Matthew Benjamin Coleman - Heygate: A Natural History

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14 May - 24 Sep 2018

Monday 14 May - Monday 24 September
By appointment only during non-term times.
Free and open to all.
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Completed in 1974, The Heygate Estate in south London’s Elephant and Castle was built on the site of Victorian tenements destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Once home to around three thousand people and hundreds of mature trees, in the late 2000s, Southwark Council began to rehouse tenants and leaseholders and in 2013, sold the land for redevelopment.


In 2011, while studying nearby at London College of Communication, Matthew Benjamin Coleman began to photograph the rich plant life of the Heygate Estate, documenting the diverse mature trees that included London planes, false acacias, goat willows, and Norway maples. From the estate’s 406 trees, 283 were felled to make way for a new housing development.


Coleman’s photographs are presented here chronologically from left to right. As well as the beauty and strangeness of the trees in a built landscape now devoid of a population, they reveal other traces of human and plant intervention. As the estate became increasingly depopulated, the landscaped spaces between the buildings were re-shaped by guerrilla gardeners, graffiti artists, skateboarders, and parkour enthusiasts.


Coleman’s photographs chart an important period of loss and transition. He continued his documentation of the estate’s plant life until 2017, when the last remaining building on the site, the Crossway Church on New Kent Road, was demolished. Towards the end of his series, we see the transition of the estate reflected in the new flora able to establish itself as a result of the lack of human presence: bushes, weeds and flowers flourishing on verges, over balconies and between cracks in the paving stones.


The exhibition is accompanied by an edition of Fieldstudy, published regularly by PARC since 2002.


Born in London, photographer Matthew Benjamin Coleman graduated from London College of Communication in 2013 with a BA in Photography, and received the Colin Jarvie Award the same year.