London Art Spot: Nigel Tufnell

A note: Just a quick word before I introduce Nigel. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted here in about a month besides that entry last week and the past few posts have been interviews. If you read Little Observationist, you’ll know I’ve had a bit of a busy and rough month! I had been travelling for a few weeks and then came back to London only to have emergency eye surgery two days later which has left me housebound for about three weeks. Needless to say, I have not been out and about in London for quite a while so I haven’t been able to create content for LLO. However, hopefully I am on the mend and will be back soon. In the meantime, I bring you an interview with one of my favourite London photographers, Nigel Tufnell!

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I’ve featured the wonderful portraits of London strangers by Nigel Tufnell on Little London Observationist many times in the past so I was thrilled when he agreed to an interview. A born and bred Londoner, participating in the 100 strangers photography project has given Nigel new insight into his city. He’s learned that good things can come from talking to strangers! Below, he tells us the story of how he started photographing strangers, one of his most memorable encounters and the camera and lens he uses to capture such stunning and natural images.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.46.31Photo: Yasmin on Castlebar Road, London

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
NT: 
I’m from London, born and bought up in West London. For as long as I can remember, I have loved London before I really knew why and without knowing it. Even as kid I knew there was something special about it. Driving along the A40 to the Marylebone Road there just seemed so many possibilities or getting off the tube at Oxford Circus or Ladbroke Grove.

I’ve always been passionate about photography, the idea of capturing a moment; that means something to me. My formal training is in furniture restoration, but I have earnt money in various guises over the years and in the last four or so years my photography work has extended and effectively taken over.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.48.20Photo: Ric on Kingley Street, London

LLO: You took on the 100 Strangers photography challenge and now you’re about halfway through your second set! Tell us a bit about why you got involved and how it’s changed the way you approach the city and your work?
NT: Before I was aware of the project, I saw a girl sitting outside a rundown shop near Regent Street drinking coffee and thought she would make an excellent photo, so I approached her and just asked if she would let me photograph her. She said yes! I put the photos on my first flickr account and she loved them, so I got in contact again and we went out and did a longer shoot. It was fascinating talking to her about her ambitions to become a doctor and her education from a state comprehensive to Imperial College, her background and her Iraqi heritage. All that from a simple photograph.

Because of this meeting I found the 100 strangers project, it was quite a natural process.

Street portraits are instant and they are real and I love that they are really immediate. The people I want to photograph could be anywhere; it’s just a case of keeping your eyes open. I want to take photographs where I have an involvement and this project has made me realise that even more because you can really talk to people. It becomes quite powerful. Listening is massively important and really taking in what people are saying because the communication between two strangers is quite unique.

It has just reinforced my view that there is fascination everywhere in London. Sometimes you go out and don’t see anyone to photograph or you get a few knock backs and other times when you aren’t expecting it, you get some great people. It’s full of surprises; as Arthur C Clarke once said, ‘who knows’. It’s vast and there will be times when it’s suffocating and unfortunately there are quite a few wankers, but you just have to deal with that.

During the first 100 strangers set I was obsessed with it. I’m less so now, but it has definitely influenced me to be a bit more positive towards people. You learn by doing this project, about how to get things right and quickly with your camera and by talking to people and hearing their stories. That process influences other things you do.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.51.09Photo: Pamela, Margaret Street, Fitzrovia, London

LLO: Do you remember the first time you approached a stranger for this project? What were you thinking? What did you say? What was their reaction?
NT: 
I approached two people and just told them about the project. I was going to make a new account for my 100 strangers and hadn’t even done that yet; I just wanted the pictures. Their reaction was positive. One said yes, one said no.  It was good having the 100 strangers project to talk about. It kind of gave me a sense of validity, but because I had approached someone before and the response was very positive, it felt normal.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.02.17Photo: Marwa on Peter Street Soho, London

LLO: Describe a typical encounter with a London stranger – what do you look for before you approach a person? What do you say to make them feel comfortable with you? How much time do you spend with them?
NT: 
Difficult to say really. I see different things in different people. Sometimes I see someone and I’m off. There is no thought. I just feel I want to photograph them. You have to weigh the situation and you don’t have too long to do that because people and situations are easily missed. People say never walk up behind someone, but if you are on a busy street it’s not a problem and needs must, there isn’t a science to it.

The shortest shoot was probably about two minutes and the longest was over an hour. It  varies massively.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.03.53Photo: Ruby on Brick Lane, East London

LLO: Tell us about one stranger that really stands out for you and why you remember them so vividly.
NT: 
There are many people that really stand out, but if pushed I would say a girl I met in Kingsland Road called Makada. She had had a very tough life and she and her twin sister had moved out of home at 15 due to a very difficult situation. They moved into a hostel in Camden, but there was no bitterness or even anger. She was at college and trying to do well for herself. It was just a very positive experience. We talked for over an hour and even though I have had similar length conversations and heard some amazing stories, both good and bad, hers was the first. Her openness and positivity touched me. It can be amazing how open people are talking to a stranger on the street. It was just a great experience to really have a decent conversation with someone who was a complete stranger; interestingly a lot of barriers are broken down.

Also all the people I have met up with again and photographed a second time have all been great!

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.04.51Photo: Abdul, Red Lion Street, Holborn London

LLO: What has this project taught you about yourself and the city around you? 
NT: In many ways, it has just reinforced my feelings. I love the place, but there are a lot of misperceptions about it and media cliques both good and bad. People do have time to talk and that communication is so important. It is not as cold as we are always being told. London can be but sometimes if you try, things can be very positive.

The city is always moving. The buildings are changing and there is a constant flow of people coming in and going out, experiencing London and hopefully adding to the city. To make it work, it has to keep changing and evolving. The people just can’t be pigeon-holed. You really don’t know what you are going to get when you start talking to strangers. While you have to be wary, very aware of the situation, the positivity makes that less of an issue and on the flip side of that, it’s great to get positive responses from people.

The disappointment has been that while I walk the streets taking photos the disparity between rich and poor (areas) is getting more and more evident. I also think the project has reinforced my dislike for things that are too staged, things like adverts and magazine shoots where everybody looks the same. People on the street look great. They have real style and elegance, but everyday there are visions of the ‘perfect looking person’ looking down or at us to prey on our insecurities.  The people I photographed weren’t prepared, but they had a certain belief that it was okay. I like the instant nature of that. These photographs aren’t manufactured; they are real and honest.

Social media is very big but I like the interaction, actually looking at people and talking to them in the real world.

It has taught me that you can be touched by people armed with a camera and a smile as long as you are willing to listen. It’s massively important to know your subject and if you have only just met somebody, you better start listening and then interacting to what is being said to you. I like to feel involved. I feel that every time I photograph somebody. It’s my way of breaking the prejudices forced upon us by social conditioning that says London is not for talking to strangers.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.05.58Photo: Tonisha, Hills Place just off Oxford Street, London

LLO: Let’s talk equipment – what camera do you use? Which is your favourite lenses for photographing people? How about a flash? Any post-processing?
NT: 
I’m currently using a Nikon d700 with either a Nikon 50mm 1.8 or a Tamron 24-85mm. I do a bit post processing but not much. I might enhance the colour or sharpness  a bit, but I basically keep it as it is in the original. I want to see reality in the portraits.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.07.32Photo: Mark, Frith Street, Soho London

LLO: Along with each photo, you tell the story of the person you’ve taken a picture of along with their favourite song or record. Why the music question? What has been the most interesting answer?
NT:
 I love music. I think it can be a great source of inspiration among other things. Everyone must have a favourite song or piece of music. It just helps to make people have a think while I try and get a few shots and then it leads onto other conversations. It is strange how some people who seem quite cool can like some really terrible music (my opinion obviously), but that’s just part of it. The most interesting answer was a man called GT whose favourite song was a song he’d written. He then proceeded to give me a copy of it.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.08.40Photo: Mina on Southampton Row, The Kingsway, Holborn

LLO: Have you ever had a negative reaction when approaching a stranger to photograph?
NT: 
A few iffy moments, but nothing too bad. It can be a negative when you have a few knock backs in a row, but fortunately that doesn’t happen much and I feel if that happens I must get someone before I head home. It doesn’t always happen though.

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 13.10.12Photo: Cristina, Regents Canal, Hackney London

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery? What’s special about it?
NT: 
The Sir John Soane museum in Lincoln Inn Fields is great. In 1806, he became Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy. He wanted his house and collection of paintings sculptures and artefacts to be preserved for the nation after his death. It’s not like a museum; it’s just a fascinating old house full of interest and it’s free!

Also, the Black Lion in Plaistow, an old coaching Inn about 600 years old and a real old fashioned East End pub. There is a boxing gymnasium upstairs that is home to West Ham Boys Club – a boxing club that produced Olympic medallist Terry Spinks. It serves great beer and Bobby Moore even used to drink there! A real top place.

Thanks Nigel!

Follow Nigel’s work on his Flickr stream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stretch1000/ 

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London Art Spot: Femme Fierce

Photo from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

When I heard about Femme Fierce, my ears perked up: A week-long, all-female street art event drawing nearly 100 artists into London from around the world with a Leake Street takeover on International Women’s Day (March 8) and a documentary about women in this male-dominated scene? Count me in! There’s lots of free events and one cheap one for which the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Awareness charity. To find out a bit more, I’ve thrown a few questions at a couple of the key people involved in making this fabulous event a reality and they were kind enough to answer. Meet Zina and Chock (from the Girls on Top Crew), two of the artists involved; Darren, the curator; and Catherine Cort Koppel, the film-maker behind the documentary.

Photo of Zina from Cre8 Gallery

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from originally?
Zina (Artist): I’m an Illustrator and Street artist based in London. I’m Norwegian, and yes I’ve got an accent. I did a bachelor in illustration at Falmouth Uni, in Cornwall. I moved to London in 2010, and started spraying after few months in the city. It was hard to not get inspired walking around seeing all the art around East London, even though with an older brother who is into graffiti, I was already familiar with parts of the scene. Music, mainly hiphop has been a great inspiration when making my art.

Photo of Decent Beatz from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: What are some of your main hobbies or interests? 
Zina: The thing is, I’ve been working on making my hobby my full time job. Maybe not the safest bet some would say, but if I try hard enough and sacrifice a little on the way, I might just get there. Hopefully very soon. Other then urban art, illustration and painting, I enjoy music and dancing. Also, I love researching and looking into subjects like philosophy, consciousness and symbolism, which also influence the subjects I paint.

Photo – CBloxx from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Femme Fierce must be one of the biggest all-female street art events ever. What can we expect?
Darren (Curator): We are hosting a 7-day art exhibition featuring artists like Amara Por Dios, Artista, Ashes 57, Boxhead, Girls on Top Crew, Theiu and Zina. Imagine a female ruled planet where street art defines the rules and what we call reality. This exhibition will provoke the thought of a female planet that is governed by art… a world where you will find everything from the earthly, surreal to otherworldly. Over the seven days we also have the Leake Street takeover event, a graffiti workshop and film screening, plus all the girls are going to come together to create a group mural for the closing.


Photo of freakSTATIC from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: It’s a huge undertaking and very exciting. How and when did the idea develop? 
Darren: We (Earth Tone Arts / Cre8 Gallery) were in the process of developing an all female street art show towards the end of last year for 2014… Ironically, the Street Art Agency were coordinating the Leake Street event around the same time and we were both talking to some of the same artists. After a meeting at the gallery and a little give and take between both parties, we decided to pull our resources together and make the projects bigger and better. Femme Fierce was born and the rest is history…or better yet – herstory.

Photo of ZABOU from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: With 100 artists involved, it’s hard to narrow it down, but tell us about three you are most excited about.
Darren: That’s difficult… All the ladies involved in the gallery exhibit are top notch and some of my favourites, but if I had to pick three, I’ll choose, Amara, Neonita and Zina because they all have an indigenous surreal style, look and feel to their work that I personally like and I’m interested in that kind of artwork.

Photo of NEONITA from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: It’s a wonderfully international bunch of artists. Where are some of them flying in from and how did you all connect?
Darren: We have people coming in from all around the UK, plus artists flying in from South Africa, Japan, Dubai, Sweden, Norway and Italy to name a few… The internet is the tool we used to make it all happen, taking advantage of all the social networking sites plus our contacts to spread the word.

Photo – work by Midge from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Tell us more about the documentary film “Women on Walls”, which will launch during this time. What is the storyline and the message the film aims to communicate?
Catherine Cort Koppel (Film Maker): The documentary explores how it was to be a female in the male-dominated graffiti scene in the late 90s and how the coming of street art changed the scene for women involved in the subculture. Graffiti and street art has been a popular topic for yearss, but much attention has been given to the male artists. For the first time some of the few English female graffiti writers active in the 90s tell stories of their experience being a female in a rough, sexist and male-dominated subculture. In the early 2000s, the face of graffiti changed with the coming of Banksy and street art. Through the eyes of graffiti writers, street artists and experts, “Women on Walls” looks into the current street art and graffiti landscape and how the scene has changed for women artists involved over the last decade. The documentary showcase female talent and asks why the scene has been so male-dominated in the past and why that is rapidly changing as more female street artists gain recognition for their work in the current climate.

Photo – work by Hannah Adamaszek from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: How has the street art scene evolved recently to attract more female artists to something that has typically been male-dominated?
Chock (Artist): I think over the past 10 years, there has been more internet and media attention and graffiti and street artist have been shown not just to be angry little boys vandalising peoples houses anymore. People have begun to realise that it is a legitimate art form too. There have always been a select group of hardcore girls as there are hardcore males, but with the arrival of Instagram and social networking, it has become more fashionable and girls love fashion. Haha. Artists such as Mad C totally destroying most guys skills has really pushed graffiti to the max and inspired many female artists to push themselves, I believe. Street Art has become very accessible and an industry has built up around it now, especially in East london. This makes it more open to anyone and less elitist.

Photo – work by Amara Por Dios from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: Why is street art important?
Zina: Street art for me is about sharing art, thoughts and ideas with more people, instead of hiding it all in a gallery. It’s also good exposure of one’s work, and personally I enjoy the feedback, seeing people’s reactions and appreciation is great. Their excitement about the work is what makes me want to keep painting, and I wish sometimes the excitement will rob off on me too.

Photo: Steffi Bow from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: How much do tickets cost and where does the money go? Where can we buy them?
Darren: The exhibition, workshops and film screening are all FREE events. Tickets cost £2.50 to take part in the Leake Street event. All the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Awareness charity. Tickets can be purchased through eventbrite.

Image – work by Pyklops from the Femme Fierce Facebook page

LLO: What does this project mean to you personally?
Zina: This show is a great start to the year and it seems lots of people have heard about it already. It’s nice to be more involved and get to know the other girls who are spraying. I’m looking forward to the Leake street takeover more than anything, to meet people and see new and different art work.

Thanks Zina, Darren, Catherine & Chock!

London Art Spot: Orban Wallace

orban-wallace

Have you seen the fun new “Skateseeing” videos? There’s one that features someone on a skateboard cruising through East London (below), which I love. Anyway, Orban is the film director for the project, one of the creative minds behind what is going to be a whole series of “skateseeing” clips in different destinations around the world. I decided to take some time to pick his brain about making this intimate video of East London and his career in general.

Below, Orban talks about working on one of the Harry Potter films, a random keyboard player in Shoreditch and a favourite London discovery that I have not yet had the pleasure to visit. 

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. Where are you from originally, how long have you lived in London and what brought you here?
OW: I’m originally a country boy, growing up in the wilds of Dorset in a very remote cottage. I lived there until I was 18, before deciding I needed to travel the world. I was always fascinated by film and from an early age began to make films with friends at school and college, using our rural location to come up with Blair Witch-style horror movies and films about poaching.

On returning from my travels, I had somehow wangled a job on the Harry Potter 6 film as a runner in the VFX department, through a family friend. I moved to Hemel Hempstead to work at the studios in Leavesden. I was really thrown in the deep end and had to learn very fast how to work in a department which I previously knew nothing about, in a fast-paced and streamlined production. It was an amazing insight into the top end of the film industry. I learnt a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of production and had an incredible time exploring the world of Harry Potter, constantly finding excuses to escape the office and find a way down to the sets and the action. We then moved to Soho for post production. I moved to Old Street and gained my first experience of London life, in particular East London: the joys of Brick Lane, Broadway Market and the late night party scene in Shoreditch.

I have just returned to London now after spending the last four years in Brighton completing a film degree at Sussex University and establishing my own production company with three close friends.

bat-on-ball-shoot

LLO: You recently made two videos for HotelClub – one in Brighton and the latest in East London – for a series called ‘Skateseeing’. What’s the vision behind this project? Why skateboards? Is Skateseeing something people can get involved in?
OW: We made these videos when Matt Lindley of HotelClub.com got in touch with us to create a series of travel videos showcasing alternative destinations in the UK and further afield. Cruising around on a skateboard seemed like a really natural way to explore these areas. It gives the audience the experience of gliding through these spaces, picking up the details of the characters and lifestyles, which characterize what makes these places unique.

We welcome other people to make their own Skateseeing movies, and in fact I think that’s where the series is heading to next!

Click the image below to watch the East London video:

Skateseeing

LLO: What are some of your favourite places that feature in the London video? What do you like about them?
OW: I love the markets, the hustle and bustle, people watching, the smells and the banter. My favourite place is the canals on a sunny afternoon, and the atmosphere of everyone hanging out.

brick-lane-head

LLO: Tell us how your career has progressed. What have been some of the key highlights so far?
OW: After a year as a runner on the Harry Potter film, I decided I wanted to try my hand at producing my own films. I began a filmmaking degree at Sussex University, and embarked on my first documentary, an observational film following the notorious climate camp activists. The main subject of the film was the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which saw thousands of activists descending on the city for a week of madness. It was an intense week, trying not to get arrested and learning how difficult it was to film in minus conditions in very volatile protest situations. We survived and came out with our first film, Copenhagen the Musical.

I continued as a freelance filmmaker making numerous films, before collaborating on my first short narrative, with the incredible guys I work with now. The creativity, tireless nights and laughter that went into our first film together is really what inspired us all to form the company we run now, Gallivant. Gallivant specializes in music videos and commercial content and have made films across Europe, our last being a ski promo in the French Alps, which was alright! We are now in the process of developing our first feature film.

filming-outdoors

LLO: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work? And the most rewarding?
OW: The most challenging is always the endless amount of work which goes into pre-production and planning. Learning to be a seamless multi-tasker is what’s hard, but this is what makes a good producer. Directing, filming and being on the shoot are always great, especially by the time you’ve planned some weird and wonderful concept and you’re hanging off the top of a fishing trawler, with your friend performing a live music video, as cuttlefish and ink fly past your head.

bat-on-ball-boat

LLO: Tell us about a memorable encounter you had with a Londoner while filming Skateseeing East London.
OW: The old guy dressed sharp as nails, playing the eeriest music on his Casio keyboard, was a welcome surprise as we passed under the bridge next to Shoreditch Overground Station.

shoreditch-high-street

LLO: How did you choose the music for the video?
OW: I was driving, listening to an old mix CD when this song came on, and it just clicked for me. I’d been a bit stumped beforehand as to what tone and mood to go for, but this song just had that groove and pace which I felt would really work. Amazingly, the artist GUTS, a renowned French trip hop producer, was cool for me to use it when I wrote to him. We have now established a working relationship and I’ve used more of his tunes for other projects. It regained my faith in how it’s always worth it, just to ask.

bat-on-ball-bulgaria

LLO: What’s been your best East London discovery?
OW: Picking up vegetables at Ridley Road market and sitting on the locks at sunset.

regents-canal-skater

LLO: Where is the Skateseeing series heading to next?
OW: There’s a Sydney video currently in the pipeline, then there’s talk of us flying to the Philippines to shoot one in Manila. After that it remains a mystery!

brick-lane-beigel-bake

Thanks Orban!

Listen to a Londoner: Graham Greenglass (& Giveaway!)

Graham+Cab2

Born and bred Londoner Graham Greenglass went through the famous course, the Knowledge, to become a black cab driver. Combined with his history degree, he has an extensive knowledge of this city which he shares through tours in his cab. They have different themes like music and horror and are one of the most popular London activities on Trip Advisor. Graham has offered a free one to a lucky LLO reader (details at the end) and has taken the time to answer a few questions about how London has changed since he was a child, what it was like to go through the Knowledge which is famously gruelling and a fun London discovery in Dollis Hill.

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your interests. Which part of London is home for you? 
GG: I’m from north west London, man and boy. Like most Londoners, I think that I live a quite unremarkable life.  But like a lot of Londoners, I know that I live in a truly remarkable city; and I love it and it never ceases to interest me and almost every day I discover something new to read about or visit or find.

LLO: How long have you been a black cab driver? What was it like to study the Knowledge? 
GG: It took three years of doing the Knowledge for me to get my green badge in 2000, which is about average.  They say that two thirds of people who start the Knowledge never finish.  The Knowledge was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

A Knowledge student eats, sleeps and drinks the Knowledge.  It’s all encompassing and takes up almost every waking thought of every day.  I may never be a millionaire but it’s scientifically proven that my brain is bigger than your brain.

LLO: You’re running your own London Cab Tours, which are number 3 out of 516 activities in London on Trip Advisor. Impressive. What prompted you to start doing this? How long are the tours and where do they start?
GG: Sometime in 2001, I thought I’d like to be a London tour guide, using my London taxi for tours. I’d done a history degree in the early ‘80s, but had never actually used my love of history in any job I’d had.  It dawned on me that I could show people London icons, from a London icon.

Each tour lasts for two to three hours and we can cover quite a bit of ground in the taxi.  We make lots of stops too and go for the occasional short walk.

I’ll pick customers up from anywhere in central London and drop them off anywhere central too.

LLO: Tell us about the themes of your tours. Which is your most popular? Which do you most enjoy and why?
GG: My tours cover various themes:  London Highlights; London Rock’n Roll; London Horror; London of Dickens & Shakespeare.

London Highlights is the most popular tour, but I enjoy them all.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are the biggest changes in the city since you were a child?
GG: The architecture and London’s built environment – there is both a lot of imaginative use of space and some quite hideous monstrosities.  This is a very clean city (which is nice), but I do kind of miss the grime.

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
GG: Churchill’s spare war bunker in Dollis Hill.  It’s only open during Open House and I managed to go a few years ago during its first ever re-opening. Hard hats and wellies required. Once you’re forty feet underground you discover why it was never really used. No toilets.

LLO: Tell us the story of your most memorable passenger.
GG: I’ll always remember the British Museum academic who told me that he’d just finished inspecting some old, rare Tsarist paper money.  He had to tell the owner/dealer that they were fakes. Only worth a few thousand pounds, instead of the hoped for tens of thousands of pounds.

LLO: Share a piece of London trivia that passengers would hear on one of your tours.
GG: In 1972, a man was arrested after driving into a lamp post one night near Cockpit Steps. His defence at his court hearing was that he’d swerved to avoid the ghost of the headless lady of Cockpit Steps. He was acquitted.

LLO: What kind of music do you listen to when you drive? Or do you prefer silence?
GG: I’m a bit of a music freak. But right now, anyone called Hank from south of the Mason Dixon Line.

LLO: When you think of London, what comes to mind when you hear each of the following:
GG: 
Sight –  The Houses of Parliament (corny, but true)
Sound –  Sirens (horrible, but true)
Smell –  Fish & Chip Shops and Indian Restaurants
Taste –  Fresh challah
Texture –  The mottled rubber of my taxi steering wheel

Thanks Graham!

Check out Graham’s London cab tours on his website, www.londoncabtours.co.uk

GIVEAWAY

Graham has very kindly offered to give one lucky LLO reader a free London tour in his cab! The tour will last two hours. Graham will pick you up and drop you off anywhere in central London and you’re welcome to choose any of his tour themes (which you’ll find on his website). The tour can take place any day time, which will be decided between Graham and the winner.

TO ENTER

I’m trying to spread the word about my new blog, Little Observationist. To enter, please share the link (http://www.littleobservationist.com) on any of your social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, blog, etc). For each place you share, leave a comment here on this entry and let me know where you shared the link. Extra entries for Facebook page likes.

DEADLINE

Entries will be accepted until the midnight GMT, Sunday January 26. A winner will be selected at random on Monday January 27th and notified by email. The winner will be put in touch with Graham directly to make the tour arrangement as above.

Listen to a Londoner: Suzi Brown

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I received an email the other day inviting me to a little shindig to kick off something called “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. The message said it involved fashion, all sorts of art (including”specially curated graffiti”), the offer of some Monday evening drinks, a spot of shopping with local artisan vendors, food (always important) – in particular, home-cooked Middle Eastern treats and some comfy lounge-style sofas.

What could be better apart from the fact that it’s set in the old abandoned Victorian post office on King’s Road that’s always intrigued me and the fact that it’s less than two minutes walk from our flat? Yes, please. Count me in.

So I decided to interview the brains behind this operation to find out what it’s really all about and, well, who exactly is “Mama Brown”? Turns out she’s Suzi Brown and she’s a pretty fascinating person indeed. She’s well travelled, has a light installation in her dining room from a Saudi Arabian artist and she believes in cooking good food and bringing together people from all walks of life. Read on for more.

(Note: These are press photos throughout besides a couple from Mama Brown’s Facebook page, but I’ll be sure to take some to share with you at the event on Monday night!)

Mama Brown's

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. What’s your favourite London discovery?
SB: I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and grew up in Lebanon. When the war started in 1975, I came to the UK to study at Oxford and then went on to Richmond College and earned a BA in Art History. London is now my home. There’s nowhere like it. It is the centre of the modern world, yet it maintains a rich sense of history and tradition. That’s what gives London its edge and that’s why people keep coming back. Just when you think you know it, London presents another side that you never even knew existed. It is then that you realise you’ve only just scratched the surface of this amazing city. Discovery is the norm in this eclectic and international place.

Brooski Jewellery

LLO: The old Victorian post office on King’s Road will host your upcoming event “Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience”. What can we expect from the “experience”? What will the atmosphere be like? Also, talk a bit about your choice of venue.
SB: When I first walked into the post office on King’s Road, it was in a sad state –  dirty and grimy, with no source of water or power. But there was something about the space that I knew would lend itself well to what I wanted to do with Mama Brown’s. It was huge, cavernous, and gritty. It was like working with a blank canvass, “tabula rasa“.  We immediately seized the challenge of transforming the space into what it is now. The atmosphere is a bit of London’s East End meets London’s West End. Mama Brown’s is bringing a bit of Shoreditch street flavour to the posh neighbourhood of Chelsea.

Miro's Love Bites

LLO: What prompted you to set up the first Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience over the Summer and where was it? What were the highlights? What’s new this time? 
SB: The first Mama Brown’s was at Holland Park. It was hugely successful as it was an intimate setting where art, design, culture and cuisine came together. Apart from the amazing showcase of merchandise that came from all around the world, people were very much impressed by the organic Middle Eastern food that was served fresh every day. That was definitely a highlight.The idea was born through my love of bringing people from all walks of life together at huge communal tables – each person sharing his or her own experiences in life, culture, food and art. But this time, I want to take things even further by making the experience even more memorable, more enriching, more impressively festive. Of course, Mama Brown’s will still have the same heart and soul that made people fall in love with it the first time around, but we have a few more surprises up our sleeves that are sure to delight. There will be more art to admire, more beautiful merchandise and even better food. We are bringing in lots of new vendors whose items you will fall in love with.

Torula Bags

LLO: Tell us about a couple of the stand out vendors who will be there on King’s Road. 
SB: It’s difficult to name only two as all of them are stand outs in my opinion. Each one is bringing in something totally different from the other. What makes Mama Brown’s different and unique is that all these amazing designers, whether they are established or up-and-coming, will be found under one roof.

cire trudon candles

LLO: Give us your top choice of gift for holiday shoppers looking to buy something fun at Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience for each of the following:
SB:
Mum: A beautiful and ornate cashmere shawl
Dad: A pair of exquisite cufflinks
Brother: A cool, one-off designer shirt
Best girl friend: Gorgeous accessories for everyday
Boyfriend:  A holiday weekend bag or a nice leather iPad cover with his initials

LLO: I hear there will be “specially curated graffiti” on display at the event. What sort of specially curated graffiti? Also, with artist Ben Wilson’s recent chewing gum art trail down King’s Road, do you think Chelsea’s becoming more open minded about embracing street art? Or will it stay in the east?
SB: The space we have was a virtual blank slate and we had to think of ways to aesthetically transform it whilst keeping the edgy character of the place intact. Graffiti is the one art form that we felt would allow us to do this.  But it couldn’t just be any graffiti. The style had to reflect what Mama Brown’s is all about – avant-garde, yet classic; street, yet clean and functional. Yes, we are in Chelsea, yet we are bringing some edge to it. Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art on the King’s Road is a breath of fresh air. It tells us that the neighbourhood can appreciate beauty in all forms.

Year Zero Bag

LLO: What is your favourite piece of art in your private collection?
SB: It would definitely be the Ahmed Mater light installation in my dining room. It is difficult to explain why. Art is art and it speaks to each one of us differently. That’s why art is so special, isn’t it?

Imperial Collection Vodka

LLO: Where does your love of cooking come from? What will we be eating at Mama Brown’s Pop Up Experience?
SB: When you are a mother of five children, you learn how to diversify and experiment when it comes to cooking! Apart from that, I was exposed to some of the best cuisine from an early age, growing up in an Arabic household. I am an avid traveller and I believe one of the best ways to experience culture is through food. I bring the flavours and tastes of my travels to every dinner party I host and to every meal I prepare for my loved ones. Mama Brown’s is a labour of love. What better way to show my guests my appreciation than by preparing some of my best-loved Arabic dishes at Mama Brown’s?

Flower Headbands 1

LLO: What’s your favourite holiday season tradition and why? Any holiday season pet peeves?
SB: It would have to be the time I get to spend with my family over the winter break. We have a tradition of travelling to a corner of the globe that we have never been to. Last year, we spent a glorious three weeks in Vietnam and Cambodia. It was amazing – totally immersing ourselves in a new culture. Apart from spending time lounging on tropical beaches, we did some really interesting things that we’ll never forget, like planting rice in rice paddies. Pet peeves? I abhor packing and tourist traps!

Communal Table

LLO: You’ve been called “London’s ultimate hostess”. That’s a big name to live up to! What are your top three hosting tips for the rest of us?
SB: A big name to live up to, indeed! If I didn’t love bringing people together, I would never do it. I love to host and I do it very frequently – whether it’s a small intimate dinner with my closest friends or a big party until the early hours.

Top three tips:
1. Food made with love. Everyone loves a delicious meal. It’s what people remember most at the end of the night.
2. Introduce new blood. Always make it a point to bring in a few new faces each time you entertain. It makes things more interesting.
3. Create a fun atmosphere with no stress.

Thanks Suzi!

Mama Brown’s Pop-Up Experience is located at 232 King’s Road, Chelsea and will be open to the public from the 26th of November until the 15th of December (Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00am-7:00pm).