Very little of any real interest comes through the post these days, like most people I communicate socially and professionally using email, the phone and even some social networking sites. Occasionally my mother will send me a postcard or letter to keep in touch, she’s never been keen on phoning people for a fear she may be disturbing them; the phone is, after all a rude device.
Like most people, the majority of my post is made up of bills and bank statements, but the other day I returned home to find a brown envelope with my address handwritten across it. The photographer Brian David Stevens had very kindly sent me a copy of his book ‘Tyburn Hemp’, published by Café Royal Books.
Physically ‘Tyburn Hemp’ is a small A5 sized black & white booklet filled with a series of photographs, laid out full bleed across its pages. The photographs are of Speakers Corner in London’s Hyde Park. I could now tell you about the history of Speakers Corner, but as I know little about it I would just be rewriting some basic facts I had read on Wikipedia, which you can do yourself.
I’ve never been to Speakers Corner, but I know of it, I am familiar with its imagery: the crowds, the placards of Bible quotes, the angry men on stepladders shouting and pointing.
The title of the book draws reference to the Tyburn Hill hangings and in turn, the unhinged fervour of an execution crowd. There are many similarities here with the graphic imagery of the angry mob, but also there are echoes of the gallows with the many stepladders that are used by the speakers. Mundane DIY accessories used as a righteous platform, a symbol of power and rank amongst these street corner preachers and political shouters.
Brian David Stevens book made me feel uncomfortable, it tapped into my dislike of the practitioners of religious fervour, people whose belief seems so obviously on the fringes of delusion. The photographs also capture the mob mentality of those that come to watch and argue with these people, many of whose entrenched beliefs seem to be a result of questionable mental health.
The fact that this small book, delivered in the mail could make me think about how I feel about religious preaching, about debate, about the role of the audience and about a place in London I have never visited, says something about how successful it is.
(Chris King. Swan Cottage. 2013)
- ‘Tyburn Hemp’ by Brian David Stevens is available from Cafe Royal Books