In part one of this blog post, I shared London’s Underground and trains as well as some quieter street scenes away from the main hustle and bustle of the busy areas. I did turn my attention to a wide area of locations while in London, including a pub. Pubs are not typically among the locations I seek images in. Depending on the kind of location and local culture, a pub borders on being a private domain rather than public space, the semi-public extension of someone’s living room of choice away from their home. On the other hand, the pubs I produced these images in qualify more as faceless places of eating and drinking, the typical customer not returning a second time – at least that’s my impression. Nonetheless, even places without their own local social routines are good stages for the theater of life I am interested in.
Every metropolis has a commercial dense spot, where consumers flock on shopping sprees and well known brands are lined up one after another. Some cities have more than one such spot, but even then, one sticks out. 5th Avenue in New York City is certainly king of the hill among these hot spots of street activity. In London, to me, the area around Oxford Street and Bond Street have that kind of impression on me. Even on a Sunday, shops are open for business and the sidewalks are crowded with a variety of people running their errands or just enjoying window shopping adventures.
I love the energy of Oxford Street and mostly, people do not bother that someone is viewing the world through a viewfinder of a camera in their midst, making them the main actors of a play that has no script. I’m not Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz – I am still trying to figure out what works for me artistically. I am interested in moments that have a specific action going on – like the woman on the ground getting helped up by other pedestrians, the group of Muslim women taking a shopping break outside a store. On the other hand, I am aiming for a more visual than story telling approach, accepting the anonymity of nameless people in the frame forming a visually appealing composition without deeper meaning. I find this very challenging and I sense this will occupy me for quite some time to come before I am happy with the results of my work.
At night, every city I have visited changes its rhythm. The stage is remodeled, the actors exchanged. Night, per definition, is the absence of light, or more specific the absence of daylight. However, light never goes away in a city. It transforms. It becomes artificial, more complex. At night, there can be countless light sources in a single frame of photography. There are static light sources from street lamps, illuminated buildings, stores and restaurants, theaters and bars. There are moving light sources from cars, buses and bicycles. The more glamorous places have illuminated billboards, like Piccadilly Circus.
Light at night is more complex to work with but it enables visual expressions within a frame that are just not possible during the day. Strong backlighting is rare during the day but can be constantly available during the night. Construction workers remodeling the interior of a store at night, backlit by small spotlights used to illuminate the construction site, for example.
Usually, when leaving the UK, I always take the plane. Traveling for work mostly, it makes sense as the expense is covered and flying meets the demand of a business schedule that doesn’t allow for long transits during working hours. I tried something different recently, taking a night bus from Victoria Coach Station to Bercy in Paris. While waiting at the gate in the coach station for the bus to arrive and boarding to begin, I enjoyed the variety of characters at the station. There none of the business types that usually accompany me on my flights. The dirt cheap ticket prices of bus travel attract mainly the frugal and young people, too young to have a steady income to afford flight tickets. I found that the coach station is a location likely for me to return to for more candid photography. Unfortunately, my camera was only loaded with ISO 200 film that evening, so my options were a little limited, but some shots still came out great.
London will always be one of my favorite cities for street photography. It’s a timeless city with an eternal elegance and relevancy to it that has been enriched with the influences of a thousand cultures the city attracted over the last 100 years. While the UK colonized half the world, I think colonization has backfired on the UK’s most important urban area and enriched it – literally – with the world. Still, London will always be London.
The entire set of images from both parts of this post are also available on Flickr.