Street & Urban Photography is what I love. It comes with endless opportunities to interact with our fellow human beings and to create images of never to be repeated events and moments. This site will develop as hopefully, will my photography.
Have you noticed? Photographers who write are a gobby lot and negotiating through much of contemporary work about photography is about picking one’s way through the over-use of other photographers’ quotes. There’s one book on my shelf where the first quote arrives on the front inside cover flap, another is full of quotations annotated with some pretty good photographs. One reference is to another writer of things photographic whose own book - you’ve got it - is stuffed to the gunnels with yet more quotes. If I remember correctly, Susan Sonntag’s book ’On Photography’ devotes a whole chapter to quotations. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘if you haven’t got anything original to say’, quote someone who does. And yet, - occasionally, you come across a quote that really resonates. It’s a case of yes! That’s what I think, but expressed so much better than I ever could. One such quote for me is from Alex Webb, renowned Magnum photographer. Here it is:
“Street Photography is 99.9% about failure”. Webb goes on to state that you have to keep plugging away and that somehow at the end of the day, when you are tired and hungry, something magical often presents itself. It is as if you have to go through the failure and frustration in order to get to the good stuff. I know what he means. Recently, my wife and I spent three days in Bristol and I had the chance to tramp the streets for the whole period and just concentrate on what I love - ‘street photography’. Somehow, I managed to achieve not only Webb’s 99.9% failure rate but succeeded in notching up the extra 0.1%.
A couple of weeks later, in one day I bumped into Road Runner Top the subject of my last blog, a party of lads dressed as fairies on a bender, an artist who suggested that I visit his studio to look at his etchings (I didn’t) and Enric, a Catalan vegan hairdresser who kindly fitted coloured extensions in his hair so that I could photograph him. Plus, there was the young lady who was dressed up for a Halloween party and an Israeli tourist who was wearing multiple pairs of glasses and had goggles on her forehead. But, the highlight of my day was undoubtedly coming across a video photo-shoot featuring the sensational Gizelle Smith. On a piece of wasteland just off Brick Lane, this slight young woman had me entranced with the magical words of her song and the virtuosity of her performance. It is called ‘Sweet Memories’ and you can watch her here:
It’s not very often that you see street entertainers on Brick Lane but a week or so ago, I met Derek, aka Roadrunner. Top. Under the railway arch, he was performing with an amp and giving a wonderful rendition of his poetry. He beckoned me over and we had a long and very interesting chat. He had just been performing one of his works, ‘Kisses on the Sea Shore”, great stuff.
Derek hires himself out for parties and events and has just uploaded a few examples of his work on YouTube under the pseudonym ROADRUNNER TOP. Here are the words to ‘Kisses on the Sea Shore’ but for best results, click on the link below. Better still, sing along – get the wife and kids together and belt it out. I guarantee that that the infectious rhythm and enthusiasm will brighten your day.
She got your number but she won't give you a call. What is wrong? She got you hanging on 'til you sing a song. Treat her like a Baroness because if she's worth her weight, then she's worth her weight in gold. Are you sure she's free, she might be waiting for Lee. I don't care, Lee can't do nothing to me. He has not got the heart of gold, he sold it for two p. I have still got my heart. "Wow, you look smart in your shirt and the thanks. Do you fancy a coffee? Sure, why not? There's a nice coffee shop in Mayfair, who's paying the fare and for the coffee too? You see, it's not all about me, it's about us, me and you together. Do you fancy going for a 'Roller Coaster'? No, I fancy you tho'. Why? Because you got a good head on your shoulder. Who told ya? No one, I told myself that. I want to go to the library. Why? I want to use my imagination not go home and play PlayStation. You see, you are so captivating and so desirable Darling, you are my rose bud. What could possibly be more prestigious? If we have to, we are blessed. The bond of perfection.
Imagine, working in a building that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. That is what I did for nearly five years after leaving school. On the ground floor was a restaurant called ‘The Wig and Pen Club’ which was frequented by lawyers, the building is opposite the Law Courts and journalists who worked in nearby Fleet Street. The stair cases were one-person wide and to be frank, it was a pretty miserable and dingy place to work.
So, what has this got to do with photography? Well, if truth be told, not much but there is a connection. Much of my photography happens in and around Brick Lane, an ancient thoroughfare with more than its fair share of history. After the Great Fire destroyed many of the wooden houses in the City of London, the demand for bricks increased substantially and where better to meet that demand than the nearby clay fields around our now appropriately named street?
In the past, photographers were drawn to the area by the character of the surroundings and that of the people. Horace Warner a Quaker, portrayed the lives of children who spent a great deal of their time on the streets and around the alleys that abounded around Brick Lane more than 100 years ago. Since Warner’s time there has been a constant procession of photographers, the likes of Marketa Luscakova, John Claridge, Steven Berkoff, Colin O’Brien, Phil Maxwell and many, many more.
Renowned for its scope for colourful imagery, Brick Lane is still a magnet for photographers, I often see them. Groups of young students who have been wound up by their tutors to capture the magic and easy-to -spot, white, middle-aged photographers, cameras slung around their neck, looking for that decisive moment. It isn’t easy, gentrification has already taken its toll and the pace is quickening with the arrival of big brand names such as Subway and the large coffee bar chains.
New characters attracted by the buzz that still exists, are more transient than in the past and one has to work harder to find them. The answer it appears to me is to get under the skin of the place, talk to people, go back and say hello. If your paths cross, don’t take a picture, have a conversation, the next time around maybe the best opportunity.
I don't know if I will meet the young man pictured here again, he is a tattoo artist so it’s possible. It was a pleasure meeting him and his lovely girlfriend – On Brick Lane.
Odd title for a post? Agreed but I haven't posted for yonks so am probably very rusty. This week will see the number of unique visitors to the web site in the last year pass 5,000. As I write this, the site has been visited by 4,988 people. So, I have promised myself to be more proactive in the coming months with perhaps a re-design.
The young man here is called Khalid and although he doesn't know it yet, he is connected to my new project for 2017. I met Khalid with a group of mates, they were chilling out on some old sofas, passing the time and what looked like a bottle of v**ka. Relaxed doesn't begin to describe it. Anyhow, I was invited to partake and why not? Looking at some of my photos of these very friendly guys from last year, gave me an idea for that project. The plan is to go back on a regular basis and just see how it develops. One of the outcomes could be a small exhibition (with a difference) to tie in with East London Photo Month later this year.
It's been an exciting nine months. First, the selection of one of my images for a poster campaign by Tower Hamlets to promote their programme for Black History Month and swiftly followed by the same image chosen for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize 2016. It's now hanging in the National Portrait Gallery and later this month, the whole exhibition moves north to Sunderland and then back south to Canterbury. The best part has been hearing from complete strangers saying how much they have enjoyed the photograph. Doesn't get much better than that. Back Soon David
In his wonderful book ‘On Street Photography and the Poetic Image’, Alex Webb recounts that he was on a subway with the renowned photographer Josef Koudelka. “I had not seen him for some years, sitting with my legs crossed. Suddenly Josef reached over and grabbed my shoe, turning it so that could inspect the sole. In his own, direct Czech way, he wanted to see if I had been walking enough- and hence photographing enough.”
We can learn about technique, camera function, composition, lighting, etc. However, none of this is of much value unless we wear use up some shoe leather and press the shutter. Sometimes, one gets lucky and can come across characters like ‘Dillan – the Singer Man’, I wrote about in my last post.
Then one can get luckier still - through a set of circumstances arising from good fortune and initiative. October brings an annual, national event, ‘Black History Month’ which celebrates African, Caribbean and Black Arts, Culture and History. The London Borough of Tower Hamlets decided to use my photo of Dillan for the cover of their BHM brochure and for a big poster campaign in 40 prime locations throughout the borough. At 4ft wide and 6ft tall, the posters are unmissable.
To say that I am thrilled that one of my images was used and will receive such coverage is an understatement. I suppose that it comes down to a quote often attributed to Gary Player, “it’s funny, the more I practice, the luckier I get”. East Enders often say goodbye with, “be lucky”. I think that sums it up nicely.
The first time that our paths crossed, our conversation was broad and fascinating. We talked about this and that including immigration. Dillan told me that he embarked on a Kunte Kinte (Alex Haley – Roots) project to try to discover his heritage in the Caribbean and Africa. His quest was unsuccessful, in both places he had been dismissed as being ‘English’ and I guess that means unauthentic. Well, Dillan has a very good voice and the pair of us somehow embarked an impromptu duet of ‘My Way’ outside Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. None of the passers-by thought it was odd, that’s Brick Lane for you,
The second time our paths crossed, I didn’t recognise the colourful character coming towards me looking very unhappy, Dillan however, recognised me straight away “you’re the photographer”. We talked about why he looked so miserable and together, we found a solution to his problem. Transformation was immediate and Dillan did what Dillan does - that’s breaking into song. This time, it was a wonderful rendering of Bob Marley’s ‘every things gonna be alright’ – my own personal cabaret by the Old Truman Brewery. Well, Dillan is a charismatic character and has a great voice, I turned down the chance to be his agent – what a bad decision!
Hi There. Such are the vagaries of modern consumer products that when the wheel that controls aperture size on my camera came off, I sent it to one location here in England, received a repair quotation from another location, paid at a third whereupon it was sent to Portugal for the work to be carried out. Very time consuming!
Whinge over but it explains my lack of new work over the past month. This photograph continues my interest of combining street art with the people who interact with their presence. This can be either actively or more often, without casting a sideways glance at the masterpiece at their shoulder. What intrigues me is the sheer scale of the artist’s ambition and skill.
I love Street Art, perhaps it is the transient nature that appeals - now you see it - now you don't. In some respects, it is the modern equivalent of the 'palimpsest', a word used to describe a parchment where the original content has been scrapped away to in order to create a new document with another story, message or edict. Another reason is that Street Art has an attraction is that it enables me as a photographer to capture unique moments. Street Art is definitely much photographed and certain areas in London support graffiti tours in abundance. So, how to differentiate ones images from those captured by others? For me, it is the combination foremost of the people I waylay and using a backdrop that provides a commentary of the early 21st century urban environment. Much directive photography instruction dictates a style that eliminates distraction or even context. There is something to be said for that approach however, not to the exclusion of a different methodology. Anyhow for me, there is great appeal in contradicting so called 'perceived wisdom' which is too often is passed on by people who repeat what they have heard without questioning its validity. So, meet my 'models', some of their names are known, others were happy to be photographed and be on their way without revealing their identity. Let me know what you think by clicking on Comments. See you soon
Firstly, it goes without saying that this photograph, an exhibit featured in the Taylor Wessing Exhibition in 2012 was not taken by me. It is a portrait of a man that must surely be one of the most extraordinary self-portraits ever taken. That man is Giles Duley - photographer. Giles's story is remarkable and well documented but until just over a year ago, I was unfamiliar with his work or his history. It was my privilege to spend a weekend in the company of Giles with three other photographers. Briefly, in Afghanistan working as a war photographer Giles was embedded with a platoon of American soldiers. He stepped on an explosive device and what you see in the photograph is the consequence. What cannot be fully imagined, is the courage, willpower, determination to survive and all the other attributes of human endurance. Our workshop was designed to help us prepare photographic projects and consisted, firstly of Giles's account of six months living with drug addicts in Ukraine and other work in Africa, and secondly, to demonstrate the methodology we should employ. After a morning's discussion, it was time to start our own much tamer, mini-project. One of the group chose to document fans at a Chelsea football match, another chose to mirror mannequins in shop windows with real people, another chose to photograph people photographing. My first idea was completely unworkable and required a quick switch, I chose to photograph as many men with beards on the King's Road, Chelsea, as I could find. Beards are in, and a couple of hours later I had found them from nearly twenty countries ranging from the thin and fluffy to the big and hairy. From Norway, working down Europe to North Africa and east to Sri Lanka. Some of the results can be seen below. Two days after our workshop, Giles was due to travel to Sri Lanka as part of his ongoing project to record the consequences of the civil war on the island and other post-conflict areas. An internet search will reveal more about this truly extraordinary man, his wonderful photography and intellectual breadth. I thoroughly recommend that you investigate further but do not miss http://100portraitsbeforeidie.co.uk
Giles sustained his terrible injuries because he was a photographer, paradoxically; he survived because he is just that.
Sometimes one gets very lucky. This day was special, the young woman as you can see is striking and of course, I asked for a portrait. Jenna who comes from Australia is delightful so the portrait was taken, and in all truth, not one of my best. As we look at the back of the camera, Jenna said "I like to jump". The backdrop was perfect - it took three attempts and this is the best. Then she was gone, what a girl and what a jump!
If you are interested in photos of people jumping, have a look at the work of Philippe Halsman (1906 - 1979). Halsman persuaded many of his famous subjects to jump, he is probably best known for his collaboration with Salvador Dali but he managed to persuade even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to jump to his command - well worth investigating. If you would like to give any feedback, please click on comments
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