Street Photography in the City of London

Businessmen and passers-by in the neighborhood of the City of London

I was in London. I had to make about 30 portrait photos for company. During the lunch break, one hour, I took advantage of it to take a little street photo. Curiously, I was very intimidated at first. Usually, I’m like a rhinoceros running around in the savannah, like a madman. And then I spotted a man with a bald head who made me think of a character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And then, for 30 minutes, I chased the faces out of the neighborhood.


Four glances that caught my eye

It was definitely a thrilling exercise for the gaze to browse the stands of the 149 galleries selected in Paris Photo, the international fair of Parisian photography. Four glances caught my eye, and I’m going to present them to you.

I’m always searching for inspiration when I browse through photo books.

Do you know the Cannes Film Festival? Well, Paris Photo is pretty much the same thing but centered around photography (it’s also a little less glamorous). Paris Photo is an international art fair of photography held annually since 1997 in Paris, in November. The fair takes place in the Grand Palais, exhibition hall and museum complex located at the famous Champs-Élysées. Every year, Paris Photo invites a selected country and their native artists. I had the pleasure to meet some great photographers, whose books are in my book shelves.

I am a passionate amateur photographer, and above all I am an avid photo book reader. I think books are the lifeblood of every passionate photographer. Photography cannot be practiced without a culture of the image. We’ll always need some inspiration from the photo books. Let’s meet these four talented and inspiring photographers.

Mao Ishikawa 石川 真生, who documented the American occupation of Japanese territory in the 1970s  

Have you ever read Hot Days in Camp Hansen or Red Flower, The Women of Okinawa by Mao Ishikawa? The first book is very hard to find and is now very expensive. Red Flower is still available and its price is affordable. The book contains magnificent black-and-white photographs taken between 1975 and 1977, showing Mao and her friends, along with black soldiers who frequented bars in the occupied territories of Okinawa. 

Speaking a little Japanese, I was able to sympathize with the famous photographer who has a lot of humour! She began photographing American soldiers in a bar in the Afro district of Koza city. To make this project Mao worked there for a period of around 2 years. The result is a frank and cheerful portrait of the girls she worked and lived with and the GIs who frequented the bar from that district of Koza city.

Mark Cohen, an intrusive street photographer

I had an other appointment with photographer Stuart Freedman. When I saw this gentleman with thick glasses. His face looked familiar. Shit! Mark Cohen, over here! Unbelievable. He was presenting his new book, Mexico City. Always close to his subjects, Cohen manages to release from his images the surrealism and strangeness of a daily life. Like photographer Stuart Freedman, Mark Cohen becomes a magician, he makes the most banal details poetic. He really captures the strangeness of everyday life.

Mark Cohen may not be well known to the French. He is, however, one of the greatest street photographers like Bruce Gilden. Mark Cohen is a trailblazer in invasive, or as Cohen calls it, intrusive street photography. He works with his rangefinder, flash and photographs often just fragments of bodies, foot, limbs ,lips, details of clothing… I have been deeply inspired by his book: “Grim Street“ and “Dark Knees.”

If you look at his video, you may notice, Mark Cohen approaches his subjects very close, in the space of a few fractions of a second, and takes them to flight, sometimes dazzled by the artificial light of the flash. For me, he belongs to this family of action photographers like Dougie Wallace, Bruce Gilden or even Nick Turpin. He’s a master of street photography!   

Dougie Wallace, a funny street photographer

Dougie Wallace is also called Glasweegee. These colored photos remind me of Garry Winogrand or Bruce Gilden. I love his large format Hardback book Road Wallah. His style is an overabundance of post-production in terms of warm colors, but they have raw, filmic energy. Obviously, the theme of India, has made me buy this book published by Dewi Lewis Publishing. Like Bruce Gilden or Mark Cohen, Glasweegee’s approach consists in capturing the subject just before they become aware they are being photographed. The result is a bunch of human expressions, from astonishment to amazement, while the overwhelming heat, noise and movement of the city are palpable beyond the cabin. 

Now you might think it’s easy right? Back in 2012, I tried to do the same thing with the Delhi autorickshaws. I missed all my pictures. You could always see my reflection on the windshield. So I asked Dougie, curiously, how he did it. Do you think he kept it a secret? No, he enthusiastically explained his approach technique to me. That’s why I encourage you to go to Paris Photo, to discuss with these famous photographers and get some advices. During the fair, Dougie Wallace was presenting his latest book Well Heeled. My children and I laughed as we watched these incredible portraits of dogs. My daughter told me, they look like tex avery dogs because of the strong expressions. It’s not a touching book about cute dogs. It’s a relentlessly intrusive photography book.   

Stewart Freedman, the photographer who writes love letters

On December the 13th,2015, I was talking to Steve McCurry at the Artazart bookstore in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. Next to the piles of books belonging to this photojournalism star, there was a book with a red and blue cover that caught our attention. When I leafed through the pages of this book entitled The Palaces of Memory, I was struck by the serene beauty of photography. I did not hesitate to buy the book and I even wrote to its author, Stewart Freedman, to congratulate him. I think this is the first time that I have taken this photo book in my bag, which I consulted every day. I found the book calm, soothing and romantic. And then he reminded me of the Indian Coffee House where I was going to relax. The Palaces of Memory focuses on the history of Indian Coffee House, a restaurant chain in India, run by a series of worker co-operative societies, originally founded amidst the cultural and political tumult of India in the 1930’s. Palace of Memory is a love letter and pictures tribute to Indian Coffee House. In 2017, Stewart Freedman wrote a second love letter to London’s Eel, Pie and Mash shops. 

On Saturday, November the 11th, at 6:30PM, I met Stewart Freedman for the first time at the Paris Photo fair. He dedicated his second book The Englishman and the Ee at the stand of Dewi Lewis Publishing. The Englishman and the Ee is a photo documentary, a journey into that most London of institutions, the Eel, Pie and Mash shop. In my opinion, his first two books should be seen as stanzas of epicurean poetry. The first stanza was dedicated to the pleasure of the table of Indian Coffee House and to the behind-the-scenes life in restaurants. The second stanza was dedicated to the behind-the-scenes life in London’s Eel, Pie and Mash shops. If you like poetry in pictures, I advise you to discover Stuart Freedman’s work.

Information about photographers

Maho Ishikawa: Mao does not have an official website but she is very active on Facebook.
https://www.facebook.com/MaoIshikawa2017 or https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_Ishikawa

Mark Cohen: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Cohen_(photographer)

Dougie Wallace: http://www.dougiewallace.com

Stewart Freedman: http://www.stuartfreedman.com/


Beautiful Lighting with Pocket Box

Lightweight, handy and fantastic

Today, I went to the Afro district in Paris, in the 14th district of Paris. I had a client to photograph on Friday morning, and I wanted to test the Pocket Box Mini Speedlight Softbox. My impression? It’s lightweight, handy and fantastic. 

The dome diffuser ? Convenient but not extraordinary.

IBack in 2008, when I started photography, I used to go to the Afro district. I was looking for a lively atmosphere and wanted to overcome my shyness in photography. I was using a speedlite flash with a dome diffuser, a translucent plastic box that you push onto the end of our flash. The dome diffuser consumes 2-3 stops of flash. For me, they create dramatic falloff. It’s convenient, but it’s not extraordinary.

The mini Softbox? Very useful!

In 2016, during a fashion shooting with the Indian designer Rahul Mishra, I met a photographer who was using a mini Softbox. I am always curious about the practice of my confreres, so I wanted to see the pictures he had taken with his Softbox. I was surprised by the results. I like experiments. One year after, I bought this cheap tool too. I went back to Rue du Château, in the 14th district of Paris. There’s a lot of Afro hairdressers. It’s a nice place for the street portraits. People all have incredible haircuts. The walls are full of colorful grafitties. In my opinion, on street photography, one of the convenient and most reliable ways to sync your flash off-camera is with the use of a simple wire. I use for example a Flash Sync Cable Cord For Canon.

I did a classic 45/45

I did a classic 45/45 (45 degrees up and 45 degrees over) portrait. I’ll find lighting a person in profile is somehow more efficient. I brought my light with the mini Softbox around to camera left for a moody profile shot. If I have changed my distance, I’ll have to readjust myflash power to get a proper exposure. and you have to drop your flash exposure anyway. And I’ve done about 20 portraits that you can observe. For this time, I preferred black and white. The effect is interesting. 

Well… The mini Softbox does a good job of diffusing the light for its size.

I was looking for an easy to use mini softbox for easy portraits and also using it as a key light when shooting with another flash for bounce. This box is well made and does a good job of diffusing the light for its size. There are many other models as effective as this one. Go to ebay or amazon and you will find good light boxes very cheap which will help you can make good portraits.

Photo: Serge Bouvet

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