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Unreal City: Urban photography marries themes and passages from TS Eliot in a striking look at London.

Adriaan van Heerden's new photographic collection weaves together two types of 'wasteland'. According to Bernard O'Donoghue - Irish poet and Oxford University lecturer - Unreal City 'illuminates our contemporary wasteland with cold and understated ferocity, through the prism of TS Eliot's masterpiece, The Waste Land.'

Eliot wrote The Waste Land in the immediate aftermath of the Great War, with civilisation apparently in ruins. 'As we approach the centenary of the first publication of this literary work (in 2022), one does not have to look far for evidence of our current wasteland; says Van Heerden. 'A decade of austerity has resulted in 130,000 unnecessary deaths and 320,000 homeless people living on the UK's streets, as wealth inequality keeps growing and property becomes more and more unaffordable, especially in London.'

Property development has brought uneven benefits, with tens of thousands of poorer families displaced and struggling to cope as a result of welfare cuts. In O'Donoghue's assessment, Van Heerden posits that we now live in the future of Eliot's Waste Land, and that much of what is traumatic in our world is anticipated or described with great urgency in this century-old document.

'In Eliot's work, London is the Unreal City, the background against which many of the characters have their entrances and exits: says Van Heerden, who switches the focus to contemporary London, marrying the harsh everyday realities of its most vulnerable inhabitants with the poem's lyrical descriptions.

'London is many things to many people; he says. 'To those for whom money is no object it can be an opportunity to indulge in every luxury dreamt up by man and woman; a cultural paradise of galleries, theatres, refined music, Michelin-starred dining, exclusive public schools and private members' clubs. London is home to the greatest number of billionaires on the planet and has the only shop in the world where those with enough money can walk in off the street and buy a private jet. But to those who are not so fortunate it can be a squalid and dangerous place, where one's person is constantly in harm's way; where one is at risk of knife crime, acid attacks and gun violence; where one does one's best to eke out an existence doing menial jobs on zero-hour contracts; where one's children might easily slip through the fingers of failing schools and into the waiting arms of violent gangs.'

For Van Heerden, 'Unreal' has a double meaning: 'as if imagined; strange and dream-like, and a slang version: extremely or surprisingly good; he says. 'Whether London can reverse its descent into "unreality" (in the first sense) and become a surprisingly good place to live in for all its inhabitants remains to be seen. The dark humour in several of the pictures emphasises the "unreality" of life in the capital, but also holds out a few rays of hope that all may not be lost.'

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Title Annotation:GALLERY
Comment:Unreal City: Urban photography marries themes and passages from TS Eliot in a striking look at London.(GALLERY)
Publication:Geographical
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2019
Words:479
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