One of the side effects of lockdown, according to many, was the way it encouraged us to better connect with the physical spaces we inhabit.

To that end, a new collective of photographers used the period of Covid restrictions to examine the multifarious faces of London that are frequently left unseen, both by those of us living in the city and the people on the outside looking in.

The results are nothing less than stunning, with the final images gifting us new ways to look at and think about London.

Your Local Guardian caught up with the photographers of Mass Collective behind Londons: The Polycentric City during their ongoing exhibition at The Building Centre in central London.

How did MASS come together in the first instance? Why?

Mass started in 2019 from the desire of creating a community of photographers working in architecture and the built environment in general. Founded by photographers Francesco Russo, Luca Piffaretti and Henry Woide it was created as a space to socialise, share ideas and experiences between like-minded photographers.

The collective organises exhibitions and other opportunities to promote personal photographic projects, while social events and talks have the aim of creating a cohesive community of photographers dedicated to documenting the ever-evolving constructed landscape.

Your Local Guardian: © Francesco Russo © Francesco Russo

Can you explain the process for this project? How did the collective generate the resulting exhibition?

The idea of Londons started at the end of 2020 to create a project that could provide a snapshot of how London is evolving.

In the last decades London has moved from a monocentric city into a polycentric one. Looking into the identity of the new satellite centres that are quickly growing around the capital, we think, can provide an uncommon view of what direction our city is taking.

Given the nature of the project, we thought that having several photographers working in different areas with their own vision but under a common brief was the right approach.

We then invited five photographers to join us and create eight photographic series in total, that work coherently as a single collective body of work. Throughout a period of about six months everyone worked on their areas while having regular meetings to review the work collectively and give each other feedback. Unfortunately due to the latest lockdown, most of it had to happen remotely, which added an extra challenge to the project, but luckily we managed to meet in person for the last reviews.

Once we felt that the projects were completed we started working on the exhibition and we curated the series in order to present them to the public. The work is presented in two forms: the exhibition, now open at the Building Centre in Bloomsbury, and a self-published zine that we are selling in a limited edition, featuring a different narrative of the same projects.

What stands out more is how works with such a variety of styles and photographic approaches work cohesively in a single show.

Your Local Guardian: © Henry Woide© Henry Woide

What have you learnt about London from doing the project?

Especially for the photographers working in the areas that are undergoing relevant changes like Stratford, Nine Elms, the Westway, what's been incredible is witnessing how quickly the urban fabric changes. Going in the same places again and again, over a relatively short period of time, really showed us what's happening in the outskirts. Once the act of mapping with our cameras was completed the overall picture was quite impressive.

Can you describe what you feel when you’re taking pictures like these?

When talking about the photographic process that drove the creation of this project it's important to keep in mind that it was almost entirely shot during the third lockdown, between December and May 2021. Even though lockdown itself did not necessarily inform the look of these photos - in fact, one of the points of this project is that London kept growing and changing almost oblivious of the events of the pandemic - for many of us this was a bleak period during which commissions almost came to halt. Having the chance to work on this project surely acted as a relief from the stress of that particular historic period while focusing on something inspiring for when, as we kept saying, "the world will go back to normal".

Your Local Guardian: © Sue Barr© Sue Barr

To what extent can photography, esp. for younger people, be useful for better connecting with where one lives?

In a place like London, where many people live in a certain area just for a limited time before moving somewhere else, photography can be a powerful tool to explore and understand our surroundings. Furthermore, focusing on photographing instead of just seeing our surroundings can be a powerful tool to notice details and situations that we would otherwise ignore. In our case, there is always that desire to find the next perfect composition and this drives us to explore parts of the city where we wouldn't otherwise venture.

What’s the collective got coming up in the future?

The "Londons" project was the first collective project we curated. The whole process taught us the value of working collectively and we definitively want to keep exploring this way of working.

We have a few ideas for some future projects involving new talented photographers and possibly looking to expand our photographic work outside London. Related to the exhibition we have also organised a workshop for students and a photowalk exploring one of the areas of the project on October 30. We also want to continue organising talks and portfolio reviews as well as social gatherings with our community of photographers.

Londons: The Polycentric City by Mass Collective is running until November 4 at The Building Centre Mon - Fri 9am - 6pm and Saturday 10am - 4pm. It features the work of: