Consuelo's night shift

In early spring 2015 I travelled with Consuelo, SOAS cleaner and trade union rep, to work. It was an early start – I met Consuelo at her flat at 2.45am. She made me a coffee and we headed out to her workplace in Russell Square to start her shift at 4am. I recorded the journey on video. Deserted at first, the streets became busier the closer we reached the centre of London.


Talking of the demands of today's society, Jonathan Crary points out in his book, ‘24/7, Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep' [1] that capitalism increasingly demands the “despoliation of sleep” in order to “maximise the individuals potential as a producer and consumer, to create an economy in which time, including night time, is money.”


The economy of the night means that lots of individuals are commuting in the early hours in London, sometimes walking, often on the bus. Walking the streets in the dark within this context has a purpose and therefore legitimacy. More traditionally, walking the streets alone at night has the reputation of deviancy. Indeed, even apparently purposeful walking in the city at night is not exempt from the assumption that it is suspicious. To be alone in the streets, even if one walks rapidly, determinedly, is to invite the impression that one is on the run, either from oneself or from another.


For workers like Consuelo, one of the army of London's night time workers, this is a daily routine. Immigrants a lot of time have no choice but to perform the least popular jobs, one of which is collecting and disposing of the city’s waste.


Matthew Beaumont observes in his book 'Nightwalking' [2], that “travelling at night is in effect travailing at night.” I found the journey to work with Consuelo, which involved three buses, resulted in a contradictory state, of lingering and hastening at once; a stop-start situation.


Crary maintains in ‘24/7’ there has been an erosion of all distinction between day and night. He cites the example of the white-crowned sparrow. Military scientists are trying to find out how it manages to stay awake for seven days consecutively, so soldiers can do the same. Crary concludes "as history has shown, war-related innovations are inevitably assimilated into a broader social sphere, and the sleepless soldier would be the forerunner of the sleepless worker or consumer". Crary describes a round-the clock-existence as follows: "peremptory reductiveness celebrates a hallucination of presence, of an unalterable permanence composed of incessant, frictionless operations"


I'm attempting a cinema verite approach with the filming (see, for example, Jean Rouch and Berwick Street Collective’s Nightcleaners). Filming on your own means having to juggle various roles, director, cinematographer, runner; dealing with issues coming up in real time, such as holding a camera while I locate my oyster card and board the bus while still attempting to film. It was a challenge doing this independently but the shooting schedule was so fluid and I couldn't be sure shooting would always go ahead so it was difficult to co-ordinate with others.


The professional skill I developed in this context is flexibility. This was a difficult shoot due to language and the lack of structure to the shooting schedule. It was different from organising other projects. You had to go with the flow as people couldn't always make it due to work or family commitments (their free time limited). I kept the channels of communication open though and a lot of things were rearranged. Though illness, accidents at work further complicated the shooting schedule. The ability to mobilise quickly with kit and travel across town became essential.




[1] Jonathan Crary (2014)  ‘24/7, Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep'

[2] Matthew Beaumont (2015 ) 'Nightwalking'