Ethelburga Tower: At Home in a High-Rise 15.05.09

Written by 

words Carol Eid

The photography series Ethelburga Tower: At Home in a High-Rise, by photographer Mark Cowper for the Geffrye Museum, was meant to be a simple study of natural light in 46 tower block apartments in Battersea, London but it soon turned into something else.

"What was an initial investigation of light became overpowered by individual people," says Cowper of the photographed living rooms, which became indirect portraits of its inhabitants. "Domination of the person takes over the space," he adds.

Yet looking at most of Mark Cowper's intimate apartment portraits, people are seldom present in the picture frame. But when you notice the titles of his exhibition images, which typically describe the age and profession of the often absent flat users, the decor clearly points to them.

The near-identical rooms, which were spontaneously photographed in similar camera positions, evolved into a subtle character study of its inhabitants, through what their decorative tastes or furniture arrangement revealed about them. The result is perhaps more telling than a subject standing for the camera in front of a carefully choreographed background.

Ethelburga Tower: At Home in a High-Rise is at the Geffrye Museum, London, until 31 August

pictures Mark Cowper

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