A few weeks ago, I took an exploratory trip to Peckham in order to view Peckham Square Studio’s first exhibit independent of the nearby Camberwell College of Arts.
The show, a collection of photos by Eileen Perrier, formed my first vision of this neighborhood. Drawing style from the portraits of the past, much like those you could see hanging in Dulwich Picture Gallery, Perrier’s photographs capture residents passing through Peckham Square. These portraits, both moving and simple, showed a vast range of people, walking alone or with children, with friends or significant others. Although the exhibit offers no profiles on the people photographed, the portraits invite speculation on a vast front. This person could be a student, this a tattoo artist. This man would avidly call himself a father, this couple met at a book shop, this guy’s hard up at the moment, this woman’s lived here her whole life.
Out on the street, the photographs become reality as the residents of Peckham pass through their lives. Peckham Square has never, in the times I’ve been there, encapsulated any definition so well as bustling, even late at night; during the day it can be difficult to move at all. On Rye lane character from every corner of the world crowds for attention, lighting up with an impossible range of colors from food stalls specializing in Irish butchery, fish shops that overflow with silvery scales and white meat, Afro-Caribbean chicken shops, fruit and veggies stalls spilling out into the street, and even Middle Eastern spices. Clothing stores cram into every empty store front, selling every imaginable need. All this is anchored at the head of the street by Peckham Square with the huge, bright Peckham Library and Peckham Square Studio on one side and the Peckham Peace wall on the other.
Just off this busy street, Peckham stretches into a series of quieter little centers filled with small local pubs, bakeries, bars, bookshops, galleries, museums, and restaurants, a more intimate atmosphere. These places are endlessly creative and hip from Bar Story, a bar and pizza place under a railroad bridge that serves excellent, affordable cocktails to the Public House Projects located, a gallery located on top of a bar. In fact, Peckham has become such a hip, artsy area, it has its own section on the South London Art Map, brimming with even more galleries, cafes, night clubs, and bars to visit in the area.
Peckham feels like a quilt: an amalgamation of different trends, people, backgrounds, and interests all coming together. Beautiful parks full of children playing or people just off work sitting and reading nestle between cafes with art on their wall and student discounts. A small bar filled with comfy chairs can, if you look up, reveal a glimpse of itsolder days through a stately, crystal chandelier; small bakeries sell specialties from every corner of the world that any girl with a sweet tooth can enjoy. Peckham surprises, lending a sort of accessible character the more expensive and long-established culture of many other London neighborhoods have lost. It has, in the short time I’ve lived in this city, become one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon or an evening.
For more information on the Peckham Square Studio, visit their website at www.peckhamplatform.com
For information on a number of other places to visit in Peckham, visit the SLAM website at www.southlondonartmap.com.