usual Flickr account.

Most of the photos are literally as the scene presented itself, although on a few occasions there were the odd car I had to wait to pass, or just didn’t bother waiting and cropped the photo a bit.

Because we were up and walking around central London around 10-11am that day. I had expected to see London empty. After all, the Tube was closed and so were the trains leading in and out of London. But by the time we left our place (near the British museum) the streets were crowded with couples and small families taking a walk.

At least I thought, there will be no place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. But by the time we got to Leicester square, many of the cafes there had already been open. And when we then walked over to Trafalgar square, it looked no different than it did most days. The city as a whole, to be honest, didn't look much different than a cold Sunday morning. The big difference, I suppose, was the lack of big red buses crowding the roads. But the roads were still crowded with cars and cabs

I suppose we should have gotten up earlier. I do wish there was more info on when these photos were taken. I looked at his camera settings but his camera clock seems to be off.
posted by vacapinta at 2:24 AM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very cool, but I wish he was clearer on when he took these photos. He says that by the time he headed home around 11 am, it was almost as busy as a normal day. I'm just curious as to how early he was up.

Ah, here's a picture with a clock in it, that says 8:25. Dang, that is pretty late for almost no one to be around!
posted by Corduroy at 2:27 AM on January 1, 2009

Doing this is fun - I've done something similar in Manchester a few times. I was rather ill this year and only managed a walk around the block at midday which wasn't the same, it really has to be pretty early to get the best effect.

Here's one from 2006 and a set from 2007 which had a good early morning fog. Without cars and people, walking along the older streets give a feeling of time travel.
posted by BinaryApe at 5:46 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Interesting. For those of us who don't know London it would have been telling to see the same shot during normal daytime traffic.
posted by nax at 5:56 AM on January 1, 2009

Here's Piccadilly Circus on an average day, and the Christmas Day version. Similarly, this is Leicester Square as it usually looks, and at Christmas (that's a different side of the square, but should give you an idea). Here's the stairs to the National Portrait Gallery as normal, and at Christmas.

I found one of the big differences between living in London and other places I've lived was that it never really shuts down. In Cambridge, I can walk across town at midnight and maybe see a handful of people, but London always seemed to be alive even in the middle of the night.
posted by penguinliz at 6:14 AM on January 1, 2009

Here's my own shot of Leicester Square at 11:30am on Christmas day - to further compare with penguinliz's above.
posted by vacapinta at 6:31 AM on January 1, 2009

Intrepid photographers west of the Rockies or pretenders thereto still have a few hours to catch their own private emptiness: New Year's day most places tend to be this quiet. Sundays are often great times to catch the abandoned nature of most urbania as well. Cold helps.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 6:41 AM on January 1, 2009

Actually, now that I think of it, so does timing. A street that is empty 5% of the time can be photographically 100% so. Video or GTFO.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:03 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was surprised he was able to see streets that empty on Christmas. I've always thought that Christmas in London was like a very quiet Sunday.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 7:09 AM on January 1, 2009

Great set! I loved the pictures.

I do wish people would use the little search bar on Flickr to find comparison shots --- it's not that hard to find pictures of what London normally looks like.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:29 AM on January 1, 2009

I had this experience in Taipei many years ago during an air raid drill. Quite eerie to see Taipei empty of cars and people.
posted by mattoxic at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2009

I was down in London early this morning... walking on the Embankment at 8.30am it wasn't totally deserted but it was very quiet. Got a good shot of the houses of parliament with like no-one in the picture...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:28 PM on January 1, 2009

Ogre Lawless: A street that is empty 5% of the time.

It's amazing to see something like Picadilly Circus empty at all, at any time, even for the time it would take to take one photo. On a normal night there would be people in that shot. Early morning? Probably. Certainly on the weekend there would be people in that shot 24/7.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:35 AM on January 2, 2009

I've experienced this myself. 2006 I was with my sister-in-law in London for Christmas, and we had to walk from Pimlico to Trafalgar Square for the Christmas Day service, and on that entire walk at 9:30 am, we saw only a small handful of people, despite passing directly by several of the city's major tourist attractions.

Depending on the part of town, you can get a similar effect in the summer due to early sunrise, although it's a pretty short window (that and some assistance from police blocking roads is how they did much of 28 Days Later, IIRC).
posted by kaszeta at 6:19 AM on January 2, 2009

Just as an aside, the City (financial district) bustles during the week, but is this empty on weekends.
posted by plep at 7:55 AM on January 2, 2009

some assistance from police blocking roads is how they did much of 28 Days Later, IIRC

I remember an interview with director they did that said they had volunteers at the ends of streets just asking the few people where about at the time (a few clubbers going home) to stay out of shot and most agreed.

I think they did a similar thing with last year's tv series Survivors to show the empty city... but to me the light always looks wrong as it's so obviously early morning. Al right for a one-off like 28 Days, not so much for multiple scenes. (The original got around this by being being set mainly out in the country)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:36 AM on January 2, 2009

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