Launderama: A Reflection on London’s Laundrettes

Launderama: A Reflection on London’s Laundrettes

is it about launderettes? I’ve been asked this question a
lot over the last two years. I started photographing launderettes
in December
2017. My first was Central Wash on Queensway in west
– coincidentally, the first coin-operated launderette in
the UK, opened in 1949. I was drawn like a moth to the flood of
neon spilling onto the street at night and stood in the road taking

Before long, I began disappearing at strange times to visit
local laundromats and then those farther afield. It wasn’t just
their compelling geometry or marble-effect wall covering I admired,
I loved everything about them. The smell of clean clothes tumbling
in dryers; the sound of washers rinsing and spinning; the bright
pastel colours particular to launderettes… it was a surfeit of
sensation, reassuring and familiar. Those American machines from
the 60s and 70s are like catnip to photographers, with their
colourful enamel and analogue industrial design. A Speed Queen
dryer could make my day, while the Nordwash machines in Colliers
Wood, all burgundy and brushed steel, made me skip.

But this fascination with launderettes was about more than retro
fetishism. My plan was to visit every launderette in Greater
To this end, I had a map, a spreadsheet and 462 names.

What started as a portrait of London’s launderettes was becoming
a portrait of London itself, with each launderette bearing the
imprint of the community it served and the customers who visited
it. Laundrette owners are a microcosm of London’s beautiful, rich
cultural diversity and changing urban landscape. In the last 30
years, over three quarters of the city’s launderettes have closed.
Gentrification, rising rents and changing household habits have all
played their part. I was seeing this change happening in real time
as I travelled the city. I’d see launderettes boarded up or find
ones already converted into a coffee shop or artisan baker.
Launderettes I’d visited at the start of my project had closed down
18 months later.

The steady decline of this high-street fixture is especially sad
given the unique relationship launderettes have with the local
community. They are a space where people come together, noisier
than libraries and more inclusive than pubs. For some customers,
launderettes might be the only social contact they have all

Yet while launderettes struggle in the real world, one place
they’re flourishing is in our cultural imagination. In the
imaginary world conjured by fashion and advertising, launderettes
are almost revered. As a photographer, I’ll admit to having been
enchanted by this sense of nostalgia too. In an increasingly
homogenous world – fast, convenient and digital – the launderette
is resolutely analogue, both in spirit and practice. It is out of
time and out of place – literally and emotionally – simultaneously
creating the reason for their appeal and the cause of their
decline. A launderette’s physical space often contrasted with its
emptiness. They have become a living remains of a London that’s

Launderama by Joshua Blackburn is
published by Hoxton Mini Press.

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