Having endured the rather tedious taunts from my French hosts over the last 15 years about “the weather back home”, my pleasure was unbridled when the gods decided to bless my first London street photography workshop with uninterrupted beautiful sunshine and warm spring temperatures !
With the privilege of being able to house all the five participants in the traditional Victorian family home, the circumstances were ideal in putting everyone in the best frame of mind for 3 full days of shooting.
After the initial first evening discussions and joint presentations of printed work, I gave a brief outline of the different challenges and practical exercises involved in improving one’s “strike rate” in the urban environment, and then it was straight out onto the streets in search of the unexpected !
My over-riding aim was to provide the participants with as much shooting time as possible, in order to maximize their practical experience and their pleasure in enjoying a photographic guided-tour of this wonderful city. I had spent the last 6 months preparing the best itinerary possible, seeking out a variety of locations which I considered offered the most potential for street photography, in terms of backgrounds, colours, architecture and local activity.
FRIDAY 20th APRIL
Day 1 took us firstly to the South Bank, with its bright modern colours set against the rather brutalist concrete shapes of buildings built in the 1950’s and 60’s. From there a walk along the Thames, past the beaches ! and on to the iconic Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge, offering interesting perspectives of the London skyline. Then round past Saint Paul’s to the modern shopping complex at One New Change, which is a great venue for experimenting with light and reflection effects. Finally, to complete our journey of nearly 12kms, on to Bank, in the heart of the City.
SATURDAY 21st APRIL
After a review of the previous day’s pictures first thing Saturday morning, we headed out for the very centre of London, Trafalgar Square. It was a pleasant surprise to discover a hive of activity in the form of the Feast of St. George, an annual celebration based around England’s patron saint, with the wonderfully attired Pearly Kings and Queens a central feature of this cultural occasion. A brief lunch stop in the Photographer’s gallery then led us to the vibrancy and eccentricity of Soho, with its street music and fascinating array of typically eccentric characters. From there to the street performers of Covent Garden, before heading south over the river at Waterloo bridge and on to the National Theatre and South Bank area, where we had been 30 hours before. The chance to re-visit a location, can be a real bonus when shooting on the streets, as you have already had the possibility to work out some good vantage points, compositional ideas, and observe how people move through the various spaces. The icing on the cake was the sublime evening light that we encountered on this occasion, and this provided for some beautiful warm-toned images.
SUNDAY 22nd APRIL
Sunday was no occasion for a lie-in, as we had another packed day ahead of us. The first half was dedicated to covering the London Marathon. Not so much the race itself, as we are street not sports photographers ! The challenge was to capture the atmosphere of this sporting and social event, on the edges, so to speak. When there are so many people lining the streets, this forces you to be inventive, to heighten your powers of observation and seek out new angles to try and tell a story. It was difficult for the group to keep in any way together during this time, but I was incredibly impressed how everyone responded imaginatively to the situation.
It was lovely to get away from the hubbub and enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch in the churchyard gardens of Saint Paul’s. For the final leg of the Workshop we headed to Brick Lane (including the adjacent Nomadic Gardens) and Shoreditch. For those who had never been here before, this was a real feast for the eyes and an affirmation of the “free spirit” of London life, the confidence to be who you are and dress as you like. The graffiti and street art, are, it goes without saying, a godsend for any street photographer !
The Workshop had originally been scheduled to end on the Sunday night, but due to the extremely long days we had spent photographing, I felt it was appropriate to accord an extra morning debriefing session, where we could review more calmly and in greater depth the pictures taken, the misses as well as the hits.
I come away from this experience with a feeling of satisfaction and the pleasure, once again, of sharing my passion with fellow-travellers ! It is over 15 years since I last lived in London, but it still feels like home, a place I feel comfortable in and enjoy re-discovering with every trip. I have my own love affair with France and much of gallic culture, but it is the French who constantly remind me of how much they envy the British way of life, the cool, easy-going attitude, where non-conformity and freedom of expression are the norm. Most of those that came on this workshop would think twice about pointing a camera at a stranger in France, but after 3 days on the streets of London, it was difficult to stop them doing so here !
Thanks again to Carole, Emmanuelle, Mike, Elisabeth and Pierre-Jean for your great company and artistic motivation.