Exploring Brick Lane on a Sunday Afternoon

Sometimes when I walk around London with my camera, I also carry a notebook and a pen.

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After a while of wandering, I sit in a coffee shop or a park and reflect on my day over a cup of tea.

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I’ve always been drawn to pretty notebooks, the thrill of opening the first blank page and setting down my thoughts.

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It’s easy to forget the little things about a place – the smells, the sounds – that photos can’t capture.

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A few weeks ago, I decided to hop on the tube over to East London.

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It has always been one of my favourite places to take pictures.

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Such a vibrant area of the city, so full of life.

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I shared some photos of Petticoat Lane already, but here are some more from nearby Brick Lane.

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I took a few minutes of video too, just people watching, picking up the sounds.

But I thought I’d do something different here and share a few thoughts directly from my notebook:

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I’m sitting in Allen Gardens on Code Street, the sign for which is also written in Bengali, as are the other street signs in the area.

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It’s not very pretty, but it’s a green space behind the crowded markets of Brick Lane.

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It’s a Sunday, the day the streets fill with vendors and shoppers, tourists and locals.

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It must be the most diverse place in London.

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Recently, it seems to have hyped itself up a bit more than usual.

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New cafes have popped up between Bangladeshi sweet shops and barbershops, their walls, doors or shutters adorned with original street art by Stik, C215 or Malarky. 

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Street style here is brilliant.

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People take risks with their clothes, wearing clashing patterns that come together perfectly in a mix of high street, vintage and subtle designer.

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There are so many photogenic people who stand out from the crowd for one reason or another.

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Down side streets, there are photo shoots happening everywhere against the colourful painted walls.

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Friends taking pictures of friends – budding models, clothing designers, fashion photographers – all collaborating to get their names out there. 

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Everyone seems to be super hipster cool, sifting through racks of vintage clothes and shoes, sitting on kerbs eating Chinese noodle dishes from aluminium tins with plastic forks.

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There’s also the local Bengali community, beckoning tourists into their restaurants, each of which is, of course, the best in all of London.

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The guests in the windows are all white, all tourists.

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There are covered Bangladeshi women filling bags with colourful vegetables from the wooden street stalls.

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There’s the tourists who have come by to soak it all in, lugging giant cameras, stopping people in the street to ask for directions to Columbia Road Flower Market or how to find their way back to the tube. 

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Everyone has a camera with them now.

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Phone cameras, plastic fisheye cameras, DSLRs, 35mm film cameras, Diana cameras.

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They’re pointing them at street art, at musicians, at their food, filling Instagram feeds with square filtered photos of guitars and shoes and colourful stacks of muffins.

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Look around you in any direction and 10 photos are being taken. 

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Street art is on everyone’s radar now, more so than ever before.

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It covers every (legal and illegal) empty surface here and on most surrounding streets.

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East London is one of the top places in the world for street artists to come and leave their mark.

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There’s a huge international street art community represented on the walls around here.  

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Walk through and you’ll bump into one street art tour or another.

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The level of talent has exploded. Much of the art is gallery worthy. 

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There’s still scribbly graffiti tags as well but it’s becoming more and more rare to see them. 

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Every street sign pole is covered in stickers.

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Most poles and railings have bikes chained to them.

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There are clever, quirky or creative signs. 

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Stalls sell handmade jewellery, vintage dresses, fake flower crowns to wear in your hair. They sell silk scarves, boxed up Barbie dolls and old-fashioned roller skates. Dig a bit and you’ll come across boxes of postcards from the 1970s, ancient hair pins and neon earrings shaped like cassette tapes.

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There are ceramic dishes and retro sunglasses for sale, photography coaster of London scenes and handmade birthday cards. You can find doc martins with Union Jacks on them, giant stuffed orang-utans, disused street signs. There’s stacks of old books with yellowed pages, mechanical parts and hand knit sweaters. 

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People walk through the street carrying big bundles of flowers wrapped in brown paper from Columbia Road around the corner. Lilies, sunflowers, roses.

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There’s music: reggae, afro-beats, blues, a bit of house.

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There are buskers playing Johnny Cash on guitars.

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A drunk guy with long thick dreads saunters through the crowd, singing at the top of his lungs, “I shot the sheriff”.

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On repeat. And nobody looks twice.

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A train clanks across the bridge on the other side of Allen gardens where I’m sitting in the grass. 

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People are laughing around me, drinking cans of beer. A barefoot middle-aged guy in his 50s squats down next to me and says, “Whatcha writing, love? Ah, never mind, I’m a nosy old fella me. Just tell me to fuck off.” He ambles back to his patch of dirt before I can say a word.

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Someone belches in the distance and laughs louder.

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Bike wheels spin down the streets. Some people stop to pose next to a nearby mural.

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The air smells of late afternoon curry cooking inside someone’s home, preparing for dinner.

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The sun is shining brightly.

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It is the end of Summer and a beautiful day to be outdoors.

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And then I pack my notebook away and I leave Allen Gardens. I walk back, slowly, through the crowds, to Liverpool Street.

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I’m always as happy to head back to west London as I am to spend a day in the east.

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The east leaves me feeling creative and inspired and the west gives me a clear space to organise my thoughts.

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I don’t think I’d like to live in the east, though.

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Someone once said to me when I moved to London many years ago, “Live in the west, play in the east”.

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And that’s stuck with me I guess. I’ve lived in Knightsbridge, Kensal Green, Ealing Broadway, Earl’s Court, Southfields and South Kensington. North, south, west and further west, but never east.

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West feels more like home, though I’m not sure I can explain why.

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I love the neighbourhood feeling of where we live now, the quiet and clean streets, the small gardens, the grand houses.

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The east draws me in with its eccentricity, its creativity, its quirkiness, the richness of its history.

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There’s a clear line between the two halves of the city and many more lines in between, but I guess that’s what I appreciate most about London as a whole.

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It’s the diversity – of the areas themselves, of the people who inhabit them, of the buildings, the beliefs and plenty more.

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And you?

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Do you live east or west?

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Would you consider moving to the other side? (Not even counting the ongoing north-south debate!)

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Why or why not?

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Let me know in the comments.

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I’m curious!

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A Lovely Bunch of Londoners

As someone who spent the first 23 years of her life in a small suburb upstate New York where people make small talk with strangers, chat with their neighbours and smile at everyone in the streets (and possibly utter a “good morning” in passing), one of the biggest challenges I had when I moved to London back in 2007 was adapting to the people.

They’re really a warm bunch when you get to know them, but being a big city of some 8 million faces from hundreds of countries, the need to carve out a personal bubble is understandable. You get used to it after a while, though, this lack of eye contact, the awkward closeness on the tube, the reluctance to speak to strangers.

Despite this, for me, the people are the greatest part of London – the languages and accents, the diversity in every sense of the word, the fashion, the expressions of creativity, etc. When someone lets you into their bubble, as people do when I interview them for LLO, you get a real sense of what this city is made of and what you find is something truly inspiring.

Other times, it’s fun to sit back and observe life in action. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a series images of Londoners from the Flickr pool. I’ve missed picking out my favourite shots as well as sharing the talent of London’s fabulous street photographers. So that’s what I’m going to do now:

Matching Nicely [Explored #301]Photo: Matching nicely by John Kortland

Rows And Rows
Photo: Rows and rows by John Kortland

Sensible Shoes
Photo: Sensible shoes by John Kortland

Black And White In ColourPhoto: Black and white in colour by John Kortland

Yami Gautam, Bollywood Actress
Photo: Yami Gautam, Bollywood Actress by John Kortland

For Richer, For Poorer [Explored #302]
Photo: For richer, for poorer by John Kortland

Happy Face
Photo: Happy face by John Kortland

The People of Soho: The Fashion Retailer
Photo: People of Soho: The fashion retailer, Lorna, in Bridle Lane by Pete Zelewski

Exhaust Fumes [Explored #322]
Photo: Exhaust fumes by John Kortland

Tahnee - Barbican
Photo: Tahnee-Barbican by Becky Frances

The People of Soho: The Celebrity Hairdresser
Photo: People of Soho, the celebrity hairdresser – with a client list that includes Sienna Miller, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kiera Knightley and Johnny Depp it’s hairdresser Johnnie Sapong in Marylebone Passage by Pete Zelewski

Don't Try It At Home George !
Photo: Don’t Try It At Home, George by John Kortland

The Creative Artist
Photo: People of Soho: The creative artist, Spanish Graphic Designer and Illustrator Adriana in Nottingham Court, Covent Garden by Pete Zelewski

Up Against It  [Explored #322]
Photo: Up against it by John Kortland

Having A NibblePhoto: Having a nibble by John Kortland

Senior Rasta
Photo: Senior rasta by John Kortland

3D View
Photo: 3D View by John Kortland

Diane Abbott MP
Photo: Diane Abbott MP by John Kortland

Face In The Crowd
Photo: Face in the crowd by John Kortland

Victoria Park Portrait
Photo: Victoria Park Portrait by Becky Frances

Father and Son
Photo: Father and Son by Darren Johnson

Taking a break
Photo: Taking a Break by Graham F Kerr

The People of Soho: The Makeup Artist
Photo: People of Soho: Makeup artist Rose from cult British beauty brand Illamasqua in Bridle Lane by Pete Zelewski

Figurehead [Explored #333]
Photo: Figurehead by John Kortland

Glamorous
Photo: Glamorous by Steve Reed

Wrapped Up Against The Cold
Photo: Wrapped up against the cold by John Kortland

Pink And Plugged In
Photo: Pink and plugged in by by John Kortland

Blue Mood
Photo: Blue mood by John Kortland

Well Studded
Photo: Well studded by John Kortland

*
Photo: London underground by Jiro

Curls
Photo: Curls by John Kortland

Ring Tones
Photo: Ring tones by John Kortland

Aya (Stranger #7/100), London Brick Lane
Photo: Aya by H Matthew Howarth

25 Awesome Photographs of Londoners

What a brilliant collection appearing in the Flickr pool lately. Here’s 25 of the latest shots of Londoners, a diverse and colourful bunch. And so many talented street photographers out there in this city as you can see! One of my favourite Londoners posts yet.

All Gone
Photo: All Gone, Brick Lane market by Garry Knight

16/100, Koko/London
Photo: Koko fro m Austria by Jonathan Campenni

2012-07-14 Pzb02021
Photo: Dancer by Kath

stranger # 67
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hoto: Worod from Iraq who has also lived in Iran and travelled extensively by Stretch1000

Brixton
Photo: Brixton by Harry Wakefield

Esther - Stranger 5/100
Photo: Esther Monolo works in Monsoon but has been singing since age 3 by Roj Whitelock

The girl with butterfly tattoo
Photo: The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo by Xuesong Liao

N'Goni - Stranger 31/100
Photo: N’Goni plays roots reggae on the guitar with Real Sounds by Roj Whitelock

Unwelcome Audience
Photo: Unwelcome Audience by John Kortland

London Street Portrait
Photo: London street portrait by 67Jewels

The Final Cut
Photo: Former film maker and global traveler it’s Arners on the streets of Bloomsbury, Grape Street by Pete Zelewski

stranger # 114
Photo: Mark Powell on Frith Street, Soho by Stretch1000

Claire - Stranger 22/100
Photo: Claire, editor of Entertainmentwise by Roj Whitelock

IMG_4709
Photo: Red Head on Portobello Road by Farlon Rahaman

stranger # 137
Photo: Ashwini from Bangalore who is in London doing a Masters in Sustainable Architecture by Stretch1000

Amara - Stranger 35/100
Photo: Mural artist Amara from Sweden on Brick Lane by Roj Whitelock

Italian student
Photo: Italian student in London by Xuesong Liao

London Street Portraits
Photo: Sue Kreitzman the Wild Old Woman – the Dare To Wear Exhibition at The Crypt by 67Jewels

stranger # 84
Photo: Demi, aspiring Model on Allen Gardens, Spitalfields by Stretch1001

A green haired girl wearing big bow
Photo: Green-haired girl wearing big bow by Xuesong Liao

London Street Portraits
Photo: London street portrait by 67Jewels

stranger # 101
Photo: Olivia wearing an old coat she inherited from her aunt by Stretch1000

Where am I going?
Photo: Where am I going? by Xuesong Liao

Purim in Stamford Hill
Photo: Purim in Stamform Hill by Alan Denney

stranger # 131
Photo: Ruby, whose favourite sound is that of her son’s heartbeat as heard through her husband’s stethoscope by Stretch1000

Photography: 15 Londoners

 

Imagine the stories.

You can see them in the eyes, in the fashion, tattooed on the skin, in posture and body language and personal hygiene. London is home to characters from probably close to every country, every religion, every political background, every racial background, every sexual background, etc. on this planet. There are somewhere around 300 languages spoken here. Some people were born here in Charing Cross Road or Ealing or Tottenham; somewhere around 1/3 of us were born abroad. Some are educated at Oxford or Harvard. Some never went to school at all. Some have jobs that pay millions. Some don’t have jobs at all. Some are spending millions on luxury interior designer to deck out their West London mansions, others are content to find a dry dilapidated cardboard box to spread on the pavement at night and gather enough money for a bit of breakfast.

Of course we all know these things already. It’s undeniable that this incredibly diverse mixture of people who call London home is one of the first cited reasons that people give when asked why it’s so interesting to live here. They are also one of the biggest draws for street photographers.

These 15 powerful photos, recently added to the Flickr pool by some talented photographers, don’t even begin to touch on such a full scope of people, but they say much more than words ever could about this city.

LondonPhoto: London by Zbigniew Osiowy

*Photo by ML6B

Wind blowing blonde hairPhoto: Wind Blowing Blonde Hair by Snowpine

Harsh RealityPhoto: Harsh Reality by simon.anderson

London Tattoo Convention: StylePhoto: Style by John and Tina Reid

Portrait of a stylist wearing sunglassesPhoto: Portrait of a stylist wearing sunglasses by Snowpine

Carnaby Street foreverPhoto: Carnaby Street Forever by J.I.R.O.

A bearded man with his petPhoto: A bearded man with his pet by Snowpine

London Tattoo Convention: Happy CanvasPhoto: Happy Canvas by John and Tina Reid

UntitledPhoto: Untitled by rbreve

the dangers in admiring your own footwearPhoto: The dangers in admiring your own footwear by Charlie Colmer

{132} BeautyPhoto: Beauty by Tyla’75

London Tattoo Convention: Living CanvasPhoto: Living Canvas by John and Tina Reid

Young lady sitting on a bench, wondering...Photo: Young lady sitting on a bench, wondering… by Snowpine

A ginger haired guy with stylePhoto: A ginger-haired guy with style by Snowpine

Time has left marks in my facePhoto: Time has left marks on my face by Snowpine

“The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it.”
Charles Baudelaire

Imagine the stories.

The Lives of Londoners Captured by John Kortland

I tried really really hard to narrow this down to 10 images, honest I did, but I can’t keep up with John Kortland’s awesomeness at capturing Londoners anymore so I had to post more. Captions are his as well and there’s plenty more photography on his Flickr photostream where these came from so be sure to stop by and admire. The last one of the man with the wind in his white hair and the missing shoe has to be one of my all time favourites from John so far.

Long StretchLong stretch

Self Portrait Tatt
Self-portrait tatt

This Book Drives Me Up The Wall
This book drives me up the wall

The Eyes Have ItThe eyes have it

Rings And RowsRings and rows

Great Balls Of FireGreat balls of fire

Magnetic AttractionMagnetic attraction

In Full Cry
Full cry

Enjoying The Sun
Enjoying the sun

Secret Call
Secret call

Swede Carver
Swede Carver

Lunch With The Pigeons
Lunch with the pigeons

Golden Years
Golden years

Secret Surfing
Secret surfing

Groovy Granny
Groovy grandma

Frozen Warden
Frozen warden

Burberry Burka
Burberry burka 

How Many Of Those Could I Get In My Helmet ?
How many of those could I fit in my helmet?

Holding On To A FriendHolding onto a friend

Which ones do you like the best?

If you missed it, be sure to check out my interview with John or some of the past posts featuring his photography.