The day started much like any other for a Mechanical Engineer, blurry eyed and early morning. The alarm sounded out – a Kookaburra laughing its feathery socks off, getting louder, as if mocking my waking. It was a pretty apt alarm, as it was the day I was travelling to London to renew my passport. My wife and I are Australian citizens, as well as British and very proud to be so.
I pulled back the curtains and peered across the river and beyond the fields, to the steam rising from the towers of Drax Power Station. It is my usual place of work, amongst the grime and grunge of the electro generating world.
But, ‘not today’ I thought, ‘today I am a photographer.’
I took in a deep breath, the window was ajar, so I drew in the cold, grey Northern air. Birds were tweeting and thinking about catching their first worm. What a beautiful, quiet retreat we live in. A pang of excitement went through me when I realised I was heading to the Big Smoke. The big city is a Street Photographer’s dream: London!
I can assure you that this is excitement to a country boy, whose fun is a pig- escaping and getting to the outer limits of the village, before being arrested on spying charges. He would have made it out, if someone had not have squealed!
Anyway, I digress. I let the curtains fall shut again, as I turned my attentions to the bathroom. I quickly combed my hair and then put it back upon the window sill, where it belongs.
In the next bedroom, my prepared clothes were laid out waiting for me: a pair of smart trousers with best braces already attached. A freshly pressed shirt and waistcoat brushed me, as I walked through the door. Polished shoes sat proudly waiting to be worn, always best to look the part, I feel.
I glanced at my packed camera bag and decided to give it one more check. The bag really is more of a waterproof ‘man bag’ manufactured by Musto, for the more discerning Nautical Photographer. There are pockets for absolutely everything, including laptop and two cameras: Fuji X-100s (set to silent mode). As well as this, a X-T20 with Samyang 12mm prime lens fitted, polarisers for both and plenty of spare batteries. Finally, some spare SD cards, a Manfrotto mono pod and mini tripod.
Both cameras were empty of any previous images, and ready to go for shooting with minimal thinking involved. I have the X-100S ready for portraitures, and shots for capturing motion. It has an in- built three stop ND filter, which is great for when one is in bright sunshine, and it is necessary to bring the shutter speed down quickly. I have my X-T20 set for hyper- focal distance shooting, and to freeze scenes as I walk past. Set to infinity, the 12mm Samyang captures just about everything that enters the frame. I usually have the camera I am using on a monopod, ready to capture in an instant.
Both cameras are set to Raw and Preview, in black and white, in order to get the most out of the images.
The bag also contained a phone charger and battery power pack, as back up. In addition, took my laptop for the journey. Check-all ready to go!
Dressed as I saw fitting for the cosmopolitan world I was about to enter, I set off, aiming to blend with the undeniably trendy high life, and the odd low life, no doubt. The outfit was topped off with a green Trilby which had been purchased in Belfast. This hat just screamed ‘Photographer’ and why the hell not?
London is approximately a two hour journey from where I live, which is quite a contrast to my rural house on the river, near the inland port of Goole.
This industrial area certainly has some history. It now ticks over, like a cob web strewn clock that is long forgotten, apart from the occasional wind.
But if I am being honest, I find so much beauty in the quietness and industrial charm.
My wife drops me off at the small station. Our dogs are in the back of the car and begin to squeal in delight, mistaking our destination for their early morning walk. Their panting hurries me out of the car. Joining a smattering of folk cuddling their morning coffees, I watch the world drift by. Nobody speaks, but they look each other up and down. I observe them, assessing them as potential models in a street scene, and they assessing me as a pervert in a Kangaroo Court.
It is a sad indictment upon society, that we Street Photographers are made to feel this way. My motto is: be confident, be bold, look the part and smile. Most people are secretly charmed at being photographed. The ones who aren’t, are often confrontational, anyway, no matter the occasion. Under these circumstances, they are probably best just left alone. There is always a better subject around the next corner.
Suddenly, a German Shepherd rushes past me, dragging its owner towards the tracks, with heels sparking. Two mature dogs, either side, look on as if to say ‘what is wrong with that dog?’ The owner, trying to look in control, mutters a gravelly salutation.
Thinking that this was a good time to capture a shot, I slipped my hand inside the bag and drew out a camera,as if drawing a gun. With the Trilby doffed and newspaper under the other arm, I realise that I resemble one of those characters from a Cold War drama. With very slow movements, so as not to draw attention to myself, I flick on the switch, ready for action.
The train slowed into the station, as scheduled, wisps of cigarette smoke mingling with the strong smell of diesel fumes. Pollution grips the air with an iron fist. A handful of commuters followed me onto the carriage. I glance back to capture a blown kiss from my beautiful wife and soon my journey is under way.
I looked around the carriage for a potential victim of stealth ‘window shots’ and there he was. The bearded character with a tatty hat drooped over his eyes and stinking of whiskey is, peering out of the window. I, sitting directly opposite, nodded, bag on my lap. I always pull my camera out and appear to be vetting my previous shots, in order to draw attention away from myself. With a finger on the shutter, keeping the shutter speed high, I click away, the light changing as we go.
The change at Doncaster is quite rapid and I am soon under way to Kings Cross. I spend the hour and a half journey drinking my pint of pre- made flask tea and processing images on the computer. It’s amazing how quickly the time passes, when you are lost in previous shoots. I delete anything uninteresting and, let me tell you, there is always plenty to delete.
The mantra is: ‘post only your best.’
The Northern grey air magically transforms into a warmer stream. The felt Trilby and Pure Wool waistcoat could yet prove to be a tailoring error. Nobody is speaking. Everyone is on autopilot, going from A to B like pre programmed androids, only robotic cursory glances at my Fuji. It’s regarded as if it were a light sabre, ready to end their days. I dive into the rapids of people heading for the exits and secondary coffee fixes.
A sign over a long queue says: “Have your picture taken here at platform 9 3/4.”
This is my first opportunity to steal some pictures, of people posing next to the luggage going through the wall. This is the platform where the Witches and Wizards board the Hogwarts Express on the 1st September, to attend Witchcraft School. There has to be some photo opportunities here.
Groups and individuals were being guided into position, whilst another Harry Potter assistant lined up a picture to sell to them for exorbitant amounts of cash.
I let them get into position and then I stole the pictures for myself, for free. How magical is that? And that is just with a monopod wand and Fuji wizardry.
After a few similar shots, I head for the tube to Charring Cross, entering back into the stream of humans and odd hound. Climbing the steps for a connection via Leicester square, I am met by a frantic, panting and clattering lady who is struggling down the steps with her luggage. My first thought was to get a shot, but then the Gentleman in me took over. I reflected that there will be a myriad of opportunities in this bustling city, for moments in time. With my free hand, I grabbed the front of her bag and lead her down to the bottom of the steps. In a broad American drawl she pronounces that I am, indeed, the last English Gentleman. With a knowing smile, I proclaim that there are still Gentlemen aplenty, but that they are all scared to be misconstrued by the modern Feminist. With a wink and a smile she was gone.
As with any moment in time, if not captured by the Street Photographer, the moment is lost in time and reserved to memory.
After a few shots amongst the tube rats, I eventually surface at Charring Cross, like a surfer coming up for air after duck diving a fifty foot wave.
This was the stomping ground of the classic Street Photographer, Wolfgang Suschitzky.
Born in Vienna to the Jewish community, he came to England to escape the rising Nazism before the second world.
It was his sister, Edith Tudor Hart (of the Cambridge Spy ring infamy), who inspired him into the world of Photography. Edith, a Communist Sympathiser, used her talents to spy between 1908 and 1973. Some of her work is still on show today, in the National Gallery.
Wolfgang, on the other hand, used his talent to take images of city life, in the smoggy Charring Cross area during the 1930s through to the 1980s.
He also rose to fame on many film sets as a Cinematographer, including the Michael Caine film, “Get Carter”.
Wolfgang’s first passion was actually zoology, and he spent his latter years producing animal images for various books.
He lived to the ripe old age of one hundred and four and was honoured in 2012 at the Tate Modern, earning a BAFTA Special Award.
He is definitely worth a look if you like classic street photography.
Apart from the odd, misty morning, the smog has long disappeared and is no longer a place for the Low Socio -Economic demographic. The street urchins have gone, but the occasional alcoholic still can be found sprawling on the side walk, holidaying from life. Prices around London are not for the small budget, but competition is high for your pound, so it’s is always worth shopping around.
I last visited London when I was trying to deliver some oak doors in a big white van during the early nineties. For some reason, the rest of the world seems to think that, if you live in England, then you must be near London and on milk- borrowing terms with Lizzy. I was trying to find my way using the A- Z publication, before Satellite Navigation systems had been invented, and well before congestion charges had been introduced.
I remember thinking, at the time, how chaotic the traffic was and how the city felt like an Apocalyptic nightmare. You had to learn to drive in a selfish style, if you wanted to actually get anywhere. I really had not wanted to return to London, on a regular basis, to chew upon environmentally- challenged fumes and suck up stress by the bucketful.
Consequently, coming to London had not been high on my agenda, in the subsequent years. There are many different parts to London, and you really need a day for each section, unless you walk like Charlie Chaplin and you are not stopping to compose every five metres.
I surfaced from the tube at Charring Cross, to beautiful blue skies and the kind of natural light which photographers crave. It felt like I had pushed through the wall at platform 9 3/4 and into the magical land of Hogwarts.
With the introduction of the Congestion Charges and Cycle Routes everywhere, London now felt like a holiday destination. Coffee shops dotted the horizon, but there was not a toilet to be found anywhere, unless you wanted to pay through the nose or frequent those strange temporary booths where you are never really sure if they are locked.
I have always had that strange feeling, exiting those things, that I will emerge into a different time in history, rather like an ablutions Time Machine.
I walked along the Strand with my Fuji on a stick, heading towards Australia house. The skies were blue, the light was hard and I was feeling saucy. Characters of cosmopolitan interest lined the streets, nobody cares as you click away even when you plant a monopod inches away from interaction. People are so used to cameras, it is as if they have grown up with them as pram rattles. This is a place to be bold and fire away.
As I approached Australia House, I passed Kings College and I filled my lungs with the soiree of the camp fires, emitting from people’s mouths. As much as I dislike second–hand smoke, this does produce evocative images. Luckily, smokers always huddle in the entrances to buildings and so it is always easy to access these kind of shots. My shutter clicked, easily capturing the social-tabboo tobabacco animals, grouped together like frightened rabbits captured in headlights. This was the only smog that I came across, but it was great for those characterful shots.
Opposite Australia House, at Stores Studios, a smattering of Photographers were gathered, like Paparazzi waiting to get the image which would make them for life. I doffed my Trilby at the camera- laden pack horses and they doffed theirs back. I am not so unique in my style after all. At least I still looked the part, as was confirmed when someone asked me if I was a Professional Photographer. I answered in the affirmative, but I just did not tell them what sort of Professional.
I had not realised, but it was London Fashion week and the models were out on the street. How lucky was I? At times like this, it reminds you to always have a camera with you. The event is held here, twice a year, in February and September. London is one of the four big venues, along with, New York, Milan and Paris.
But here I was, with the models out on the streets, brought there by the famous Peter Lindbergh in the nineties and immortalised forever by George Michael, with the song Freedom 90.
Peter Lindbergh was born in Lissa, Germany in 1944, in a Coal Mining and Industrial area. Consequently, he found beauty in Industry and grime, a little like me being surrounded by the Nautical Industry which I deem so charming.
He started life as a Window Dresser,before cutting it in the Fashion World.
Peter believed in showing the stories in people’s faces, as well as eradicating unrealistic post -processing, no matter how prestigious the magazine. It is something I agree with. Gentle lines reveal distinction and can be a beautiful thing in both female and male images.
So called ‘Grunge Fashion’ is the Clothing, Accessories and Hairstyle Industries’ version of the Grunge Music Genre and Subculture. This emerged in mid-1980s in Seattle, America and had reached wide popularity by the early 1990s. .The style was popularized by Music Artists such as Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and Pearl Jam.
It was the fashion at the time and Peter Lindbergh wanted to show models wearing this attire, by posing in grungy surroundings. Where better than The Street?
The only real controversy, was the presentation of models sporting a drug- using pallor, in order to showcase the ultimate’ Grunge’ feel. It became known as ‘Heroin Chic ’and was something which a lot of people disagreed with, as it was seen to glamorise the drug-taking culture of the time. Nobody wanted to see emancipated models strutting the Cat Walks. Thankfully, today, we are a more ‘politically correct’ Society, which embraces models who reflect a multitude of sizes and creeds.
(Reference: ‘A Different Vision Of Fashion Photography’ by Peter Lindbergh.
George Michael saw an image, by Peter Lindbergh, of the up and coming ‘ Super Models’, on the January cover of Vogue magazine: Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. The rest, as they say, is history, but I had this in mind, as the models took to the London streets. Outside of the Store Studios, ironically, was one of those ‘Time Machine’ toilets. Coffee was being sold in pop- up Hand Carts, to encourage you in. At fifty pence a pop, I decided to hold on for Australia House.
I always try to see life from a fly’s perspective, that is: between legs, high, low, sideways and up close,in order to keep things interesting.
The models were very accommodating and moved around to meet your needs, but you had to jostle around to get a position amongst the Paparazzi. Still, it added to the fun of being a Photographer for the day. With modern technology, all of the Photographers were waving their phones around, exchanging details and getting electronic ‘Model- Waiver’ signatures. This is something which one needs to obtain, if you wish to use your images for monetary gain.
I broke away, occasionally, to get a coffee fix and to watch the masses pass by. I used my X100s to get some motion shots. The built- in Neutral Density Filter is wonderful for getting perfect motion in high light scenes, with no hideous colour casts which are often produced by the cheaper filters.
With still no toilets in the coffee shop, It was time to get into Australia House, to renew my passport. I went early, as it is necessary to place one’s belongings through an ‘Airport’ style Security Machine.
I wanted to be extra early too, so that I could powder my nose and take my time. I asked the lady, behind the bulletproof glass, where the ablutions were. She answered, in a creaking Aussie drawl, that the nearest toilets were in the booth opposite the Store Studios, from whence I came. At that, my bladder poked me like a foetus, telling me that it was time to give birth. In a squeaky voice, grimace prevalent and head turned slightly to the side, I said “cool!”
After making a hurried exit, I drifted along The Thames, taking in a Nautical Gallery along the way. This was all the better for being free and for being positioned on a retired Cruiser, which had seen action during the Second World War and beyond. There were toilets, too! I thought I was going to have to go in The Thames. Maybe I did, in a fashion.
It was, also, another opportunity to take a few shots of gallery drifters and old salty sea dogs.
I decided to do a loop back to Charring Cross, via the Black Friars Public House, for another wee and to admire the Gothic architecture, but not before being robbed of my purse for a beer.
“ I will just give you this fiver to pay for my pint,” I said to the brow beaten maid.
“ I don’t think that will cut it Love,” she responded in a weary pulled-as- many- pints- as- you -have- taken-pictures, voice. I could get two for the same price in the North, I though, as my hand shakily handed over a Tenner. Oh well, at least I got to go for a tinkle again.
I chose a Pale Ale, which is my drink of choice, but not before getting the Serving Wench to give me a sample of all the ales on offer. Swilling each one around my mouth, I gargled and frowning like a Pro. There is more than one way to skin a cat and get your money’s worth. I sat outside, amongst the wage slaves and smokers, and took in the ambiance of city life. My lips savoured the cool ale I had chosen. It tasted all the better for investing my pocket money, that I had promised myself I would not spend all at once. Alas, London prices decreed that it would disappear in one foul slurp.
I thumbed through my images, only breaking my silence with a chesty cough, to expel the secondary poison. It found me, as if a giant extractor fan had been strapped to my back, the irony of being outside to get a breath of fresh air. The nicotine- stained ceilings of the Victorian houses were now on the clouds above, as the sun set. After taking stock of my image bounty, amongst the Stockbrokers and gate- crashers of this cosmopolitan party, I made my way back to Charring Cross.
My camera continued clicking, as I passed the Court Jesters and battle- weary Commuters, returning under floundering light. I have to say, I always felt safe and knew that I wanted to return again, soon, albeit to a different section of London.
It was the end of term, and time to return to platform 9 3/4. As if by magic, I was back through the wall and ordering a Starbucks giant Cappuccino. My trigger finger was now weary and blistered, and so I decided to slip my cameras away into my bag. I was overcharged, by five pence, for the coffee and decided to contest it, as my pocket money was looking decidedly paltry. My Wife was never going to accept that all I had got in exchange, was three magic beans. Well, it worked for Jack and I did have a sackful of images.
The Barrista murmured,stating that the five pence was for a deposit on my cardboard cup. That’s a brilliant idea, the only flaw being I would be one hundred miles away before I was thinking of returning it. My first thought was that someone had not thought this through very well. My second thought was that they had.
My brow furrowed as I grabbed my coffee and hurried to my carriage. I zigged and zagged, occasionally shimmying, to procure a vacant seat.they all looked up at me as I gesticulated at the seat, nobody spoke but like many portraits, the eyes said enough.
I sat and pulled out my laptop, It creakily opened to leave a sleepy pair of eyes balancing on the periphery.
As the iso went up and the sun came down, my eyes began to flutter slower and slower like the shutter speed in low light. The rhythmic beating of the tracks soothed me into a slumber, my finger still firmly on my mouse and an unprocessed image waiting to be created, still, as we drew into Doncaster.
A quick change onto a ghost train to Goole, took me back to the industrial beauty that so inspired Peter Lindbergh and the beauty that so inspires me. My beautiful wife, adorned by the hairy canine children, met me at the station.
I slipped into the waiting limousine with no chasing paparazzi, but lots of memories and moments to cherish and share.
Written And Created By Robert C Bannister
Proof Reader And Editor Caroline Suzanne Bannister