Q&A with John Rogers

Published 12 June 2019 by Matthew Amer

Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019’s Phsychogeographer-In-Residence, John Rogers, is taking people on guided walks across the borough, revealing unknown aspects of the environment.

We spoke to John to find out more about psychogeography, what fascinates him about his surroundings and what to expect from these fascinating tours.

What is a psychogeographer?

The classical definition of psychogeography is the study of the effects of the built environment on the human psyche. One of the primary methods of investigation is ‘dérive’ or drift – walking with intent. In reality, it’s a highly subjective practice and usually involves walking a lot and making observations about your surroundings and your reaction to it. 

I like the explanation of the dérive given by rock critic Greil Marcus, that it aims to reveal “the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience”. But I don’t think long technical-sounding words should get in the way of what is a very simple process of having a relationship with the landscape. For me the best way to do that is on foot. 

How did you become fascinated with the parts of your surroundings other people often miss?

I think it goes back to a childhood fascination with history and spending a lot of time walking with my Dad. When I moved to London at the age of 18, I was hyper-aware that every footstep could tell a story and there were layers upon layers of narratives beneath our feet. 

How did you choose the routes to take through Waltham Forest?

These are some of my favourite walks in the whole of London, not just Waltham Forest. Each one reveals certain aspects of the terrain, such as the subterranean river flowing through Leytonstone, the ancient past of the marshes, and the high peaks on the very edge of London. I was also keen to take people to the fringes of the borough, the corners that are easy to miss or overlook, so that’s why many of the walks gravitate to what some people might describe as ‘edgelands’. 

Local artists are joining you on these walks, what will they add to the experience?

I’m really delighted to have some great people joining me on the walks. Ian Bourn is a notable artist film-maker and was heavily involved in the initial protests against the building of the M11 Link Road, so he has great stories of the period when Leytonstone had the largest population of artists in Western Europe. 

Lucy Harrison has produced some fantastic projects that use archive material and gather oral histories and she’ll add a lot of detail and insight to the walk along the Dagenham Brook. 

David Boote probably knows more about the history of Waltham Forest than any other person alive, so he’s a huge font of knowledge. 

Rachel Lillie is a wonderful artist who’s been studying Epping Forest for a number of years, so it’ll be brilliant to see that terrain through her eyes and to listen to her insights. 

What can people expect from a walk with you and how can we get the most from it?

Hopefully people can expect to come away from the experience seeing the world around them a little differently. The best way to approach it is with comfortable footwear and an open mind.  

John Rogers' tours were part of Waltham Forest Tours, a season of year-long events and tours exploring the borough in unusual and unexpected ways. Walks with John Rogers included The Philley Brook, Marshlands, Over Pole Hill and The Ching

The walks have now all taken place, but John Rogers is sharing a video of each of the walks on his YouTube Channel. You can also read about John's latest walks on his website thelostbyway.com