With bodies of work ranging from it’s main transportation method, the buying habits of the inhabitants and how they spend their leisure time, it’s easy to say you’re work largely concentrates on the documentation of London.
Most of my projects are shot in and around London simply because that’s where I live and work and the place that has influenced me visually and emotionally since a child. In the last three decades the fabric of London has undergone many changes and it is these changes that have increasingly influenced the projects I’ve undertaken. It’s also important for me when developing a project to be able to return to a location again and again if necessary to refine and improve rather than hopping around from one distant location to another, spending most of my time traveling rather than photographing. From home I can be in in a Central London train terminal in half an hour and start shooting while on the train.
A project which I finished around five years ago “The English Carnival Event” was shot over a twelve year period simply because I couldn’t find carnival events that were representative of what I felt was ‘Englishness’ in London so it necessitated travelling often many hours from my base and sometimes staying overnight.]
This type of project would now be a problem financially and again sitting behind the wheel of a car seems to me a waste of time.
Martin Parr recently said in an online discussion, that he felt “It is strange that when one thinks of New York we think of those bustling streets and the many great street photographers who have worked them, yet despite the revival, there is no real ultimate body of work on the streets of London”. What’s you’re reaction to this?
It has some truth to it but it certainly isn’t the whole truth. There are some fine bodies of work taken in London some examples of which appeared in the ‘London Street Photography Exhibition’ at the Museum of London last year, although there were many important omissions.
The photographers that come to mind are Paul Trevor in particular a fine photographer who should be better known and in particular his personal long term project ‘EastEnder’. Also Roger Maynes project on the streets around North Kensington which has at least been well published and exhibited recently. Bert Hardy’s candid street photos, Marketa Luskacova’s long term project on Spitalfields and Brick Lane Market, to name a few. These photographers often show working class communities at a time of great social change, but often found it difficult to get their work seen by a larger audience. The internet has given photographers greater opportunities to show their work and this has clearly been taken up by a new breed of street photographer’s with a more modernist approach to the subject which makes the more traditional documentary approach look very much of a different time, although no doubt this will be the same in time for the work presently being shot. When I started photography seriously in the early eighties there were very few outlets for ‘independent ‘photographers i.e. those engaged in their own projects and not with any commercial or journalistic value.
The photography that I’m engaged upon in London is still very much work in progress, although it would be good to think that some of it would be a bench mark of our ‘time’ in the future but there is still a long way to go. I would add though these are exciting times for street photography in London with many fine young practitioners who will hopefully be there for the long haul and not be put off by the fickle nature of the photo establishment and public.
But to get back to M.P. comment: I would add that the States has a stronger tradition of street photography simply because culturally it’s had a stronger photographic tradition which was not stifled by a class and economic system that restricted access to talented individuals to the medium, although we shouldn’t believe that they were any more able to give up the day job to follow their passion. It’s easy to forget that photography in this country has only recently been accepted into our major galleries and their collections. Briton for long time was a photographic back water and it wasn’t until well into the latter half of the twentieth century that photography became accepted within the established visual arts scene.
You’re work down the tube has a very intimate feel to it and instantly takes me back to almost any journey on the tube where I will ultimately end up people watching, what was it that drew you into documenting this?
I’d been away from London for three years and I was living only five minutes’ walk from a tube station so I started to use it to travel around Central London to photograph at various locations. The more I travelled the more I saw and I began to spend more and more time on the tube and at a variety of different times. After a month I had several images that I was pleased with so I continued with the goal of producing a series on the tube which initially I thought would take around a year.
Could you explain a little about how you worked on down the tube, were the photographs taken on a daily route to work, did you purposely travel extensively just to document, which lines did you find most interesting etc.
I would purposely travel to photograph on the tube although some images were taken on the way to a job or on social occasions going into town, I’ve always travelled with a camera and it still surprises me how often I get an image when I’m not actively looking for it.
I shot the pictures candidly and rarely with the camera to the eye. The reasons were that the angle of view was much more interesting shot from the waist, it made the pictures more feel more believable and also most importantly I wasn’t influencing the outcome of the situation. It took only a couple of weeks to work out how to shoot this way i.e. I was no longer cropping people’s heads off or getting too many off centre shots, very few of the images in either tube projects had to be realigned or cropped when printed.
I kept things very simple. I used a Leica M series camera fitted with a 28mm lens set to 60th second at 2.8, pre focused to four and a half feet when sitting across to the subject. I worked out the distance from camera to subject for a variety of different situations and could easily alter this when needed. The exposure on the trains was ninety per cent of the time the same nothing more was used other than a small piece of electrical tape to stop the aperture ring from being knocked accidently. I started later in the project to carry a backup Leica CL with a 40mm lens for the rare occasions I put the camera to eye. The camera was either on my lap on a camera bag or padded plastic bag to steady it or when standing I shot from the hip. The most interesting lines for me were the Central and Piccadilly but when I went back and reshot the project in colour in the 1990’s I travelled more on the Circle and District lines, simply because Id shot very little material on them in the 1980’s.
In you’re series “New London” you mention that “The centre of London is no longer lived in the same way as many other large cities”, how do you feel this effects the overall street photography in the country’s capital?
It’s probably true of most capital cities in Europe now with the cost of building land. But In London it seems to be truer.
There are clearly exceptions but you only have to walk around Central London at the weekend to see how empty some areas are. This certainly would not have been true a generation ago, but large numbers of people have moved out of Central London so leaving a vacuum of offices and shops, people no longer living next to or close to their jobs. This is probably why so many street photographers in London are attracted to Oxford and Regents Street and its surrounding areas, the busyness and variety can’t be found in such abundance at other locations. It certainly makes things harder, I tend to walk around more to find locations that appeal to me and return to successful areas more then I really want to. The main plus with busy shopping areas is that the back drop of shop windows and hoardings around new or refurbished shops is regularly changing. The other plus is the number of events that take place around the year. These seem to have increased in recent years. There are the traditional London street events such as the Lord Major of London Parade or the newer Westminster Show on New Year’s Day but a new generation of party goers who dress up in a variety of guises including Santa’s and Zombies take advantage of the streets and the many pubs in Central London. So it’s not all bad and it’s important that Street Photographers respond to the changing face of the city and not stay to long with the tried and tested, it’s good to get out of a comfort zone before the work become staid and a pastiche of what we’ve already done.
You can see more of Paul’s work on his website: http://baldesarepaul.com/