For the last three years, Kilian O’Sullivan has been following a monthly ritual. Around dawn, he will find himself standing on the Chelsea side of the Thames, looking over the river towards Battersea Power Station. He always shoots from the same place, capturing the minutiae of change on this giant project.
The vantage point from Grosvenor Road is one of eight spots that Kilian visits during his monthly pilgrimage to Battersea. He also takes a long distant shot looking over railway lines from the back of Victoria Station and a bird’s eye view from a water tower on a nearby housing estate.
Step by slow step, Kilian is documenting the reconfiguration one of London’s most distinctive landmarks. Battersea’s cream chimneys have dominated southwest London since the 1930s. After the Grade II* listed structure was decommissioned in 1975, there were local campaigns to preserve this iconic slice of Wandsworth skyline.
Now, as Battersea is transformed into prime commercial, retail and residential real estate, the chimneys are being painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt with reinforced steel. Kilian is enjoying recording every stage of their disappearance and re-emergence for posterity.
He hasn’t decided exactly how he will use his growing sequence of images, although stop- motion animations and coffee table books seem likely outcomes. However, as he typically has to work under pressure to create glossy pictures of finished buildings, he is relishing getting under the skin of this project.
“It’s unusual to do something so consistently over such a long period of time. Professionally speaking, that’s interesting” he says.
Kilian is one of three photographers commissioned by the Battersea Power Station Development Company to go on site regularly, recording what is happening inside the art deco shell and the sleek modern blocks that are rising around it.
“I take for granted that I’ve been into places that the public just can’t get into - and will soon be hidden. I don’t believe that there’s another site in the UK that has such complexity of work going on simultaneously. On the same day you’ll see historic restoration, ground works, concrete work, the list goes on -and it’s all happening at such a great scale,” he says.
He has even climbed the scaffolding to stand a third of the way up one of the chimneys. It was as high as he was permitted to rise without taking a specialist ropes course.
For large format pictures Kilian uses a big bellows camera – a device that is not for the impatient or faint-hearted. He admits that he has to be at the top of his game when using it.
“It’s very heavy and slow. The difference of being out of focus is a fraction of a millimetre. It’s really unforgiving.” But he has good reasons for carrying such a heavy and precise piece of equipment around.
“The images are really big and really scaleable. Because there is no distortion, you can capture fantastic horizontal and vertical compositions,” he says, adding that the camera makes him take his time, considering shots carefully before committing to them.
“There is a tendency in modern digital photography to take as many pictures as possible, from as many places as possible. That’s not compatible with this kind of camera. I probably only have time to take about 60 per cent of the pictures that you could take with other cameras. You can’t rush it.”
He enjoys capturing site workers hard at work, as well as in posed portraits, and loves showing them in all their kit - the more paraphernalia they have the better.
“We live in a world where everything is presented as idealised images. It’s refreshing to capture real people doing real work.” He adds.
He also carries a smaller camera slung round his neck for more spontaneous shots. But there is no doubting which camera the workers prefer.
“They only really respond to the biggest breed of camera going. The bigger the kit, the more professional you look, the happier they are,” he says.
You can see more of Kilian’s work at www.kilianosullivan.com