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Brian Leli is an American writer, teacher and photographer. He owns a room in Chicago, IL but lives outside of rented ones everywhere.
September 13, 2012
As I write this, it is a rainy Thursday night in Chicago. Dark and cool. I am listening to the music of Angel Olsen and trying to escape the storms that are hovering overhead, outside and within. I wasn’t planning to write this tonight. But then a familiar desperation came calling. And this is the only way I know how to make it go away. If there is a better time than right now to put these words together, I’m not so sure I could handle it. So let’s dig right in.
On August 22, 2011 I boarded a plane in Chicago bound for London Heathrow. Some time passed. A lot of time passed. Then, on August 19, 2012, I got on another plane and flew back.
In between flights, I completed an MA in international journalism and set out to make this book.
The photos and essays in it were made in England between August 2011 and August 2012, in the aftermath of the London Riots, and during Occupy London, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Pride London, the 2012 Summer Olympics and more.
The book itself was made in the USA between August and September 2012. This was done in Chicago at the Harold Washington Library and the Chicago Cultural Center, in carefully selected coffee shops, on borrowed chairs and couches, and on long walks and lonely trains.
This book is not an all encompassing city guide or a year in review. It is not a panoramic view of England’s capital city. It is not a definitive guide to a place, a time, or a place in time. It is not a history of London any more than you are a history of your current location on this earth. It is not a pop song or a major motion picture (book).
What this book is, I think, is a somewhat longwinded snapshot from the perspective of one person who was trying to squeeze a little more juice out of the blood and guts of life, over a period of 12 months, in a city far away from home.
It is one story, linked to a million stories, linked to a million more. Some of the stories are other people’s, some of them are mine, and most of them are both. I’m willing to bet that some of them are yours, too. Some of them have happy endings and some of them don’t. Some of them don’t have anything resembling endings or resolutions at all, because life doesn’t often work like that, and neither do people. The way I see it, we are all walking contradictions, constantly evolving stories in all the told and untold tales of the world.
To me, this book is the result of a long walk through a small part of a much bigger thing that barely registers our existence. From the end of one strange summer to the next, I walked around London looking for the closest thing I could find to the truth in any given moment. It didn’t feel great a lot of the time. But it feels a little better now. If you’re looking for character development or growth, there it is. If you’re looking for what I was looking for, I hope you’ll find some of that here, too. I captured what I could of the truth, trapped it in a jar and poked some holes in the top so it wouldn’t die. Then I signed my name on it and now I'm sending it back out into the wild. I hope that it reaches you alive and well and biting.
Thank you: Aaron Biber, ACLU, AJ Rudolph, Alex Dainis, Alexandra Tsarpalas, Allison Husmann, Allyson Ross, Amie Mayes Dolan, Amnesty International, Andrew Mikashus, Andrew Womack, Asif Zamir, Asimperson, Asquith Gibbes, Bee Punnotayan, Belle, Ben Husmann, Ben Lister, Benjamin McKinney, Bill Halley, Bryan Peabe Odiamar, Carla Wiechers, Chris Stiles, Cinchel & Kirstie, Costas Voyatzis, Dan Schwimmer, Daniel Stjepanovic, Danny & LeeAnn Senese, Darren Wylie, David Leli, Deb Esayian, Dominic Ciaccio, Duncan Hird (RIP), Elisha Marshall, Eric Damon Walters, Erin Cusack, Erin Powers, Erin Watson, Everyone I Forgot, Felix Jung, Frank P. Santilli, Gapers Block, Gary & Karen Serslev, Gerhard Krause, Gordon Withers, James VanOsdol, Jane Madsen, Jim Puls, John McEnroe, Jon Melsa, Jose Fonseca, Judith Sacks, Justin W. Siddons, Justin Stephenson, Kickstarter, Kate Ortega, Katy Sharrock, Keith McWhorter, Ken Hicks, Kevin Clair, Kitt Hodsden, Kristen Hawkinson, Kristina Emick, Laura Carmine, Laurence Smith, Laurie Leli, Liam Flaherty, Lynn Crain, Margaret Rooney, Mary Vana, Mary Ann Kouvelis, Masha Aptekar, Matt Hawkinson, Matt Leli, Matt Shaw, Maureen Vana, Meera Sethi, Meg Drury, Mike Englebrecht, Mychelle Peterson, Nathan Claxton, Ned Burke & Karen Beard, New Statesman, Nick Disabato, Nick Gonzalez, Nick Leli, Nisha Gupta, Overflow Cafe, Pam Hird, Paul Friemel, Paul & Patty Gaumond, Phil Genera, Renata Fros, Rey Mena c/o Emmis, Rick Bisbee, Robert Loerzel, Robert Montgomery, Robert Shaw, Rory O’Connor, Rosemary Ekvall, Sandra Madison, Sarah Crabtree, Sarah Morgan, Shaun Connell, Shiloh Stark, St Christopher’s Hospice, Stefania Vourazeri, Steve Shaw, Steve Whittaker, The Anderson’s, The Morning News, Thomas Kristich, Tim Messer, Tinne Van Loon, TJ Mapes, Toni Leli, Tracey Johnson, Tyler Brown, Utopia A. Pope, Vince Ingraffia, Walt Grogan, World Food Programme, Yatzer.
For my family and friends and enemies. And for all the outsiders and underdogs that ever lived or died.