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The Elephant Vanishes

Sheets of paper with images printed on inside open folder
Sheets of paper with images printed on inside open folder
The Elephant Vanishes Collection, University Archives and Special Collections Centre.
Written by
Hannah Grout
Published date
06 October 2021
It is a frequent, and perhaps frequently justified criticism of large-scale regeneration schemes that their perpetrators are so driven by their vision of a bright new future that the details of individual lives become obscured.

— Chris Horn, Elephant & Castle Project Director

The Elephant Vanishes Collection explores the changes to the Elephant and Castle area in Southwark, south London. The Collection shows people’s lives, homes and communities at a time of rapid change and expansion between 2004–2018.

Photographs of people in their home
The Elephant Vanishes Collection, University Archives and Special Collections Centre.
Photographic portraits
Portraits from 'I Shop' by Rebecca Harley. The Elephant Vanishes Collection, University Archives and Special Collections Centre.

The project

The Elephant Vanishes project was a long-term photographic documentation of the 'regeneration' of Elephant and Castle. It was undertaken with students on the MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography course at the London College of Communication (LCC). Each year of the project, students were set themes that interrogated different aspects of the development. The project produced exhibitions and publications, with the work being edited and curated into exhibition and book format by Professor Patrick Sutherland, Director of The Elephant Vanishes project. You can view the three-part book series online:

Home: the Elephant and Castle (2008)

Community: the Elephant and Castle (2008)

Economy: the Elephant and Castle (2012)

Book covers
The Elephant Vanishes three-part book series

The collection

More than 150 photographic works from the project, along with research-based records and exhibition materials, were donated to the Photography and the Archive Research Centre (PARC). The Collection included studies made before and after the demolition of 1,212 flats in the Heygate Estate, the now dormant pedestrian subways and a number of the largely black and minority ethnic (BME) owned independent businesses in and around the shopping centre. Collaborators on the project include a number of artists, curators and practitioners, including; Val Williams, Tom Hunter, Brigitte Lardinois, Peter Fraser, Paul Lowe and Broomberg and Chanarin.

PARC donated the Collection, along with several other collections, to the Archives and Special Collections Centre (ASCC) in 2019.

Blue hoardings outside building
Image by Leo Clarey

The Elephant and Castle

The three most dominant themes in the Collection are the histories of people, community and buildings. With the continuing changes to Elephant and Castle, particularly the recent closure of the shopping centre in 2020 and subsequent development of this site, the Collection now forms an important record of the area.

Based at London College of Communication, the ASCC finds itself in the midst of this changing landscape. Whilst we preserve and care for this Collection inside a secure repository, outside of the college walls these changes continue. For those that live and work in the area, this has impacted the way we engage and interact with our surroundings. Leo Clarey, Academic Support Librarian at LCC, has been documenting the development of the shopping centre site as a personal project. His photographs help us to appreciate the lasting significance of The Elephant Vanishes Collection.

Orange digger behind blue fence
Image by Leo Clarey
Piles of building sand and rubble
Image by Leo Clarey

For more information about The Elephant Vanishes Collection please contact

Research contributed by Robin Christian, formerly of PARC.