London

Art and Afternoon Walks

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No matter how busy my schedule, I always find the time to take a long walk around London, see an exhibition or two, perhaps visit the theatre, anything that can get me out and about, drinking in as much culture and inspiration as possible, and of course, my camera has to come along with me (but for theatre trips). I’m always trying to make sure that I avoid a creative rut, and before moving to London, I did feel like my whole life was in a rut, a routine, even if, by travelling, it wasn’t a typical one. One of the promises that I made myself when I made my move here, was to get back into the habit of regularly stepping out of my comfort zone.

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For me, street photography is definitely out of my comfort zone. Oh, I can’t and have been known to snap away as I make my way around an unfamiliar place – abroad. It’s a much easier thing to do when there are language barriers, and I’m so clearly not a local. But here, in London, where people can potentially confront me over what I’m doing, knowing that I’d probably not be a good enough actress to pull of pretending to be a tourist.. its a scary thought to an introvert like myself. However, I was determined, and as you can see… I didn’t come away empty handed.

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Kudos have to go to my old college professor (hi Steve), who had a habit of shooting candid street photography discreetly from waist/chest height. At the time, I thought he was crazy he is, of course, completely crazy, but I found it to be such a great way for me to break through that shell of shyness, the paranoid part of me that was too busy fretting about whether people would notice if I take a shot of them, whether they’d confront me, but equally, being too shy to approach people and ask for their photograph (after all, yesterday it took me five minutes to pluck up the courage to ask to the wonderfully dressed woman on Brick Lane, hurried only by noticing that she was about to leave, only to be told, frankly, to bugger off).

So that’s how I began, with a few tentative clicks of the shutter from waist-height, timed to match a noisy rush of traffic. No one noticed. I came to a quiet street, with no noise to cover Canon’s irritably loud shutter. Second photo, and again, no one batted an eye lid. And that was it, boom, fear obliterated. I spent the rest of the afternoon brazenly hopping about, camera pressed to my eye, photographing anyone and anything that caught my eye. It now seems like such a stupid thing to have begun my afternoon worrying about, as after all, I have been carrying around a camera for as long as I can remember, and if ever I leave the country, I have no qualms about photographing whatever takes my fancy, so why does that suddenly change in London?

Well, not anymore.

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Everything I love about London is here for all to see; the madness, the vast, eccentric mix of culture, the mass of public art and entertainment for us all to enjoy, the laughter and how easy it is for everyone to enjoy the city together, but equally the unspoken rules of London: no eye contact, do not speak with strangers, especially on the tube. Big no, no, which as a person who enjoys a good book when travelling by tube, is more than happy with this arrangement. There’s this energy about London and I feel like I’m absorbing it whenever I leave my home; I return each evening smiling, inspired, motivated to knuckle down and work, network, create. Not that I specifically need London for any of that, but to be in a city that amplifies my creative energies tenfold, is such a wonderful, incredible feeling.

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I walked about a dozen miles… from Islington to St Paul’s Cathedral, walking south to Tate Modern (I then stepped inside for a browse, as it’s been far too long since my last visit!), along Southbank, past Big Ben, through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, followed by what must have been 1000 miles walking around the mega Waterstones alone (I can never resist), back along Fleet Street, and back towards Angel, back home.

Yes, I guess you could say that my feet now hurt, as do my legs and shoulders. Of course, I could have been sensible, I could have taken the tube, or the bus, but then I would never have found half of these photographs if I had done that. The aches and pains are worth it… and tomorrow morning when it’s even worse, I’ll read this back and look back through these photographs and remind myself of that fact. No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll still be buzzing from my day.

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The 3 L's

Why ‘Meet-Ups’ Will Never Be My Thing

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This evening, with a rare moment of time of my hands, I decided to spend it well, strolling through Green Park, here in lovely London, reading Richard Branson’s Like a Virgin (which I highly recommend to anyone with a business.. or a future business.. or any job at all for that matter.. or no job at all.. so anyone, really!) I was happily minding my own business, absorbed in my book, and then quite possibly the only thing that could have dragged me out of my meditative read-and-walk state in that moment was the click of a shutter – or rather – the continuous click-click-click of about two hundred shutters.

I had stumbled across a Brooke Shaden ‘meet up’ group, here in London. For those of you who are unaware, Brooke Shaden is something of a Flickr celebrity, whose portfolio can be seen here. While her editing skills and her constant steam of ideas are both equally impressive, I must admit, I find her work too gloomy and ominous for my taste. I’m personally more of a lens-flare/light-and-airy style girl. Nevertheless, I can see why she has such a large fan following, and the figures certainly show just how popular she is: 382K likes on her Facebook page, 12.3K Twitter followers, each photo of her Flickr account is littered with hundreds of likes, favourites and comments. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that she can so easily convince a couple of hundred Londoners to gather in Green Park one cloudy evening for a ‘totally free’ meet up with ‘lots of hugs, models to photograph and the love of the craft’, with a single Facebook post as an invitation.

I lingered for a while, curious. I had my camera with me after all. Who doesn’t enjoy a spontaneous photo shoot, after all? What I saw, however, did not strike me as the polished, well organised workshops that I imagine when I see behind the scenes images from the various Facebook fan pages of the photographers I admire, complete with agency signed models, rails full of beautiful garments, and an amazing set that no one but the workshop-running photographer would ever otherwise be able to afford.

Instead, I can only describe the scene as being reminiscent of vultures picking at the same rotting corpse for hours on end. That is the big problem with meet ups and workshops – there is no privacy. In the short time that I lingered, watching from a park bench, I saw the same scene on loop: one photographer would tentatively approach one of the volunteer models, distinctive only from their wearing one of Brooke’s trademark vintage dresses. They would briefly discuss an idea, wander off to find a patch of grass to call a studio, and approximately five clicks of the shutter later, the vultures would flock.

Next thing you know, that one photographer’s idea has been photographed a thousand times by fifty other people from every possible angle. Those images will undoubtedly pop up on Flickr in a day or two – if some of them have not already – each edited with varying degrees of skill, yet all undoubtedly almost identical. Originality… obliterated.

That is why ‘creative meet ups’ will never be for me, she whose idea-sharing skills are fairly limited to my introvert evenings alone with my thoughts, or bouncing ideas around a room with a creative team of stylists, makeup artists, designers, etc etc etc. She who will tackle anyone who dares to photograph my idea over my shoulder. At meet ups, there is not idea bouncing, no collaboration. Instead it’s a silent, mutual agreement of, ‘whatever happens here, is ours for the taking’. One person will shout out instructions to the model, and everyone will begin to capture the same shot in a strange, almost zombie-like trance.

They’re not entirely negative experiences though; I can see the value of these meet ups to others; they can be a great place to network, make new friends, gain inspiration. Everyone looked to be having a wonderful time. But personally, I think it’s surely better to network over ‘portfolio sharing’ events rather than ‘photograph mimicking’ events’.

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