Since 2004, photographers Polly Braden and David Campany have been capturing the characters and contradictions that they discovered daily in Lea Valley, East London, watching the area transform as London's 2012 Olympics descended on the area.

Inexplicably drawn to its pockets of natural landscapes and metropolitan mishmash of inhabitants, Polly Braden and David Campany have been visiting Lea Valley for years. The pair – Braden a documentary photographer, and Campany with a background in both writing and film – found themselves returning to Lea Valley time and time again to photograph what they saw.

Now, some 12 years after their very first visit comes Adventures in the Lea Valley, a stunning compilation of photographs which captures the sprawling, pre-Olympic world in which Lea Valley residents live.

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“Instead of pragmatic wilderness there were now landscaped parks, manicured greens, and the continuous sprouting of what property developers like to call luxury apartments,” says Campany in his introduction to the book, noting the changes made to the area since he started visiting.

He recalls a light blue Victorian metal footbridge, which bore graffiti: “Fuck Seb Coe”, the face of London 2012. His photo forever immortalising that profanity in a scene filled with mossy greens and a faded bridge, the words long erased.

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The Lea Valley area has been a source of inspiration not only for Braden and Campany, but the 2005 documentary film What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? A collaboration between pop band Saint Etienne and director Paul Kelly, the film follows a paper boy through different areas of the valley as he deposits tabloids and broadsheets.

A scripted piece, it is narrated by East End natives David Essex and Linda Robson, who discuss what the imminent arrival of the London Olympics will mean for the area.


“Every mother’s son could be an Olympic champion. And if he’s not, he can at least be there,” says Essex. Demonstrating the paradox presented by the arrival of the Olympics, this comment is made in spite the character complaining just moments ago about how green spaces in the valley were going to be covered with tarmac and turned into car parks.

This changing climate, simultaneously filled with hope and dread, is echoed in Adventures in the Lea Valley.


The book also offers a glimpse into mid-noughties politics. In one photo, a workman papers over a billboard of Tony Blair’s giant face, which reads “imagine five more years of him”, in a bid to win Conservative votes. It presents a working class territory fighting back against an infiltration of yuppies and the looming threat of gentrification.

Adventures in the Lea Valley by Polly Braden & David Campany is published by Hoxton Mini Press. 
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