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Everyday London Life: Local Street Scenes

The London I live in can sometimes look like a well-heeled, prosperous city rich with colour, bright and shining, vibrant with promise. But at other times it appears to be undeniably grey and grimy, with a kind of sad shabbiness borne of generations of poverty and neglect.

I’m experimenting in trying to capture creatively that slightly darker, starker mood of some of the not-so-pretty everyday street scenes, as shown in these few images, all taken locally in Leytonstone, East London… 🙂

urban-fruit-and-veg-stallurban-street-shopfronturban-street-sceneurban-landscape

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Everyday London Life: What’s the Story?

I often wonder about the stories behind the people I see who appear to be living on the outer edges of the mainstream – perhaps because I too often also feel that way, perpetually on the outside of normal life, looking in…

I’m not sure what happened with this elderly man, who appeared to be standing with his belongings – including a trumpet – on the wet sand next to a weighted tarpaulin at the base of the stone steps leading down to the river Thames along the South Bank.

When I’d passed this way earlier at high tide, the steps had been covered mid-way to the top, so clearly he must have been waiting for the water to subside enough to access the foreshore.

But what wasn’t clear to me as I took this shot was if he was retreiving his saturated things from underneath having mis-judged the timing of the tide, or creating a dry space on which to leave everything safely until the next high tide?

One thing’s for sure, I’ll never know why he was there on that chilly April evening as night was falling, or what happened to him after I captured that singular moment in his life…

man-with-trumpet-south-bank

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Everyday London Life: Cafe Culture

There are myriad independent cafes everywhere in London – from traditional British ‘greasy spoon’ fried-breakfast-and-a-cup-of-tea working-class staples to more aspiring-middle-class coffee-and-cake establishments for ladies-who-lunch.

Here in Leytonstone we have several different cafes to choose from, including this Moroccan cafe beautifully decorated with gourds cleverly used as light shades. The coffee is lovely, hot and strong, and the congenial atmosphere perfect for long lingering chats while catching up with friends and family 🙂

moroccan-cafe

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Street Photography: Workmen at Lunch

This was a brave first for me – last October I was taking ordinary tourist-style pictures in a London park when I noticed these three workmen enjoying an al fresco lunch on a bench nearby.

Unusually, instead of tearing myself in two with diametrically opposed ‘will I, won’t I’ indecision letting the moment pass me by, I quietly raised my camera to my eye and took one careful shot before the man in the centre lowered his arms back down, the other two shifted position, and the whole dynamic of the image changed.

I’ve cropped the outer edges to frame it better, but otherwise the image is untouched. It’s perhaps nothing startling, but I’m pleased I not only saw something photographically interesting in the interaction between the three men, but also actually took the shot. So for me, this will always be my first ‘real’ street photograph 🙂

workmen-lunch-in-park

Street Photography: Candid Capturing vs Protecting Privacy

A recent comment from a fellow blogger questioning my habit of generally avoiding having people’s faces in shot in city scenes has highlighted a niggling issue that has always been a difficult subject for me – where to draw the line between capturing a candid shot and protecting an individual’s privacy when it comes to street photography?

To be clear, I’m not talking about paparazzi-style super-zooms virtually invading private spaces here – simply normal day-to-day pictures of people going about their everyday business in an everyday public place, images taken not for selling on but for personal perusal, and perhaps for posting here on my blog.

To date I’ve pretty much stuck with the personal maxim that if the people in shot are simply providing context – are no more than generic figures in the overall scene (like those images I posted yesterday in Street Photography: Stratford, East London) – then I prefer to maintain a certain level of anonymity, either through having them far enough away as not to be recognisable or alternatively have them facing away from me as I take the shot.

Alternatively, if I’m taking photographs in a more touristy environment (of which there’s plenty to choose from here In London), and the person is an integral part of the intended subject matter, then I tend to feel a bit more comfortable (or perhaps a bit less uncomfortable is a more accurate description) about having their faces recognisably in shot. So for example taking images of stallholders tending their market stalls poses far less of a problem to me than photographing the individual customers buying their products.

Street performers and the like I also consider to be ‘fair game’ when it comes to taking photographs in public, in the sense that visibility, being noticed by others is effectively what they are aiming for. Also here in London I would expect to take pictures of traditional Pearly Kings and Queens without causing a stir – they too are performing a public role while dressed in all their finery.

But where I come seriously unstuck is in taking candid shots of Joe Public simply being Joe Public. I love the idea of the sheer intimacy of such basic street photography but I’m confused at how it makes me feel. I often see the shots I want to take unfolding before me but just don’t seem to take them, out of some psychological sense of propriety or something equally… British… and it frustrates the hell out of me. Unguarded expressions can appear almost to expose the soul, and the possibility of unwittingly capturing such exposure unbeknownst to the subject makes me feel inherently uncomfortable.

And it’s this emotional discomfort that I struggle with so subconsciously when considering street photography. I’m sure eventually I’ll find my own way through, as ever, but in the meantime if anyone has any helpful advice or guidance to offer on the matter I’m open to all ideas… 🙂

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Street Photography: Stratford, East London

Since completing the Blogging from A-Z Challenge in April with the alphabetical theme of improving my photography skills I’ve not actually done that much creative photography. But after a month’s break from the intensity of learning so much (and I truly did learn a lot) in only a few short weeks, I’m now feeling the need to set myself another ongoing photographic challenge.

Street photography has always fascinated me, yet it is something I’ve consciously shied away from in the past, feeling uncomfortable in being seen to be photographing everyday life in such public spaces. But now I feel a bit more confident in myself and my photographic abilities, perhaps this is the perfect time to push myself to seriously give it a try, in the hope that practice makes perfect…

I find I often see things that catch my attention when I’m out and about in daily life, but generally just walk on by, often later regretting not seizing the moment (and of course my camera). So I’m going to make a more proactive effort not only to always have my camera (not just my cameraphone) with me, but also to actively capture the everyday world as it unfolds, however mundane, until the recording of it becomes second nature.

So while shopping in Stratford this afternoon I took my trusty little Panasonic Lumix GF3 plus 14mm (28mm equivalent) wide-angle prime with me to see what I could see from a photographer’s perspective. I took the original images in colour, but I found it created a far more pleasing result to blend in any distracting blobs of bright clothing on everyone in shot by changing the final images to monochrome 🙂

bobbies-on-the-beatBobbies on the beat

stratford-shopping-centreStratford, East London

stratford-stationStratford train station

Photographs Never Taken…

The idea of street photography fascinates me, and I’d really love to build up my confidence enough to always have a camera on hand to capture the moment as those blink-and-you-miss-it shots arise in everyday life – I know that even my camera phone would do the trick. I often see something and think – that would make such a great shot – but nine times out of ten I’m too shy or embarrassed to stop, even momentarily, frame the image as unobtrusively as possible, and click the shutter button. Even when I do decide to go for it, more often than not I dither too much, take too long deciding, and often I find the moment has already passed.

I do feel a bit uncomfortable capturing people in such candid shots, and I know there are lots of rules and regulations about what is and is not permissible these days, but it’s quite hard – in fact nigh on impossible – not to have any people at all in shot when photographing in a big city. So surely it seems sensible to use that fact to your advantage, rather than trying to avoid the possibility altogether?

I’m definitely becoming a lot more daring when it comes to including members of the public in my images, but almost as anonymous bodies, included for balance and capturing a mood rather than as the main subjects in their own right. So I have lots of images of people’s back views, relatively unidentifiable but in real situations, and I suppose that compromise has to satisfy me for now.  river-ouse-yorkb&w

Nevertheless I have a growing ‘regret list’ of real-life, public-place photographs of people never taken, and here are my top five to date…

1. A rough sleeper curled up in the doorway of a church I once passed on my walk to work – in my mind’s eye I saw a black and white wide-angled shot, showing the huddled figure and the doorway and the steps and the long, early morning shadows, a graphic portrayal of sanctuary. But I felt uncomfortable at somehow benefitting from someone else’s misfortune, and the shot remained untaken…

2. A scaffolder at work in central London – teams of men work together in the cramped streets, passing each individual scaffolding pole up through each level manually, and one day I witnessed one taking the pole from the guy below him, then reaching up dramatically, scaffolding pole held erect high above his head, he shouted out ‘By the power of Greyskull, I am the power…’ in his best He-Man voice. Lots of passers-by looked up, and he laughed out loud, holding the pose momentarily for all to see. It would have taken me no time at all to point my phone and click, but for some reason I didn’t…

3. A cat on a leash out for a walk with his owner – in central London again – both strutting their stuff like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever as if they owned the place. I noticed both animal and owner walking towards me from quite a distance away, and was intrigued to see what small breed of dog had such supreme confidence – I was so surprised to see a cat I didn’t actually think to capture it on my phone…

4. A group of five workmen in yellow hard hats, heavy work-boots and bright orange hi-visibility vests, sitting in a row on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral eating their packed lunches in the sunshine. Their hard hats and vests marked them out from the more usual throng of tourists, and I skirted around them a couple of times trying to pluck up the courage to take the shot. But all of a sudden the sun went in, two of them put way their lunch and stood up to go, and the moment was lost forever…

5. A young couple saying a passionate goodbye to each other on the very crowded concourse of London King’s Cross Station. I was unsure about the legality of capturing such an intimate moment, but someone next to me walked directly in front of me, made a big show of framing her shot, and took several images from quite close up – with a very loud phone-camera shutter noise. And again I found the moment had passed, while I just stood there, watching, feeling very uncomfortable at the photgrapher’s obvious intrusion into that young couple’s very private, yet so public, farewell…

So if there are any street photographers out there willing to share their tips with me, please do feel free to suggest how best to approach what seems to have become quite a contentious topic. I do want to record public life in real time as I see it, but I also want to respect people’s individual privacy… Thank you for all potential advice and suggestions offered! 🙂