China Town, London

China Town's are a regular feature of many of our city's here in the UK and I think it is often forgotten how much Chinese culture has permeated that of the West. How many of us consider Chinese food (albeit a British version) to be their favourite cuisine? I wonder if people in China feel the same about a Sunday roast, or a shepherds pie? Somehow I doubt it.

I recently spent a night down in London shooting the hustle and night life in our countries largest China Town. It was a Friday night and the streets were packed with people dining out, tourists passing through, and the local traders trying to tempt customers into their establishments. The area was not short on street photographers either with my final count for the night totalling 4 others trying to do the same.

I tried to capture the highly varied life and activity in the area around Gerrard Street and Lisle Street using my old Canon 5D and Sigma 85mm Art lens. The area was so full of life, and its occupants so used to street photography, that it was easy to feel comfortable shooting out in the open. Nobody challenged me as I shot images of workers in restaurants and tourists passing through. That's definitely one of the benefits of shooting street in London, no one seems to care if you shove a camera in their face!

I originally shot in colour which I felt was the only way to do justice to the life and light in the area however when I tried editing in mono in Lightroom, I felt that the black and white look gave the images a different feel. Here are a selection of my favourite images from the night.

 Smoke break I.

Smoke break I.

 Watching people watching people go by.

Watching people watching people go by.

 Prepping.

Prepping.

 Door man.

Door man.

 Welcoming party.

Welcoming party.

 Smoke break II.

Smoke break II.

 Portrait with lollipop.

Portrait with lollipop.

 Steam.

Steam.

 Smoke break III.

Smoke break III.

 Late night delivery.

Late night delivery.

 Access to Opium.

Access to Opium.

 Still life.

Still life.

 Give me a break.

Give me a break.

 Window shopping.

Window shopping.

The What and the Why

My social media bios, like a lot of other peoples, proudly state that I am a ‘photographer’. Such a statement may lead people to think that being a photographer is an endpoint, or a destination. In fact if there is anything that my short years of working with the medium has taught me it is that it’s most definitely a journey that does not stop. Knowing where the journey will take you is impossible, however having an understanding of some of the steps you need to take is not. One of the first steps is deciding on what you want to capture through the viewfinder and why

This sounds like an easy first step but in fact it is possibly the hardest to take and it is something that I myself am still wrestling with. Why? Well I believe it stems from the way I have developed my use of photography as a means of expression. Social media platforms, mainly Instagram, and their peer-to-peer approval stimulated release of endorphins, have been the sole driver of my work as a photographer. Instagram in particular has been my only outlet for the images I chose to share and while I am the first to espouse the greatness of the platform (I’ve been on it since 2011!), it does have subtle side effects that have an impact on developing photographers. The first of these is the single image approach to sharing content.

This single image style of shooting and sharing has definitely had an impact on my development as a photographer I feel. Now I am the first to admit that I have been entirely complicit in this developmental issue through my addiction to Instagram. The one post at a time and subsequent ‘flood of likes’ nature of the platform has caused me to become lazy with the narrative of my work and the reason behind it. Although I have always put thought into each individual shot, I have not purposely gone about shooting for a longer term reason or for a larger project. In part this was because it was it not how success is measured in the world of instant celebration and gratification that is social media. Sure there is the option to post 'albums' of images in a single post, but in my experience this does not allow a set of images to be shared as a group with the corresponding story or message being adequately conveyed. As a result of this I had not really taken the time to develop my own style or plan and work on longer term projects, until now. 

Developing as a photographer via the Instagram route has also come with the side effect of a blindness to the history of the art form, its techniques, and its past masters. While many people may think that in this age of digital photography where everyone can be a ‘photographer’, such knowledge and understanding is not so important. However in my mind that is where the journey to becoming a photographer really begins. It’s important to know what has gone before when trying to understand how to create something new. In some ways, starting out with photography via Instagram is kind of the wrong way of coming at it because you jump straight into sharing your work without really taking the time to understand how imagery in the past has been taken, curated and shared up until this point in time.

As I said at the start, the most difficult thing about photography is not what is going on in front of the camera but what is going on behind it, inside the head of the photographer. The story and the reason behind a shot, the thought process that led to the photographer being in a given space at a given time is where good photography begins. It may seem obvious however it is often given no regard whatsoever. Pick up any photography book and two things will strike you immediately; the presence of the photographers own style in the images and the reason behind the work. To build a meaningful narrative for ones work which tells a specific story or conveys a message in your own unique style, is the biggest challenge in photography. This is the step I have been working on for for a while now as I continue this journey as a developing photographer.

Having identified this need in my own work though, I must say that I am both incredibly excited and yet utterly terrified at the prospect. Before really becoming aware of this I would blissfully shoot at random all day long, with no purpose and no real focus. Ignorance was bliss. Now I have an appreciation of the enormity of the journey in front of me, I know I have my work cut out for me. 

But at least I am on the journey and I think I know what my next steps are, if not where they will take me.  

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2017 BEST OF

2017 has come and gone and what do I have to show for it, well besides taking some major steps in my personal and professional life, I also have my 24 favourite images from the last year to show! Enjoy!

  January: Misty morning in Brindleyplace.

January: Misty morning in Brindleyplace.

  January: Paradise time warp. For a moment it felt like I had been transported back to the 1950's.

January: Paradise time warp. For a moment it felt like I had been transported back to the 1950's.

  February: Sutton Park sunrise fog.

February: Sutton Park sunrise fog.

  March: Custard Factory in the rain. One of my most liked images of 2017 and also the first image I ever sold.

March: Custard Factory in the rain. One of my most liked images of 2017 and also the first image I ever sold.

  May: Rotunda after hours. Shot from the penthouse apartment of the Rotunda just after the sun set.

May: Rotunda after hours. Shot from the penthouse apartment of the Rotunda just after the sun set.

  May: Taking it all in. An image which has been shot many times but still one of my favourites.

May: Taking it all in. An image which has been shot many times but still one of my favourites.

  May: Hanif. My most liked image of the year. this guys is a legend and can be found on insta at @ha_nif13.

May: Hanif. My most liked image of the year. this guys is a legend and can be found on insta at @ha_nif13.

  June: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery catching the sun.

June: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery catching the sun.

  June: Gas Street Basin Sunset.

June: Gas Street Basin Sunset.

  July: Livery Street Bridge.

July: Livery Street Bridge.

  August: Lauren Kate in Sutton Park.

August: Lauren Kate in Sutton Park.

  August: Margarita Latoseva.

August: Margarita Latoseva.

  August: Summer rain.

August: Summer rain.

  September: Margarita Latoseva

September: Margarita Latoseva

  September: Guitar man. Shot during the 2017 Birmingham Weekender event.

September: Guitar man. Shot during the 2017 Birmingham Weekender event.

  October: Brumrise from the roof of the 27-storey McLaren building.

October: Brumrise from the roof of the 27-storey McLaren building.

  October: Gun Quarter sunrise in mono.

October: Gun Quarter sunrise in mono.

  November: Waterfall on the Isle of Skye.

November: Waterfall on the Isle of Skye.

  November: Great Western Arcade at Christmas.

November: Great Western Arcade at Christmas.

  November: The Talk. 

November: The Talk. 

  November: The Rotunda and the Bullring as seen from Deritend.

November: The Rotunda and the Bullring as seen from Deritend.

  December: Moseley in the snow.

December: Moseley in the snow.

  December: Boxing day madness in the centre of Birmingham.

December: Boxing day madness in the centre of Birmingham.