I love the people I photograph. I mean, they’re my friends. I’ve never met most of them or I don’t know them at all, yet through my images I live with them. – Bruce Gilden
Last year Sarah and I bid in an auction of favours at Cambridge Camera Club, the proceeds of which went to cancer research. We won John Bulpitt for the day and a session on street/urban photography. We agreed to meet at Liverpool Street with our cameras at the ready. John is an expert at shooting from the hip and as we left the station to walk to the Columbia Road Flower Market, he was already in ‘burst mode’. I spent time fiddling with the Olympus trying to get a fast shutter speed. What I hadn’t realised was that I had inadvertently moved the manual focus collar on the 12-40 lens, so the first twenty or so pictures I took were all out of focus!
The flower market was extremely busy. There were lots of photographers using everything from phones to video cameras on tripods. John advised us to yell ‘John!’ at him, as his wife Christine does, if he got in the way of our shots. As we were carried along with the throng, we kept our cameras low. It was very difficult to check the screen and compose a picture as people moved in and out and up close, never mind play with the settings in manual! I snapped away and hoped for the best. There were some wonderfully interesting characters and I asked one ‘vintage lady’ if we could take her picture. Rather demurely she agreed. It was so hard to get an uncluttered shot with so many people. I suspect the best time to go to capture the ‘characters’ on the stalls would be very early in the morning.
Leaving the packed market we set off through the back streets to find Brick Lane. In the quieter streets we met Bella and her owners. Sarah and Bella had a bit of a kissing session whilst John and I took pictures. The owners of Bella were a little reluctant to have their pictures taken. They were however, totally unaware of the parameters of a wide angle lens, so John managed to incorporate them into his shots whilst I concentrated on Bella’s face.
As we came into Brick Lane we stopped to chat to four pearly kings and one pearly queen who were collecting money for charity. They were great sports and we enjoyed some cockney banter with them. Brick Lane is such a magic place for photographers. Since my last visit nearly every piece of wall art has changed. It was absolutely buzzing with all sorts of stalls and characters. John took us to a ‘secret’ garden where we encountered some of the residents of Brick Lane. They were relaxing in the sun amongst some very interesting sculptures. Wary of photographers some people were not keen to be caught in our lenses but we persevered and I managed to get the odd picture of people asleep! We didn’t linger too long as there was a distinct smell of illegal substances coming from certain areas in the garden!
We enjoyed a great, if very hot curry, at the atmospheric and popular Dishoom in Shoreditch and then set off again to ‘camp’ at various places where art work dominated the scene. Down one side street we found a huge painting of night time traffic. I began to shoot the odd passerby. Suddenly I found myself being edged out of my position by a male photographer who was clearly wanting to do a photo shoot with his rather ‘pouty’ model. There was no ‘Excuse me’, or ‘Could you move over a little ?’, just a lens and lens hood poked in front of mine with a shoulder that kept straying into my shot. I am not a wilting violet when it comes to outrage. So outraged from Essex, stood her ground and continued to shoot the model he had paid for. John and Sarah had both opted to photograph the next painting down so they became outsiders to the whole area that this photographer had decided to grab as his own. He was clearly unimpressed with my decision not to move away and was even more irritated when members of the public stood up against the painting, right next to his model, hoping to have their pictures taken too. The model changed her jacket several times and strutted her stuff under the photographer’s instructions. I thought the pouty poses were rather hackneyed and cliched but then the rude photographer clearly doesn’t attend CCC Portrait Group with Clive Downes at the helm!
We moved on again and stood for ages in front of wall art that depicted a lady with ginger hair whose face was obscured by delicate white branches. As the three of us attempted to grab appropriate shots of people walking past several other photographers joined us with their phones. It was obvious they hadn’t got a clue what we were doing. I think John looked so professional they thought there must be something on the wall they hadn’t quite seen!
As we strode down another side street I became fixated on a striking hairdresser’s shop front. I turned to John and said, “All we need now is a guy with a great hairdo who looks relaxed.” As I turned round there was the very man. Unfortunately he crossed over the road away from the shop front. Not giving up I approached him and asked if he’d mind walking in front of the shop with his great hair cut. He said as he was having a great day he would oblige. Unfortunately, just at that ‘burst moment’ my camera froze. The card was full. Lesson to self, always go out with a minimum of a 32GB card when doing street photography. I got one shot of him and fortunately it was very sharp.
Our final stop was at the ‘pelvis’! We could have done with a stool to sit on and more time to wait for the right people to pass. I am not sure really who the right people would have been for that wall art. John was hoping for an Elvis figure, Sarah wanted someone with a walking stick and I was just thinking I know it will be right when I see it. Sadly though we left without Elvis, a walking stick or just the right person. Hopefully it will still be there when I go again.
I big thank you to John Bulpitt for his help and for organising our day. If you haven’t yet been to Brick Lane for goodness sake get a move on, it’s a fantastic place to learn and practise the skills of urban/street photography.