photographing london squats from the 70s to the 90s

Catch photos that Mark Cawson, aka Smiler, shot of communities from West London to King’s Cross in a new show at the ICA.

by Stuart Brumfitt and i-D Staff
09 October 2015, 5:55pm

Man in Psychosis, All Saints Road, 1979 C-Print Photograph

"I used the camera like a storm anchor helping me to navigate and freeze a spinning world of change and flux," explains Smiler, or Mark Cawson, whose photos of London squats from the '70s, '80s and '90s are on show at the ICA Fox Reading Rooms from next week. His black and white images, taken on an analogue camera, show the communities, the individuals, the madness and some of the sadness of squat living. 

Wrecking Crew Party, circa 1985 C-Print Photograph

Aaron (with Leopard's Head), 1978 C-Print Photograph

Yes, there are plenty of parties, music and good times, but the image captions themselves reveal psychosis and drug overdoses. The show is co-curated by Gareth McConnell & Matt Williams, and a book of the images has also been published by McConnell's project, Sorika.

Dan, Dixon House, Latimer Road (1980) C-Print Photograph

Travellers Site, Post-Eviction, Camden Town, 1985 C-Print Photograph

Smiler was "trying to manage a deep sense of alienation" through his photos, and captures a time of salvage culture, zipcode hopping and bona fide outsiders. Political groups would share spaces with artists, bikers, musicians, drug dealers and prostitutes - anyone who was anti-establishment banding together.

Patrice, Ladbroke Grove, circa 1980 C-Print Photograph

Dixon House, Squat (16th Floor), Latimer Road, 1980 C-Print Photograph

In the spirit of the party vibes of the squat days, there will be a big celebration in the Frieze ICA Bar (in association with K11 Art Foundation) on Thursday, October 15 from 7.30pm - 1am, with music from DJs Bahamian Moor, Ivan Smagghe and Nathan Gregory Wilkins. See if you can bring even a portion of the style show by the squatters in these photos. 

Chaunaud, squat party, Knightbridge, 1980 C-Print Photograph

Smiler: Photographs of London by Mark Cawson runs from October 12- November 29 in the ICA Fox Reading Room. 


Photography Mark Cawson

Mark Cawson