Photos capturing the romantic side of Croydon

Photos capturing the romantic side of Croydon

Photographer Ameena Rojee sheds a light on the natural beauty not often associated with the London borough she calls home.

When Ameena Rojee was 17-years-old and studying for her qualifications in sixth form college, she would sneak out of school with her friend during their free periods. Though technically forbidden by the rules, the pair would ride two buses from the gates to the centre of Croydon – a town and borough in south London – to walk around the shops, browsing clothes that they couldn’t afford, and visit their favourite sushi spot. With her home situated on the area’s outskirts she was used to its idiosyncratic character, but would still be caught off guard by the brazenness with which some of the other locals would approach her.

“It’s a bit of a weird place,” Rojee laughs. “I always remember very strange experiences just existing in Croydon. You’d always get people coming up to you and just asking questions. One time I was going through a strong emo / goth phase and my friend was very nerdy, very prim and proper, and some teens would come up to us and be like ‘why are you guys so different and you’re hanging out?’ Stuff like that would happen all the time – people being so entitled to their opinion.”

Top to bottom: Feeding horses at the bottom of Duppas Hill Recreation Ground, January 2019 © Ameena Rojee. Two garden butterflies, July 2020 © Ameena Rojee.

After studying photography at university in Bristol, Rojee moved back into her family home while working in Central London at the British Journal of Photography. In 2017, she began to take photographs on her daily commute, unwittingly amassing a hefty archive of photographs of her hometown that would eventually develop into a full-scale project exploring the boundaries of the borough. Now, several of those pictures have been collated and presented in her new photobook, Crocus Valley, sitting alongside nostalgic poetry from local writer and Croydon’s first Poet Laureate Shaniqua Benjamin.

“It’s this romantic perspective of Croydon,” Rojee explains of the texts. “When we got her first draft I was so excited, I remember reading them and it was just so perfect, so beautiful, and just all these lovely things that are normally not associated with Croydon.”

As a borough with high rates of economic deprivation – recent Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that one in seven children in Croydon live in poverty – the area is often characterised by and referred to in the media for its high violent crime rate. It was described as the “knife crime capital” of London in 2021, and saw the highest recorded number of violent offences in London at the start of 2023.

The tram at dusk, heading past Addington Hills toward West Croydon, January 2022 © Ameena Rojee.

While Rojee doesn’t deny the issues, her pictures aim to shed a light on the lesser-realised, beautiful side to her hometown, which seldom finds its way into the news when the word ‘Croydon’ is penned to a public facing audience. With shots of the characters populating East Croydon’s Church Street to moody photographs of the tram and the towering chimneys of the local IKEA store set in a former factory, the pictures focus on the aesthetic beauty of the town’s landscape and landmarks.

“Every London borough has its own unique atmosphere, but really Croydon isn’t that different from most other London boroughs,” she says. “I think the biggest difference is that its reputation is so different from most other places. [Violence] is just what you get from a big city with lots of moving parts, where money is going places where maybe it shouldn’t be going and places where they’re not getting any money at all.

“But hearing about stuff happening in Croydon, it’s always the negative stuff,” she adds. “If there’s a stabbing or accident it feels like people talk about it more when the same thing is happening across London or they attribute it to Croydon.”

View from across the border to the Beddington incinerator, November 2020 © Ameena Rojee.

It’s partly why, although Croydon’s ever-rising skyline and the bright lights of the town centre do feature in the pictures, the focus lies largely on the area’s parks and surrounding countryside. “It’s one of the greenest London boroughs,” Rojee continues. “I ended up deciding to mainly focus on the nature side of things because it’s less well known about Croydon, that we have all these massive green spaces. It’s just where I live and I’d like to show different perspectives to it.”

Crocus Valley by Ameena Rojee is published by RRB Platform.

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