Project #1: The City of London at Its Quietest – continuation

As I’d stated previously in the post from October 6th, that kick-started this urban photography project blog,  ‘The City of London at its Quietest’, we continue our deliberations as to why this may be a interesting project to take up. Specially if you consider London’s own financial district can definitely be, during business hours, a daunting place for photographing less busy scenes, devoid of all the hustle and bustle one typically finds taking place in that area  on weekdays. Not that us street photographers mind the busy pavements and thoroughfares. On the contrary: we usually have, for longer than a century, tried, whenever possible, to include in our shots, as many people going by their business in public as viable – either for the sake of contest or to tell a story. But, (a sound ‘but’ here) sometimes, all we want to include in our shots is the odd single person (or small group at most) ‘interacting’, so as to speak, with their surroundings – or no person at all! – as James Maher rightly claims on his ‘The Essentials of Street Photography‘ – I couldn’t agree more!

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Fleet Square, with an oddly-shaped sculpture whose colours, in my opinion, complement beautifully those of the flower bed’s – colours which were obviously maximized by the marvelous Kodak EBX positive emulsion I used to take this picture. Copyright (C) 2005 – Nilson Bazana

So my point is, that for this sole purpose (staying in when most have gone away on a temporary leave of sorts), is a great way to look at The Square Mile under a totally different light; that is, “The City”, as Londoners usually refer to it, under a much less crowded point of view than the one we are usually used to look at it from.

And according to the Wikipedia entry for The City, we learn that its population shrinks, by the time the last desk lamps are switched off or the office cubicles are taken over by the cleaners, from hefty 300,000 inhabitants (actually commuters) to a much humbler 7,000-resident figure! (a very interesting documentary presented by Stephen Fry I saw last night, claims those numbers to be 400,000 and 8,000 – inflation, perhaps?)

Statistical differences apart, I think there’s no doubt this abysmal shift into its occupants tally, does account for the quietness, solitude (even eeriness, sometimes!) you might feel by losing yourself in that area’s umpteen roads, alleyways and narrow passages.

I personally came to think more of this phenomenon in particular, when I was freelancing, in the mid noughties, not as a photographer, but as a chef for the freelancing division of world-wide catering giant Sodexo. I still make no secret that I’ve always been a proud amateur snapper – with the odd weekend assignment – without ever becoming a full pro.

As that job took me everywhere in London: one week I’d be in the London Underground’s head office (which unbeknownst to the average Londoner, is precisely in St. James’s Park station), to popping in a single day to the massive kitchen in the UK branch of PricewaterhouseCoopers in The Embankment, or the to Fleet Street, in a much smaller kitchen to a law firm – I’ve seem them all!

So, I recall leaving my job mid afternoon on a Friday, and after dealing with one or another personal engagement, strolling eastwards, camera loaded with some 36-exposure transparency or B&W film and ready to fire, hanging from my neck. Thinking in retrospect, security guards in those companies were definitely more lenient on those pre-July 7 Bombings days, than it is the case nowadays.

So, what really struck me was how different the district in question looked as the day advanced towards its end: private owned sandwich shops (not Subway’s) were, by 4 pm, all shut; there were less buses, taxis… and, above all, much less people on the streets. Cleaners and other contractors – whom you usually saw during the week mostly through thick glass windows, and only after dusk had settled in – were now outside, washing the pavement, putting the rubbish out (trash, for you lot across the pond) or having a fag. In summary: both quietness and contractors had by late afternoon almost totally taking over a large chunk of the Square Mile!

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Only a stone’s throw from Fleet Place, short, crescent-shaped Limeburner Lane starts up just off Old Bailey criminal court – only to end up, a few hundred yards ahead, on Ludgate Hill, opposite the City Thameslink station. As this was taken during the same photographic stroll of the photo above, the film is the same Kodak EBX. Thought not a great photograph, and this scanning in particular not making justice to the emulsion’s dynamic range, one can easily tell the lonely figure is all but a blue-collar city broker. Copyright (C) 2005 – Nilson Bazana

And so I proceeded to shoot, as you can see by the diversity of places and different times of the day my shots in that area were taken at – both in this article, in the few photographs illustrating it, and on my ‘Urban’ gallery (look for the ‘London’ album) on my website on www.nilsonbazana.com (I may include more similar shots, as I find the time to properly scan the slides).

So, what are your own experiences in this charming place on said quiet days? Do you concur with what I’ve just said or had a totally different experience there – along with the photographs you took? Drop us a few lines and let us all know it!

On the other hand, if this somehow inspired you to make incursions into the City of London with the sole purpose of photographing its inherent weekend and holiday loneliness, I couldn’t recommend this more as great photography project.

Project #1 – The City of London at Its Quietest (or any other busy urban area you know, for that matter)

Edit – November 2016: Entry’s title changed to reflect the new direction this blog heads for from now on. (Come on! We all are allowed to change now and then, arent’t we?)

Roaming the streets of London, camera hanging from the neck, occasionally snapping the odd street scene, is certainly an experience many a British or cosmopolitan photographer (myself included in this latter group, as I left London for other shores quite some time ago) won’t easily forget:
Brushes with tourists ever avid to make the great capital in a couple of days; your own wondering of where the heck those pickpockets the police sign tells you to beware of,  are actually lurking from at that precise moment; the odd overzealous London cop (bobby) inquiring the heck of you as to your actual purpose (if any) for photographing a certain government building – the list is endless!

But before anything, a little disclaimer of sorts: please, mind you who may not have had the honour/pleasure/heart (your mileage may vary) of visiting the well-known capital of Buckingham Palace, Harrod’s, black cabs and red buses yet (you definitely should!):

The “City of London” referred to in the title of this entry and along its lines, is not London itself, but its very own financial district instead, which is called just that. So, think of The City of London to London, what you’d think of Wall Street to New York. Cappice?

Moving on with the post itself, on my own personal level and keeping to its photographic theme (lure), something I’ve got accustomed to, when it comes to photographing The City, is eagerly awaiting for weekends in order to catch a rather different glimpse of “The Square Mile”, as it’s also known as. Don’t get me wrong: I love getting lost among the bubbling crowds of tourists and execs alike – from Fleet Street to Liverpool Street:
It’s just that, by only sticking to photographing it during those busy hours/days, you might be missing a certain character of that area seldom seen on the average “street photograph”, so as to speak.

So, as I start at this moment pondering over the pros and cons of said habit, I invite you to wait for the weeks to come for the next installments as to why shooting scenes in one of London’s busiest neighbourhoods – but at its quietest time – was by some time, a rather hard-to-break habit of mine.

So, I’ll be naming, on those oncoming entries, the right time, nooks and corners of that adorable concrete jungle which may as well strike the same creative chords in your photography – as I’d like to think it did to mine, back then.

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I know, the example above is not exactly a technically-perfect one to illustrate this brief introduction (more serious ones are still to come, promise!) but it does depict that solitude I strive to contrive (haven’t  I just come up the loveliest rhyme?) when being there at the right time (wrong for most) of the day and week. It depicts Carter Lane, at its narrowest alleyway-like part, on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

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TECHNICAL BIT (USUALLY SEEN BY PIXEL PEEPERS ONLY!): The film I used for the shot above was the now-defunct (what a surprise!) Kodak Elite 400, pushed to 800 – hence possibly, the low dynamic range (even for slide film) that ended up curbing my attempt at not having a washed out sky – I’d obviously exposed for the shadows, on the handful of frames I shot of this scene (I’d always do exposure bracketing with my Canon 50e – even though that camera’s light meter is a notoriously outstanding one). Nonetheless, I think it conveys the theme I’ve been on about in the last few lines.

More on that later! Continue reading