12 Dec 2018

power of love

I've neglected writing about my roots for a while now. Granted they're bubbling beneath my current project but the death of my mum almost two years ago seems to have consciously or not put that to one side. In fact that's the subject of a blog post that's been in draft for over a year now following my discovery of a wonderful book by Paul Treacy called SE26 at the 2nd London Photography Symposum.
Paul lives in a part of south London my mum spent her last weeks in. The photographs that make up his book are, for me, a beautiful and evocative reflection on the time I spent with her in and around that area. It's a special book even without the connection I made to it as it's a portrait of a neighbourhood as lived in by the photographer. Each image stands alone but you can appreciate it is part of a larger experience and set of narratives you're privileged to glimpse into and wonder about.
In the serendipitous way I love life works my interest in anything street was piqued by the publication of How Graffiti Saved My Dad's Life. It's both an important document of contemporary social commentary across the landscape of London and a love letter from a daughter to a father commemorating celebrating his passion and her efforts to sustain it through his terminal illness.
Colossive Pres
I found the story an inspirational illustration of how pictures can act as a bridge between different worlds on so many levels and to its viewers in so many different ways. What's that sound? Ah, just another echo of Ambiguous.
My own connection was that while reading the book it became evident that the wonderful photographer was in the same hospice as my mum at around the same time. It gave me an illogical sense of comfort and a reconnection with both the power of photography...and the power of love too.

30 Nov 2018


I've eased the transition to post-season by going to some talks by photographers about their practice. Being me there's a London angle to them of course. 

I welcomed the opportunity to revisit the London Nights show at the Museum of London. Both it and the talk gave me such inspiration I was propelled into the streets outside. There's a tension in my relationship with the City. I love the diversity of the West End versus the homogeneity of the street life of the square mile however I can't deny a fascination with its historical context. To that end it was inevitable I was drawn to an icon of the show, St Paul's Cathedral.
It's hard not to look at the image of St Paul's featured in the show in the midst of the Blitz by Herbert Mason in the context of today's debate about Britain's role in the world. It's suffused with a sense of standing alone against European tyranny and it's propaganda value is just as powerful today as in 1940. So it was with fascination I found in its grounds a funfair that had been installed for the Lord Mayor's Show that weekend contrarily, or perhaps not, shared with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
St Paul's photograph
The carousel's seats, occupied by cut-out figures swaying lifeless in the wind and rain presented too easy a metaphor for the current political climate. However the role of the night was the dominant feeling for me. The darkness accentuated the spot-lit dome like a surreal inverse of a wartime blackout. The only sound was of the wind through the carefully placed trees. The amusements observed their own embarrassed silence, knowing it wasn't the time or the place to hook a frog, prize every time.  
All these sensations were in stark contrast to my daytime experience of London and they were brought to the surface again thanks to another night-time talk, this time on the other side of the City in Aldgate. 
After hearing Tom Hunter passionately give London Independent Photography's annual talk (reminding me of another Hackney advocate) I was drawn to wander the streets outside around Petticoat Lane in the shadows of the office blocks and converted warehouses of Bishopsgate. 
Petticoat Lane photograph
Despite the encroachment on all sides those streets still bear some testimony to another London. One well documented by some of my favourite photographers so there was undeniably a feeling of nostalgia but also one of embracing the future. As much as these new buildings represent life for the few not the many London, indeed any city, is constantly in flux.
Like months to a flame people are drawn here.

30 Oct 2018

same old waltz

Stockholm's not been one of my top cities to visit but in a twist of fate - very street - I had a few days there this month and found it offered a different dimension to my New Europe project. 
Sweden's image as a model society of tolerance and equality has recently been challenged by, guess what, the rise of a populist agenda driven by fear of immigrants. To help me get closer to the experience of this it was great to see an exhibition at the Moderna Museet called With The Future Behind Us
A range of artists addressed the themes of the show neatly expressed in the title, looking at the past, present and future experience of daily life in Sweden and weaving a narrative through a diverse collection of pieces that for me expressed the tension of life in Europe today as commonly held principles of society appear to be teetering on the edge of falling apart.
I find the experience of going to different sorts of exhibitions really informs my work but I know I gravitate to pieces where the street forms a constituent part. This show was no different and I really liked the piece by John Willgren set in a street in Stockholm where with a devastatingly simple idea critiqued the current political situation with reference to a period of European history that is now seen as a lesson that we seem deaf to hear.
John Willgren
Now I have a project to work to I find it fascinating how it informs my way of taking pictures which I've prided myself - perhaps through my own insecurities - as being of the moment with no agenda or conscious plan behind it.  
I'm finding that I'm not deliberately looking - if such a concept is true - for the themes that are already emerging but it's really helping me look differently at my contact sheets beyond what I'd regard as a "good" picture i.e. compositionally into something which not be as good but in context works to help tell a story. I'm sorry this is hardly a profound insight but hey these things take time.

30 Sept 2018

new europe dawns

It's early days but I'm beginning to see a story developing with the New Europe series. I was busy this year on the streets of London, of course, and Rome, for the first time. The cities give me the opportunity to counterpoint the frontline of Italy with a peculiar phoney war feel to the UK.

The sequence on the website is still pretty random but I'm still shuffling the sequence as I sense some threads to work with.  
People seeking inspiration, direction.
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph
People coming together.
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph 
Barriers, Resistance.
link to New Europe photograph
link to New Europe photograph

I accept it's simple stuff but for me at least, which is kinda why I do this, it's a way of developing my style of work to depict a different sort of personal story.
More to follow.

24 Aug 2018

modernising street photography #3

The significance of street photography in the mental health of those who practice it was a fascinating insight for me from this year's Street London event. It was touched on in last year's event by Richard Sterne but two testimonies by Cam Crosland and David Gaberle were incredibly honest and all the more powerful for that. 
In a way they put the main theme of the event about ethics and morality into perspective.  
There was some consensus around the photographer's personal responsibility to treat people with respect but not to the point of self-censorship i.e. shoot first, then decide what to do afterwards. That visceral, instinctive response is for me one of the essences of working in the street. Over-thinking dilutes that spontaneity and indeed originality.  
However Jeff Mermelstein's private text photographs proved a challenge when the "how would you feel if it was you?" question was posed. Certainly using the technology of the day and reflecting the culture of the moment made it an interesting project for me and something ironically I was taken by in the inaugural London Street Photography Symposium.
Post production as illustrated by Chris Dorley-Brown's The Corners was another angle on the premise - or promise - of authenticity. That contract between photographer and viewer that what they're seeing did happen in reality. Ah reality, there's an idea. Merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
These debates are not new. Take Weegee and Fenton for example. Yet it's interesting to consider the impact of digital on both these topics. Arguably the initial taking and then the re-making of photographs has engendered less and more thought respectively.
Dear me, this post is getting a little too existential. Back to the event.
It was refreshing to hear Simon Roberts talk, well introduced by what can be regarded as the first street photograph, highlighted the detailed planning that goes into his work. Hours of preparation for literally a handful of great images. 
Dorothy Bohm also proudly recounted her ability to make the most of the limited resources in post-war Manchester. Her lifelong commitment to photography was inspirational.
Perhaps Joel Meyerowitz nailed it in his address. Neatly closing the loop on Julie Hrudova's Street Repeat he made a powerful argument for the role - and the right - to take photographs in the street to make your own signature regardless of how original or not the composition or subject of the image. What's important is to be your own witness. I'd interpret that message both of the external and your internal worlds.
 Honest pictures.

29 Jul 2018

open city?

Rome has been in my sights for a while now. 
Perhaps it's the influence of William KleinRoberto Rosslini, or even Francesco Totti but it also has present day relevance at the front line of the debate about immigration, nationality and citizenship. 
My series New Europe is a personal reflection I've been developing around the context of my pictures. Not the specific location or time of day. Still respecting the anonymity/ambiguity of people. Back to one of my favourite words, palimpsest. Another layer of interpretation, of possible meaning, that intrigues me.
link to Rome contact sheet 
Anyway. It's a good opportunity to show a contact sheet and start the post-conception phase I enjoy! 

21 Jun 2018

always first steps

I'm really enjoying my participation in the my local London Independent Photography group. I'm in my second year which feels like a (small) achievement after previous failures to commit to group photography projects.
As well as showing and discussing photography the group is actively involved in local exhibitions. Last year's group show had a really interesting theme and this year's is just as good. So good I've ended up in the team organising it!
Oblique Strategies is an approach that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt evolved in the 70s to overcome creative blocks. I remember interviews with David Bowie talking about his writing technique of cutting up words so it was fascinating to see how this had been formalised, industrialised even, into a process and used on his Berlin albums produced by, guess who, Brian Eno.
Each of the group were drawn a statement from the set of Oblique Strategies to respond to with a photograph. Always First Steps was mine. Well how easy was that going to be? Despite an aspiration to try different techniques by joining the group I do find myself back in my safety zone. So how about a blur of shoes on Waterloo Station's Odessa Steps? Perhaps a crowd crossing Oxford Circus Shibuya-style? Over complicating it? OK then, a kid on reins. Job done.
Well not quite. 
To do justice to the project - and Brian and David too - I felt I needed to dig a little deeper. One of the many exciting aspects of talking photographs on the street is, one of my favourite words, serendipity. That moment when two, or more if you're especially fortunate, elements come together. They are rare but incredibly rewarding
So what did I come up with? 
link to Venice images
The reason why I don't title any of my pictures is just to let people read whatever they want into them. It was one of the motivations for The Ambiguous Project!
It's fascinating showing this image to people, revealing the "title" and listening to their interpretation. I'm sure there's some psychological process at work here. The same way perhaps we make connections between images and soundtracks we need to rationalise what we're seeing, no matter how arbitrary. To achieve dissonance is a real challenge. Aha. 
I feel another project coming on...

30 May 2018

city of stars

Wonderful to see London Nights a new photography show at the Museum of London. I really think it's my favourite museum and it was an honour to show my work there in the survey of London street photography. There's a strong thread of street in this show...from times way before the phrase had been coined so it's a great opportunity to look at those photographers and their work.
I was really pleased that the exhibition lead with a photograph by Paul Martin. I first became aware of his work courtesy of the show I mentioned above and he's a real pioneer of this form of photography. Well worth looking up. It was great to discover another "unknown" Mercie Lack. Details of her photography are scant - as are much about her life - so it's great to find an audience for her work in the 21st century which can admire her work both creatively and politically. I'd love to see her story developed.
Mercie Lack's Late Extra
              Late Extra, Mercie Lack
There's so much to see at the show and it's achieved by a feat of curation by Anna Sparham. More well known work by Bill Brandt has to be included and rightly so but I appreciated the chance to see more contemporary work and the use of film and video too. Rut Blees Luxemburg's piece London/Winterreise, 2013 is a salutary reflection on the state of London today referencing classical architecture and music. Inspirational. 
link to Tokyo night image 
The show challenged me directly too. I've taken night time pictures in other cities but why not London? Am I too obsessed with my daytime practice? The 360 work I made - interestingly enough also in Tokyo - was a step towards a new form of expression. Well maybe it's time for my own Winterreise moment.

10 Apr 2018

dear, damned. deceptive city

I'm always on the lookout for photography books about cities - London in particular of courseso I was really pleased to discover both a wonderful book and a photographer I'd known nothing about. It affirms my faith in the photobook as a 
Londýn 60. let / Sixties London by Miloň Novotný affirms my faith in the photobook as not just a nostalgic trip to the past or an arms length glimpse of a  another world but as much a reflection on our own place and times. I found myself visualising the exact spots where Novotný would have stood in Picaddilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road or Cornhill. Reminds me of the Street Museum idea that I still would love to do something with. Oh dear. Too late.
Milan Novotny's londyn 60. let review 
For me there's a connection to the work of Markéta Luskačová and Sergio Larraín which makes it all he more interesting, a kind of cross referencing of people and place with the eyes of a outsider.
Social class as explicitly referenced in the photographs of the City and the East End is a common denominator but so is the less stratified world of the West End. It resonates with me as I've always enjoyed the social mix drawn by the shops, businesses and tourist attractions there. The City has some of that and arguably the East End is on its way. Maybe it's the South Londoner in me that's behind this so I love to see how photographers from different backgrounds approach the city.
I couldn't resist titling this post with a phrase A.G. Hughes uses in his essay accompanying Novotný's photographs. Dear, damned, deceptive city. It's a dramatic phrase, in a way at odds with the images at first glance. Yet thinking of the times these pictures were made London was undergoing enormous social and physical change, transforming the city in similar ways to our present time. I can't see it appearing as an advertising strap line on the Tube but I feel it around me. 
 Dear, damned, deceptive city.

27 Mar 2018


Ah the Spring Equinox is here. No, I've not suddenly converted to pagansim, although it's somewhere in my roots. It's my time to come out of hibernation and start to take pictures again. I often wonder why I make things so hard for myself. 
I love making photographs in the sun. In London. Yes London.  
I like working during the week. The West End at the weekend just doesn't have that mix of people and purpose I love. 
Oh yes and I love film. 35mm, 36 frames. 
link to Venice images
Let's do the maths. 

Optimal light, Spring to Autumn Equinox, 26 weeks. Tops.

5 days a week. Not sunny every day. Call it 1 day a week. Average. It's London remember?
1 roll of film a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It's expensive.

Makes 936 pictures by my reckoning.


For the year.

Now we can begin.

5% of those 936 are worth looking at a second time.

Half of those 46 a 3rd look.

Of those, 5 (6 if I'm lucky) might have something about them. Not always obvious but just enough.

So you can see why I'm excited. The new year is now.

Can't wait to see what it brings me.

Busy Sean Time.

3 Mar 2018

street philosophy

I see a new book on Garry Winogrand is about to be launched. Written by Geoff Dyer whose book The Ongoing Moment I really enjoyed for his lateral take on the history of photography I'm sure it'll be a good read.
Garry Winogrand is such a go-to reference for what I'll call classic - and others may call old fashioned - street photography that it's curious I honestly was not aware of his work when I started practising. Apologies if that's disingenuous. I can see my work reads like a Winogrand-lite tribute act. 
Oxford Street photograph
But my inspiration I recall was through the documentary work of Don McCullin's Homecoming and W. Eugene Smith's Minamata. Back in the day what became known as street wasn't publicly available, in the UK at least. Yes it feels a little sepia toned even writing this. Let me fetch more ink for my quill...
At that time I actually made this type of work, in style and in conscience. Now, in retrospect, it's one of those what-if questions about life (in)decisions. I know I struggled with the anthropological/us & them approach to documentary work which I why I admired for example Jim Goldberg's Rich and Poor project that found a way to break down the viewer/photographer/subject relationship into something fresh. 
I have to accept my own style can easily be seen as making no challenge to those relationships. There's no collaboration between myself and what I photograph. They are still subjects. I seek no deeper insight into their condition. My only only nod to objectivity is not to caption the picture. And yet it's that very ambiguity that I find fascinating and enduring. Geoff Dyer comments in his book on a particular Winogrand photograph from the late 50s/early 60s
In colour, people seem necessarily to be walking into the future (when the overwhelming bulk of photography will be colour); in black-and-white, they are emerging from the past (when black-and-white was considered the only medium for serious photography).
It's a question I've thought with regard to my own work. Is it simply a nostalgia trip, a re-tread of old tropes that were new and radical back in the day but now really saying nothing new? I've fallen back on on jazz, one of my favourite comparisons, and the way that standard compositions can be endlessly re-interpreted. I guess the challenge for me is to stay Miles Davis and not Kenny G...
New York City 1987 photograph
Tokyo 2017 photograph
I'm now looking back at my work from thirty years ago and, yes, those people are still emerging from the past...as they are from last year too. Does that continuity, that plus ça change, say anything worthwhile? I hesitate to use the phrase human condition as for me it's rooted in that black and white world of Life and Picture Post photography that in a contrary way reinforced social stereotypes while ostensibly celebrating them. But hey are we any more sophisticated now? 
Perhaps I just need to appreciate these pictures for what they are. Tiny breadcrumbs of my life. Watch out. Sounds like a book title...

15 Feb 2018

bienvenidos angelenos

If you've seen my work in the Los Angeles Center of Photography's latest show Street Shooting Around the World then welcome!
link to new Europe images 
I'm really proud to have been selected by Gus PowellThe image has particular resonance as I've taken it in my home town London as part of my current series New Europe   
It's not a documentary project, more a personal response to what it is now to live in Europe. You can read more about that story here.
It's great to show in America again as my time living in New York City back in the 80s was an incredible influence on my work, and life too in lots of ways.
If you're interested in finding out more about my work you can reach me at sean@waysofwalking.net
Thank you!

12 Jan 2018

tale of two cities

I have a confession to make. I cannot resist books about London. Not the "1001 things you didn't know" sort - although I'd make an exception for Ed Gilnert's The London Compendium and, er, Nicholas Barton's The Lost Rivers of London. Anyway you get the idea. I've written about fiction and historical novels as sources of inspiration but two books I've recently read with more of a documentary angle really made me reflect on the present day London.
book covers
I've been an admirer of Iain Sinclair's writing about London since I read Lights Out for the Territory. His leaps of imagination, making links across time and space, really attracted me. In fact the subtitle of that book was 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London (I know, I know, it's just another exception) and he introduced me to the wonderful word palimpsest as applied to the streets of London still bearing traces of their existence as thoroughfares for Romans or Victorians. I really connected to this vision of London as both organic and mythical: a world simultaneously virtual and real as brought to life by Streetmuseum. 
Sinclair's novel The Last London has a different tone. The layers of history he's mined are now exhausted as London's latest incarnation is populated by people living "above the city, floating on their devices" in a perpetual present tense, in a virtual world disconnected from any historic, cultural or social roots. This is a London he doesn't know how to interpret any more. His reference points carelessly uprooted, appropriated and repackaged to feed the global market.
However he also is disturbed by another consequence and, unexpectedly for me, it linked his and Ben Judah's This is London. Where Sinclair observes the evidence of immigrants sleeping rough at the side of a canal yards from an artisan cafe, Judah is sleeping alongside them in the underpass at Hyde Park Corner listening to the footsteps of the new denizens of the city in a nightmare soundscape. However he shares Sinclair's troubles that he also doesn't understand what London has become.
It's a powerful book. Judah facilitates the stories of people not in the gentle style of Craig Taylor's Londoners but in a sequence of personal testimonies you might hear from voices on a BBC World Service documentary but here in London. Today. At the Museum of London last year I heard Judah passionately narrate his last chapter about Hajji an imam who washes the bodies of the dead before burial. "There are angels hovering over Leyton". I've just checked when he spoke. It was the day before Grenfell. What's that about palimpsests again?
Perhaps I had some intuition about the relationship of the two books. Most likely it was simply two sides of the same coin but after reading them I felt something more fundamental. 2017 was a defining year for London in the way 2016 was for the country The city has always had the capacity to contain a multitude of narratives but the fear that we are all becoming party to a more institutionalised version, a place closer to Beszél and Ul Qoma, leaves me uneasy.
Not so uneasy as to leave however. I'm not going anywhere just yet.