Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford. Samuel Johnson
Les, Martin and I, set off in the car, whilst five others from our local camera club, caught the train into London very early last Sunday. We planned to meet up during the day. As it turned out, despite several text updates about our current whereabouts, we never managed to be in the same place at the same time.
It was a luxury to be driven by Les into London. His knowledge of the city and the lack of traffic made it a stress free and interesting journey. Amazingly we managed to park on the embankment all day for free! Thank you Boris! Our first stop was the Horst exhibition. As the Northern Line was out of use, we made a circuitous journey on the tube to South Kensington. On our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum we stopped to take some photographs of the ice rink set up outside the Natural History Museum. I experimented with long exposures in an attempt to capture a more creative shot of the skaters.
I had been meaning to go to the Horst exhibition for some time, although I was dubious about whether I would actually enjoy his predominantly fashion photography. Not at all familiar with his work, I soon became totally absorbed in the photographs. His clever use of the diagonal and lighting as well as his amazing talent for composition intrigued me. The photographs appeared in Vogue and even though the emphasis was clearly on the clothes the viewer is instantly drawn into the atmospheric sets he created. His use of shadow and triangles of light are compulsive viewing and the still life and male nudes were an added bonus as they too demonstrated his genius for composition. As we met up at the end of our visit and discussed what we had seen it was strange to discover that we had all chosen the same photograph as our favourite. It was of the model Susan Shaw. With a creative eye and juxtaposition of individual photographs, Horst created a montage of seven faces across two strong diagonals, it is an amazing photograph! The picture appeared in Vogue in 1943. Clearly Horst didn’t need Photoshop!!
From the V and A we headed back on the tube towards the river, stopping off to do some candid street photography at Trafalgar Square. On arrival, I was totally startled when the sky went black for a minute, as a Harris’ hawk suddenly swooped down in front of me about a foot from my head. I had been expecting pigeons not hawks. These medium sized birds are native to south western United States, Chile and central Argentina and to see them flying in central London was totally surreal. They are there of course to ‘bully’ the pigeons. They do not catch and eat them as they are fed regularly, but each time a group of pigeons flew anywhere near, they took off from various natural perches around the square to frighten them off. I became slightly obsessed by these rather sinister but beautiful birds as they swooped and flew with huge black wings outstretched, often directly towards me. I tried to capture them in my lens and my shutter clicked away furiously. The tourists and other visitors were also fascinated by them and they too tried to take photographs with their phones, iPads and cameras often having to duck as the birds seemed to make a beeline for them. As I checked the quality of the pictures on my display I was struck by the incongruity of the photographs. It is so strange to see hawks flying amidst the buildings of London and not with the backdrop of trees and green wide open spaces.
As always in London there were opportunities to take some candid street shots of people enjoying the leisure time that Christmas imposes. Some looked bored, some concentrated on using their new cameras or phones and others just made interesting shapes with strangers who just happened to find themselves occupying an adjacent paving stone. I tried to capture a variety of faces and poses but my companions seemed to be focussing on feet for many of their shots – how interesting that between us we covered the tops and the bottoms!
By now it was getting colder. We walked towards the river. Les was keen to get onto Tower Bridge to catch the sunset as it came from behind the Shard. Not wishing to lug my heavy camera bag up more steps I decided to stay on the bank within the vicinity of More London, with the aim of getting a shot of the bridge itself at sunset, hopefully with some of the lights on. I set up my little Joby tripod on the wall, as many other photographers suddenly appeared with full sized tripods. As the sun began to go down one of the buildings across the river looked as if it was on fire and the reflection shot out across the Thames making everything close by, look dull and shadowy. As I turned to look at Tower Bridge the lights came on and the purple sky was reflected across the water. The long exposure has made the water appear like glass in the photograph and has accentuated the purple in the skies and the water. It was a shot I had wanted to take for some time.
As we walked back from the tube station to the car, the millennium wheel was ablaze with blue lights and the river bank twinkled like a separate universe of stars. How beautiful and surprising our city is, both during the day and at night. Whilst I could never live amongst so many people, a short visit always provides entertainment, spectacle and something just a little out of the ordinary. It is city escapism at its very best.