Photographer Ossi Piispanen spent a decade living in Harringay’s warehouses – a space filled with artists, misfits and people who ‘have gone through some changes in their life’
In 2011, photographer Ossi Piispanen landed in London. After moving from his native Finland where he had worked in IKEA and saved every penny to start a new life, he found himself staying in hostels. “It's quite difficult to establish yourself in London,” he tells Dazed, “because no bank will give you an account before you have an address and no landlord will let a property to you if you don’t have a bank account.”
After turning to Gumtree, he found himself in Harringay Warehouse District, the ragtag cluster of shared living spaces next to Finsbury Park, as it was the only place that accepted people who are yet to have a bank account. It wasn’t long before he fell for the grassroots community that has flourished in the area since the turn of the millennium.
“Someone told me to jump over a fence, knock on a door and ask for a guy who apparently had loads of rooms,” he recalls. “A guy in overalls covered in dust answered, said I could have a room and that was it.” For the following decade, Piispanen lived, partied with, and photographed the carousel of colourful characters that inhabit that particular slice of London.
At some point, Piispanen decided to consolidate the thousands of images he’d taken in the warehouses into a body of work – Manor House: Ten Years of Yeah – which is currently being exhibited at Low Volume (a new art space in north London) and New River Studios (the community hub in the middle of the warehouses).
“I’d never seen anything like it before,” he says. “I went from having no friends in London to suddenly having 14 housemates plus another 16 in the warehouse next door. And as you can imagine with so many people, every weekend is someone’s birthday so people come over for huge dinners. Artists, satellite engineers, people who make hats, all sorts of people. Name a profession and I’ve probably lived with them.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable environment to be in as a portrait photographer. “The whole project is like a community effort,” he says. “I take portraits of people, but what makes the photos interesting is the setting and the glimpse into someone else's life.”
“Some of these photos were taken 12 years ago. A lot of the people in them are not here [living in the warehouses] anymore. Some people might not even be the same people that they were in the photos. People go forward in their life, you know? In some ways, warehouses themselves are like a pitstop for some people. People often come into warehouses because they’ve gone through some changes in their life. This project is like a weird portrayal of that pitstop.”
The future of Harringay’s warehouse district is under threat. Property developers are currently circling around the area like a pack of ugly hyenas, drooling at the prospect of flattening the site, assassinating the local culture and putting up soulless blocks of overpriced flats. This year, plans have been submitted to Haringey Council which, if accepted, will see the demolition of a warehouse called Omega Works. If it goes ahead it will make 100 people homeless and put a number of DIY companies out of business. A resident-led campaign, Save the Warehouses, has been raging ever since.
“I fully support the campaign,” Piispanen tells me. “There’s a community under eviction and what London does not need is more expensive flats.” What does this city have to lose if spaces like this cease to exist? “It’s like any underground culture. What happened to Camden when the punks left and consumerism turned up? It became a shithole.”
Manor House: Ten Years of Yeah is currently exhibiting across Low Volume (341 Seven Sisters Road, N4 1DN) and New River Studios (199 Eade Road, N4 1DN). We asked when it will finish. “The true Manor House answer is I don’t know,” Piispanen responded. “No one knows.”