A New City

Looking out of a window on the first day in a new city

For me visiting a new city follows something of a regular pattern. For the first few hours, I don’t like it, wherever it is. That’s pretty much a given. It could be the holiday destination of your dreams – I won’t like it. They could be scattering orchid petals in front of me on the street – I still won’t like it. Period.

I’m generally the trip organiser. I tell myself I do it under sufferance but in reality, it’s a control issue – I think something would get forgotten if I didn’t do it. So because I’ve arranged everything I have this performance anxiety thing going on. My wife won’t like it, the hotel’s going to be a roach infested pit and we’re going to get mugged – the usual stuff everyone worries about.

A woman waiting for fries in a Berlin fast food store

However, once that’s passed and it is generally only a few hours. Then fairly quickly after that, I want to live there. Not lock, stock, and barrel sell our house and move. Just live there for a while, three months seems ideal. Long enough to get to know the place.

My fantasy, which is fully developed by now, generally involves renting a small apartment. I like the idea of an apartment because it’s easy to maintain, there are no distractions from the work in hand. I don’t want to waste my time gardening or sweeping the yard. I’m going there to be an artist nothing else. Once settled I’d spend my time wandering the streets with my trusty camera documenting the life of everyday man. In the evening I drink red wine and eat at a pavement café.

That’s not so unusual, I hear you thinking, everyone does that, from time to time. But for me it’s not time-to-time it’s every time!

A woman working late at night seen through an open window

This fantasy doesn’t always end when I leave the city. When I got home from visiting Eugene, Oregon, I spent several hours trawling rental properties online. Deciding which one I was going to rent like I was actually going to do it. I like the view from that one, but it’s a long walk from the town, that’s no good, I tell myself.

I picture myself like W. Eugene Smith trying to record the whole of Pittsburgh.

One property consisted of a small cottage at the bottom of the owners garden. I developed the story I was going to tell them about why I was there. As long as there’s no gardening required that would be fine. I’m not going to have time for gardening.

Hands tending a plant through an open window

The latest object of my desire was Berlin. We visited last month and stayed in a great hotel in Neukölln. We loved it. The streets behind the hotel were jammed with suitable apartments, it was ideal. A new city to explore my imagination ran riot. There are lovely little bars and a really welcoming atmosphere. I don’t speak more than the very basics of German, but that’ll come, I told myself, once you’re living here, chatting to people every day.

A group in a bar watching a football game

Maybe this fantasising is the sign of some malcontent in my life as it is. Could it be I just have an overactive imagination? I’m going to Bristol for the weekend soon, so if you’re interested in the state of the rental market give me a few days and I’ll be the man to ask.

A woman waiting on a u-bahn platform.

Gravesend Street Portraits

I had a great couple of hour shooting some street portraits in Gravesend last Sunday. I took the opportunity to hand out some of my ‘We Are Gravesend’ flyers, hopefully I contacted with some interested participants.

If you’ve landed here after meeting me on Sunday please get in touch, I’d love you to take part in the project.

A portrait of a young couple, Steve & Adele, in Gravesend.

Steve & Adele

A portrait of Wendy on the street in Gravesend.

Wendy – who stopped even though she’d just finished her night shift

A portrait of a young woman, Isabel, in Gravesend.


Thanks to everyone who took the time to stop.

Summer at Batemans

I don’t make the effort to get out with my Hasselblad as often as I would like, but when I do I’m very rarely disappointed with the results. If you’ve ever used one you’ll know it’s not a camera to be rushed, but that guides the type of shot you take. So inevitably they’re more contemplative than they might be with a smaller, lighter, camera.

Just to emphasise the scale of the backlog in my film developing, scanning and posting, this shot which I scanned last week is not from this summer, it’s not even from this year, it’s sometime during the balmy days of last summer.

A young boy sitting under a tree at National Trust property Batemans,

This is the former home of Rudyard Kipling, now a National Trust property, Bateman’s.


We are Gravesend : Genevieve Jones from Sierra Leone

A portrait of Gravesend resident Genny JonesIt’s such a great feeling to have finally started my personal project about my home town, Gravesend, Kent. Yesterday I had the privilege of shooting and interviewing Genevieve ‘Genny’ Jones, an inspirational woman and one of the real life-bloods of our community. If there’s a community event in Gravesend it’s likely somewhere behind it will be Genny Jones – The Confident Queen.

Genny was born in Sierra Leone and is the first, but my intention is to photograph and interview at least one person from each of the nationalities in the borough. In 2011 that numbered 40, I have no idea how many there may be now but it will be interesting finding out.

If you live in Gravesend, were born outside the UK and are interested in taking part please get in touch. However I understand not everyone welcomes immigration, it has effected the lives of residents here as it has in many towns in the UK. As I write we are five days from a General Election and immigration has featured significantly in all of the debates. If you were born in Gravesend and have lived here all of your life you’ll have seen your town change significantly in the last 20 years. I’d love to meet you and hear your views.

You can read more about the project here.

Henk Wildschut – Calais, December 2012


From the series Shelter – Henk Wildschut

In this video Henk Wildschut revisits the site of the Calais camps he previously photographed in his series Shelter. It highlights the difficult circumstances of those waiting to get to across the English Channel, many risking life and limb to make the crossing. It vividly shows that the view of these migrants from either side of the channel is never clear-cut.

Henk Wildschut – Calais, December 2012 from ARTtube on Vimeo.

I’d urge you to look at Henk’s website. He has several interesting documentary projects in addition to Shelter. The series Food, details the work of hi-tech food production facilities, however food in question is that which the layperson would expect to be raised on a farm in something approaching fresh air. One of the most fascinating and at the same time depressing pieces of work I’ve seen in some time.

Testing a new film: Orwo N74+

This is a shot of Robin Hood Gardens in East London, it’s a test from my first roll of Orwo N74+.

Orwo film manufactured by FilmoTec GmbH based in the former East Germany. The company in various forms has been making film, mainly for the motion picture industry, since 1910. (more from Wikipedia).

This roll was developed in Kodak HC-110 ‘B’ for 6.5 minutes. I’m very pleased with the results. The grain looks like a tabular film – very similar to T-Max 400 – which I’m generally not too fond of, but in this instance I quit like it. I’ve since developed a roll in Rodinal, but that’s caught in the huge scanned backlog, so it’ll be interesting to compare the two.

Robin Hood Gardens

Laura Pannack: documentary photographer

This Rave Late video features Documentary and Editorial Photographer Laura Pannack talking about her experiences working on both commissions and personal projects.

It’s interesting to hear about how she instigates projects, preferring to concentrate on subjects she feels passionate about rather than those which may be more obviously commercial. She also talks about how she tries not to go into a project with a particular outcome in mind. The work could end up being an exhibition, a book, or maybe it’ll never see the light of day. I think this is an important lesson, if you’re so focussed on your predetermined outcome it can’t but influence the work and the way that you shoot it. You need to let the outcome be determined by the work, not the other way around.

As someone who often struggles to find ways into a project I was hoping she’d discuss a little more about the very early stages of a project. How she made an initial approach, how she got the subject to believe in the project as much as she did, that wasn’t really covered, never-the-less it makes very interesting viewing.

I just came across this second video. It’s a one-to-one interview, where Laura Pannack talks about her experiences starting as an assistant, then her first commission as photographer and what she looks for in a good assistant – useful viewing for any students out there. Look at the lighting on this one, there’s a wonderful moment where all you can see are her head and hands.

A Fish out of Water

Image Copyright Tim Mitchell – www.timmitchell.co.uk

I think I’ve mentioned here before the excellent Documentary Review Podcast. Actually it occurs to me that by saying ‘I think’ I may give you the impression that I’ve been too lazy to check. I’m not taking you for granted, dear reader. It’s just that, well, I suspect that I may not have mentioned it before, which would, I’m afraid, have been dreadfully remiss of me. By not checking I can try to delude myself that it isn’t the case. By now I can almost hear you thinking “Are you not supposed to be talking about ‘a fish out of water’ or the excellent Documentary review Podcast?” And you are right, of course, please ignore what has gone before, clean slate, so here goes….

I may not, in the past, have mentioned the excellent Documentary Review Podcast which could be considered (by the judgemental) as something of an oversight on my part. Until recently it has been an inspiring series of audio podcast interviews with Documentary Photographers, all of whom are working on projects close to where they live.

Some notable favourites for me have been Lewis Bush talking about his project based on Canvey Island; a truly eye opening interview with Antonio Olmos on his project documenting the sites of murders within the M25 and more recently the interview with Tim Mitchell discussing his project A Fish Out of Water.

The podcasts have become, for me, a small injection of inspiration that I take when I feel the creative well becoming a little dry. So unlike other podcasts I’m not listening to them, necessarily, when they’re published, I tend to save them until the motivational need arises.

A YouTube channel has now been added so you can see some of the images while the photographer is talking about them. I love Tim Mitchell’s time lapse of the breaking of the RFA Grey Rover over a two year period, in a dry dock, in Liverpool.

As you can tell I’m a fan. Do your creativity a favour and subscribe.

Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter 1968-72

Playing at ‘Weddings’. The Gorbals, Glasgow, August 1970 © Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

Playing at ‘Weddings’. The Gorbals, Glasgow, August 1970
© Nick Hedges / National Media Museum, Bradford

I have to hand it to whoever is programming the exhibitions at the Science Museum’s new Media Space, it’s quickly establishing itself as one of the best photography galleries in the capital.

It opened with a joint exhibition ‘Only in England‘ featuring the work Tony Ray Jones and Martin Parr.  The work of both Tony Ray Jones and the early work of Martin Parr really shone as great examples of British documentary photography. I found Martin Parr’s series The Non-Conformists shot in Hebden Bridge, in the early 70s, particularly moving. Martin Parr’s book of The Non-Conformists is at the top of my Christmas list.

I unfortunately missed the recent Open for Business, where nine Magnum photographers documented contemporary British Manufacturing. It was a good fit with the Science Museum’s core message and received good reviews.

The latest exhibition, which runs to 18 January 2015, is Make Life Worth Living: Nick Hedges’ Photographs for Shelter 1968-72. I’ve yet to see this one but the few images on the web site show it’s likely to be powerful and heartbreaking at the same time. if you’ve not yet visited this new photography space I’d highly recommend it.

By-the-way, as an extra incentive this latest exhibition is free!