Month 8: Kings Cross

From Percy Circus, Skyward

I’ve been travelling via Kings Cross station for several years for work purposes, but I never really thought about the name until my coin landed there. Wikipedia tells me that the name comes from a rather unpopular monument to King George IV which once stood at the major crossroads that now falls right outside the station (hence the name ‘Cross’). It was made up of an octagonal building base, topped with a statue of the king… but the statue was only 11 feet high and rather than being carved from stone, was constructed of bricks and mortar. Apparently folks in the 1830s thought it was pretty horrible, as the place was demolished after only 10 years. But the cool part to me was that the top floor of the building was a camera obscura. How fitting to find this out as part of a photography project.  And in a strange coincidence, I learned that the architect of this building and monument was none other than Stephen Geary, whose most famous work was Highgate Cemetery, where my coin landed a few months ago. My favourite photo from there includes the Terrace Catacombs, which Geary is most known for. I like coincidences – especially now that I can see the word ‘coin’ in that word, too.

Speaking of coins and coincendences, this month my coin just happened to land in a position which has a circular road perfectly located exactly at the centre. I knew I’d have to pay a visit to Percy Circus to check it out. When I got there, it was indeed a perfect circle with a patch of green space in the centre, and most of the surrounding buildings were large Regency houses with curved fronts to match the space. Some of them looked like they might have been rebuilt, and sure enough, Percy Circus was bombed extensively during WW2 – there’s a fascinating set of historic documents and drawings here. On one of these reconstructed buildings I spotted a blue plaque which indicated that Lenin stayed here in 1905 – presumably due to its close proximity to the British Library, where Lenin first read the revolutionary works of Karl Marx.

Beer Kegs
Beer Kegs

Anything but revolutionary is the area around Percy Circus, which comprises mostly of a large Travelodge, some generic pubs, offices and convenience stores, so after wandering here without much photographic inspiration, I headed south, where I ended up seeing some of the most uplifting graffiti I’ve seen in a long time: the word ‘forgive’ chalked onto the wall of a car park, and a bit further on, the words ‘i love you’ painted high atop a building.

On my way back to the station, I noticed some dramatic shadows falling across a plain grey wall, and as people walked past, their figures cast a nice long shadow on the pavement. I positioned myself across the street and waited for that Henri Cartier-Bresson ‘decisive moment’ to happen: the perfect subject, perfectly positioned, in the perfect conditions. After half an hour of less-than-perfection: cars driving through the shot, people with unruly shopping bags, too many pedestrians in the wrong places, pressing the shutter at the wrong time, I was thinking of leaving. But then I noticed a Muslim teenager in a white thobe, with his bright red shoes showing vibrantly in the sun. I managed to capture just one shot of him before the traffic spoiled the rest, but it turned out to be my favourite photo of this entire project. Turns out Cartier-Bresson was right: sometimes patience pays off, big time.

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