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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Summertime: London vs New York

When I was asked to compare summers as I remembered them from New York and summers as I now experience them in London, nostalgia and anticipation kicked in in equal measure.

This year, summer also means our wedding.

In both places, summer means planning holidays, which is always exciting. To find London hotels for our wedding, a few friends have used Hotel Direct, who have sponsored this post. We’ll be looking for honeymoon options soon, so I’ll be doing searches for Hawaii, Costa Rica and Kenya to weigh our options. In the meantime, bring on that summer sun!

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New York summers for me were not city summers as you might think when New York comes to mind, but upstate New York summers, which are much different.

Temperatures soar to reach 30C / 85F or higher in New York,. There is a real crisp distinction between seasons. It can be humid and exhausting after a while, but after a harsh, snowy winter, it is much appreciated. In London, summer could sit at spring-like temperatures of 20C / 68F with a random spike up to 28C / 82F on a handful of lucky days. When that happens, layers are stripped, parks are packed and the whole city digs out their sunglasses.

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Summer in New York smells of freshly snipped mint decorating a refreshing glass of iced tea. There’s the earthy scent of just watered cherry tomatoes growing in the garden, freshly cut grass and nighttime campfires. London summers smell of sugary roasting nuts on Westminster Bridge, the sweet scent of rose gardens in Regents Park, the mix of curries and crepes in the markets of Brick Lane.

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In New York, summer tastes like juicy cheeseburgers cooked on the garden grill, of Piece of Cake ice cream eaten on the rocky banks of the sparkling Niagara River and of sticky s’mores roasted over a bonfire on a warm night. In London, it’s jugs of fruity Pimms all around, cups of gelato enjoyed during a walk along the Serpentine in Hyde Park and lovely picnic spreads with strawberries, cheese and freshly baked baguettes from Gails.

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The buzz of local outdoor concerts mark the summer sounds of New York. Also, loud music pumping from souped-up cars and the outburst of afternoon thunderstorms we watch from the front porch as fork lightning streaks across the sky. In London, summer brings the sound of revving engines tearing down the King’s Road, buskers’ Calypso music played on steel pan drums and the merged conversations of crowds milling on the pavement outside of local pubs.

Summers in New York bring textures of hot driveway blacktop scalding bare feet, the rough bark of logs tossed into the fire, the hot seats of a car parked too long in the sun. In London, summers bring grass between toes in Hampstead Heath, the lightness of fabrics between fingers and the many pampering textures of a pedicure.

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In New York, summers mean camping in the wilderness, kayaking on the lake, outdoor music and Fourth of July fireworks. There are shorts and flip flops and baseball caps. In London, summer means the colours of Holi celebrations, visits to the lively Columbia Road flower market and lazy afternoons enjoying long lunches and people watching at outdoor cafes. There are flowing summer dresses and strappy sandals and designer sunglasses.

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This is summer for me. Let me know what summer means for you, if you’re going anywhere exciting this year and what memories it brings back from your childhood days!

A Brisk January Walk

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It is definitely January in London: Christmas trees with dried out needles heaped in the middle of the pavement waiting to be collected, shiny pavements from incessant rain, dark walks home in the evening, sales in all the shop windows and everyone on diets. I returned from the Canary Islands quite refreshed though. It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do.

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But back to the dark rainy days in this city, it’s been preferable to spend my free time curled up with a travel magazine and a cup of tea than go out exploring much with my camera, hence the lack of London posts!

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I did head out over the weekend though to meet an old friend who was here from the States.

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We started at Liverpool street and wandered for a while.

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We walked up Brick Lane, past the guy selling pineapples with little pink umbrellas as if this were the Caribbean, past the mixed aromas of cuisines of so many different countries wafting out of the Sunday UpMarket, past the murals and love locks around Shoreditch station.

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And a few bits of street art I hadn’t seen yet.

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Then we walked through the City where everything is eerily closed on the weekend and along the north of the river, all the way to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus.

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But it was more talking and catching up then exploring.

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I didn’t take very many but couldn’t resist a few pictures along the way.

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I’ve been focusing on different things since this year began: my new blog Little Observationist, where I’ve been posting much more often than here. I’d love it if you’d follow me there. It will start to include London stories soon.

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I’m also working on some freelance writing, learning more Spanish since it’s always going to be a part of my life now, planning our wedding for June, baking once in a while and updating my Etsy shop.

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So tell me, how was your transition from 2013 to 2014? Any good New Year’s stories? Resolutions? What are you most looking forward to this year? Update me…!

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Rain, Christmas Lights and Tenerife

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It’s amazing how beautiful London can be in the rain. I walked through the seven dials in Covent Garden a few days ago and Christmas lights glistened in the puddles.

Bill Bryson once wrote:

“I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. It is, if you ask me, far more beautiful and interesting than Paris and more lively than anywhere but New York – and even New York can’t touch it in lots of important ways. It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.”

And probably more rainy days, at least this month. But if you can see past your wet shoes and wind-blown umbrella, there’s plenty of beauty there.

Anyway, I just wanted to stop in to say Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate. What’s everyone doing? Going home? Travelling? Having an orphan Christmas like I did one year? I’m leaving tomorrow and will be in Tenerife until early January, spending a warm Christmas with Jorge’s family and my 30th birthday on La Gomera, another island. In the meantime, there’s a couple of scheduled posts this week on my other blog, Little Observationist if you want to swing by. Enjoy the holidays!

Little City Observations: The Exhibition

The fire is blazing next to me and shoppers are heading past the windows of The Chance Gallery to get a head start on their Christmas shopping. It’s the last day of my photography exhibition, with about four hours to go so I thought I’d share the 18 prints that are on display so that those of you who weren’t able to make it down can see them. It was wonderful to be able to meet some of you at Monday’s opening event and more of you who popped in to say hello during the week.

I was surprised at the launch party by my dad who showed up unannounced and unexpected all the way from New York. It was an amazing night with about 100 people flowing in and out of the gallery, enjoying canapés, wine, fireplaces, photography and good company. Here’s a couple of photos before I dive into the exhibition prints:

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And these are the photos from the exhibition –

CHANCE STREET, LONDON. With bright, colourful walls and a focus on fashion, Shoreditch draws a creative crowd. It’s not unusual to see budding models, photographers, designers and bloggers collaborating to share and spread their talents. This photo shoot was taking place against a new mural by Claudia Walde, better known as MadC, from Germany. She’s worked in many countries and is one of the most well known female street artists around today.

HANBURY STREET, LONDON. Paul “DON” Smith is one of London’s most prolific street artists. He has been painting on walls since the mid-1980s. DON also worked in the film industry for 12 years, which has a heavy influence on his work, as does his passion for music. He uses stencils to create layers and often flicks extra paint onto his finished piece to add energy. This one is on the side of a concrete building on Hanbury Street, across from a shop selling vintage shoes and handbags.

HANBURY STREET, LONDON. The area around London’s Brick Lane is a street art hub and includes some legal walls like this one. The photograph shows the way art interacts with the local environment. Ben Slow’s artwork has since been painted over, but it features a white nationalist from the English Defence League (EDL) and an Islamic Extremist. Ben expected a bit of a backlash but he was surprised how well people have embraced it and understood its meaning. These two figures are worlds apart in their own minds but both represent intolerance, hatred and racism.

SPITALFIELDS MARKET, LONDON. The random message “I miss you + your character” was scrawled across the brick wall at the edge of East London’s Spitalfields Market one Sunday afternoon. It was written in chalk and didn’t seem to catch the attention of many people passing through the gates. Not long after this photograph was taken, the words were washed away with no indication of who was missed or what it was about their character that was so memorable.

WEST VILLAGE, NEW YORK CITY. It was the week of the July 2013 heat wave in New York City when temperatures rose to around 38 C. This photograph was taken in the West Village not far from the High Line. It pulls different elements together into one image that gives a sense of the area’s vibe with street art in the background on a building with peeling paint, trendy shops on the side and a young woman on a bike with her purchases.

CAMBRIDGE HEATH ROAD, LONDON. Stik’s work is highly recognisable, the figures found on many buildings in London and other locations around the world. He was homeless not so many years ago, and now people such as Bono, The Duke of Kent and Antony Gormley own his original art, making his a story of success. Painted with just five lines, two dots and a circle, each figure is meant to represent some human emotion and as this photograph shows, the paintings often interact and play with their immediate environment.

PORT OLIMPIC, BARCELONA. In the creative city of Barcelona, architecture is a major draw. This is a modern example, a ball that appears to teeter on the edge of a building near the Port Olímpic marina where sailing events were hosted during the 1992 Summer Olympics. The photograph itself is black and white to give focus to the lines and forms. It’s about finding balance.

DOWNTOWN DUBAI. Standing near the Burj Khalifa Lake, the tallest building in the world stretching up to the sky in front of him, this man was watching crowds milling around the Dubai Mall (the largest in the world) with a friend. He pointed to the camera, pointed to his artificial eye and posed for a photograph.

HANWAY PLACE, LONDON. London’s Soho neighbourhood is famous for its sex, drugs and rock and roll history. Now, its streets are lined with hipster-filled coffee shops, market booths selling vintage clothing, designer boutiques and tourists wandering in from nearby Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. This is Hanway Place which weaves its way between buildings near Oxford Street. The popular modern Michelin-starred Hakkasan restaurant is on this small street as is the impressive building that used to house the Westminster Jews’ Free School built in 1811.

CHINATOWN, LONDON. London’s Chinatown is full of colour and teeming with life, from local Londoners to Chinese immigrants to curious tourists passing through. There are bakeries selling Chinese goods, restaurants with ducks hanging in the windows and plenty of tacky souvenir shops. This photograph was taken during the city’s Chinese New Year celebrations – the largest outside of Asia. It combines small elements that give a sense of the surrounding area – the bright green bricks, the red sign with Chinese characters and some produce for sale.

SOUTH BANK, LONDON. This photograph shows the detail in one of the lampposts lining the Queen’s Walk on South Bank, looking out toward Westminster Bridge and Big Ben. These are commonly referred to as “dolphin lampposts” but are said to actually represent a type of bottom feeding fish called a sturgeon. They were designed by George John Vulliamy in the 1800s and were originally only on the other side of the river. The one in the photograph is from a series of replicas that were brought to the south side of the Thames in the 1970s.

GRACIA, BARCELONA. Barcelona mornings mean waking up with coffee and a newspaper, watching life unfold in the narrow alleyways below the flat, listening to dogs barking occasionally, workers rolling carts over the pavement and neighbours chatting. This heart was built into the iron railings of a 3rd floor balcony where the day began. The photograph was taken early on a Spring morning that turned into a warm and sunny afternoon.

FOURNIER STREET, LONDON. Fournier Street connects Commercial Street to Brick Lane, ending at BanglaCity, a supermarket, which sells all the ingredients one needs to cook tasty Asian dishes. This photograph is of a house in the middle of Fournier Street at number “eleven and a half”, an unusual address that houses an art dealership. The street itself, which has a stunning collection of Georgian homes, once housed wealthy French Huguenots who lived in the area. It was later the heart of the Jewish East End and is, most recently, the location of the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid mosque. Artists Gilbert and George have lived and worked on the street for years.

BRICK LANE, LONDON. In a city where making eye contact with strangers is uncommon, a smile exchanged between two random people is even less so. This message was written on a bright pink wall on Brick Lane, a reminder that acknowledging a stranger in a massive city like London may not always be such a bad thing after all. It may even turn out to be therapeutic.

LEAKE STREET, LONDON. In 2008, the tunnel that runs down Leake Street, under the tracks and platforms of Waterloo Station, became known as the “Graffiti Tunnel”. It started with the Cans Festival, organised by Banksy, during which talented artists filled the walls of the tunnel with art. Over the years, the space has remained open to graffiti with an “Authorised Graffiti Area” sign at the entrance, though the quality of the work on display has diminished, as is evident from these rubbish containers nearby.

NOTRE DAME, PARIS. There is an eerie stillness inside of Notre Dame. “It was a great cave in the midst of a city,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “And what were the altars and the tinsel but the sparkling stalactites, into which you entered in a moment, and where the still atmosphere and the sombre light disposed to serious and profitable thought?” The open gates in this photograph show silence, darkness and light and the seriousness of the atmosphere inside the cavernous cathedral.

CAMDEN STREET, DUBLIN. Dublin is a rainy place indeed, so this piece of urban art by Anna Doran is appropriately placed. It’s often seen interacting with the umbrella-carrying locals who pass down this creative street, walking over glistening pavements, past colourful shop fronts. There’s an organisation in Dublin called Evolve, which helps street artists like Anna find legal places to create commissioned pieces of work like this one to brighten up the city.

CITY QUAY, DUBLIN. The angle of this photograph brings to life the struggle represented by The Linesman, a bronze sculpture by Irish artist Dony MacManus. It sits on City Quayside near the point where Dublin’s River Liffey meets the sea. As the linesman is doing here, workers pulling ropes once tied up ships at the quayside. This image offers another perspective beyond the immediate view upon passing by.