Andrew Brown billboard commission: Ilford roots and branches

April – September 2023
SPACE Ilford

What’s in a name? Three Ilfords on a billboard outside Redbridge Town Hall.

Over time names travel far from their roots. Ilford takes its name from the crossing, or ford, over the River Hyle, the ancient name for the River Roding. The town crest features the river and the Fairlop Oak Tree.

Photographer Alfred Harman moved from Peckham to the village of Ilford in 1879, seeking the clean, dust-free air needed for the manufacture of photographic plates. He renamed his company Ilford Ltd in 1891, adopting the paddle steamer as a symbol, a sign of his global ambitions.

Local family the Leaders migrated by boat from Ilford to Australia in 1849. They purchased land to farm in New South Wales and changed the name of their new home from Kean’s Swamp to Ilford in 1868.

Local artist Andrew Brown combines historic and modern photographic processes to explore links between these three Ilfords: a town on the edge of London, a hamlet in Australia and a company founded in the 19th century that was to become a global photographic materials brand.

It was the destruction of over ninety per cent of Hainault Forest to create farmland that enabled Ilford to grow from a small Essex village to thriving metropolitan town towards the end of the 19th century. Over 4,600 acres of trees were felled and common land passed into private ownership. Settlers in Australia, too, reshaped the landscape to create farmland, with scant concern for the centuries old practices and desires of the traditional aboriginal custodians of the land. The dry plates manufactured by Harman and others enabled photographers to record the changing landscape and shape our relationship with the land on opposite sides of the world.

The three images take the form of magic lantern slides, a popular way to present photographs to the public in the late 19th century. Then, colour was added to black and white images by hand painting, now it is applied digitally by artificial intelligence. The trees depicted survive and bear witness to both the environmental changes we have caused, and the shift in the technologies we use to record and engage with the world around us, from analogue/chemical to post-digital.

About Andrew Brown

Andrew Brown is an artist and educator based at SPACE Studios, Ilford. He uses digital, analogue, historic and alternative photographic processes alongside soundscapes, texts and artefacts to explore the impact on communities of rapid changes in the built and natural environment in east London.

Recent commissions include UP projects, the Arts Council and SPACE/Aetreum and collaborative work with East London Textile Arts, River Roding Trust, Humorisk CIC, Beal High School and Thames Ward Community Project.

Andrew has lived in Ilford for 24 years and was a trainee teacher at Highlands Junior School in Ilford in 1979. He is studying for a Doctorate in Fine Art at the University of East London.