the freeborn travelling portrait project

A culmination of my love of people, travel and photography

Mekong Mechanic


One of my favourite and most memorable moments from my fortunate adventures around the world so far. A simple exchange took place with this mechanic, as I wandered through the vibrant and colourful local market, in the city of Ben Tre, on the Mekong Delta.

Skipping from one shaded part of the market to the next and I passed by him, smiling and saying hello in Vietnamese… “Chào” (pronounced “jow”). He enjoyed hearing it in my amusing Irish accent. I asked if he was happy for me to make his portrait and this is the result.

Of course I was sure to give thanks in Vietnamese… “Cảm ơn” (pronounced “gam uhhn”). It’s wonderful to think what you can fit into less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette…a human connection that’s imprinted on your mind forever! An openness of spirit and the effort to learn a few words and phrases of a new language can go a long way. One day I hope to see Vietnam again. Who knows maybe we’ll cross paths again one day!

London Fashion Week Musings

Faye Dinsmore, London  ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

With the recent buzz of London Fashion Week I was inspired to share some portraits I made earlier this year. Faye Dinsmore, one of my neighbours from back home in Donegal, in the Irish countryside, dropped by for lunch one day last spring. She had flown over for modelling work, from Dublin, where she is based, after graduating there in French and Classics at Trinity College. Faye is on the books of agencies in London, Paris and Barcelona and is looked after by Distinct Model Management in Dublin. She also recently landed a contract at Ford Models agency in New York which has seen the likes of Elle Macpherson and David Gandy on it’s books.

Faye was interested to hear about my photojournalism travel blogging and I was in turn interested to hear about her life adventures. I wanted to take Faye somewhere authentic and chose one of my favourite cultural delights in Victoria, Costa Coffee Boutique. Far from the regular Costa Coffee chain outlet, when you step inside this cafe you genuinely feel as if you’ve been transported to 1980’s Italy with beautiful ornate tiling and a glass topped bar where you can view a selection of coffee beans whilst you sip on that perfect brew!

Fitting that it is, the owner and his wife emigrated to London in the 1980’s and have never looked back since. The owner’s manner is so charming, as he slowly potters around making your coffee and food with a relaxed latin style. In central London this is a real treat, considering most people move at breakneck speed! The original retro decor matches the ambience and flavour of this wonderful little haven of culture! It’s fair to say we had a grand ole time of it chatting at a rate of ninety whilst soaking in the sunshine on that crisp cool bright day. We’d both been in touch with each other’s lives from Facebook but there’s no substitute for conversing in person. True Irish craic! A term that I explained to the world last March on Humans of New York or HONY as it’s often referred to. More on that in another blog post soon.

Faye Dinsmore, London  ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

Coming from our respective family farms and ending up in the creative urban environment, Faye living in Dublin and me in London, through our creativity we have travelled the world, but our hearts will always have a place in Donegal. Both passionate about our homeland, we chatted about Ireland’s development over the past few decades. Most interestingly we’ve seen it evolve into the tech capital of Europe, with numerous international IT companies basing their European headquarters in Dublin, including Google, Facebook, Paypal, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Twitter. Apple have their European HQ in Cork.

The existence and rapid growth of this industry has been one of Ireland’s major economic saving graces. Faye’s equally talented entrepreneurial fiance, Wicklow-born Paddy Cosgrave has brilliantly promoted Ireland through international networking. He is the man behind Europe’s top tech event Web Summit which brings over 20,000 of the international IT community to Dublin for a three day event. He also runs a more curated event for 200 guests called F.ounders, which brings the founders of major tech companies to an exclusive event which runs alongside the Summit. 

A lot was said in one lunch hour but of course we’re Irish so rapid conversation really wasn’t an issue for us. Faye and I are also both major fans of Irish craft especially Donegal tweed and woollen products. It’s refreshing that current fashion favors them considering the 70’s folk wear which has made a major return to the scene in the last few years alongside folk music. The international renowned Magee business is based only a few miles from our families home now run by Paddy Temple, who I photographed last summer at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh.

Faye Dinsmore, London   ©Gavin Freeborn

Faye Dinsmore, London
©Gavin Freeborn

On a recent trip home I visited Foxford Wollen Mills in Mayo, which has a fascinating history, started by a nun during famine times to help support the community. No matter how far we go from home it’s good to know that just like our old Italian friend, we will always value and celebrate the traditional roots we come from.

In a world of increasing consumerism and fast fashion I would encourage you to buy local products where possible. Most importantly buy good quality which will last and always recycle the clothes you no longer need as someone else will be glad to have them. As a child on the farm in 1980’s Ireland which was then a developing country, I certainly got excited when my older family members handed me down the clothes they grew out of…think local, think quality and think sustainability!

I made a few quick portraits of Faye at Chelsea College of Arts, coincidentally home of UAL’s TED (Textiles Environment Design)…experts and industry leaders in sustainable textile design.The first image was taken inside in the magical space that is the Old College Library. The building was previously the Royal Medical College built at the turn of the last century and opened in 1907. Considering Faye is usually seen on the cover of the Italian Vogue, Cosmopolitan and the likes it was really nice to make these natural portraits and see her pure Donegal beauty radiating on that crisp spring day. Later in summer the press reported that Faye and Paddy are so busy they hardly have time to make their wedding plans. Isn’t it great to see two such beacons of nouveau Ireland light shining out of the economy. I’m glad we got to catch up that day and who knows where in the world we’ll next cross paths!

Read more about London Fashion Week

Explore Donegal and Ireland

Follow Faye’s adventures on Instagram, Twitter and her blog

Follow Paddy on Twitter and read about the Web Summit and Founders

Shop at Magee or Foxford

Explore the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh

Learn about Textiles Environment Design 

The Magical Creative Journey of Honami Nishii

Summer 2014 has been another long hot one, much to the joy of myself and many others here in London. There’s hardly been a moment to take a breath and of course this means I have been lucky enough to meet more wonderful people and create lots of interesting portraits, which you will get to experience in the coming weeks.

A major highlight of the start of the season was the Chelsea College of Arts undergraduate show, which produced a myriad of talent in fine art, interior and spatial design, graphic design communication and textile design. Much of the final year students’ work really captivated me and one in particular which stood out was textile designer Honami Nishii.

©Honami Nishii

Degree Show ©Honami Nishii

In her graduate collection Honami printed computer files as textile reliefs. She was inspired by how digital technology is influenced by our lives. Data is a material with very special qualities: it is flexible, it can not age, and we can output it anytime. Using digital icons as print patterns, she imagined what materiality these intangible elements have.

©Honami Nishii

Untitled Folders ©Honami Nishii

Her Untitled Folders piece stopped me in my tracks and I instantly wanted to know more about it. I also thought of the thousands of portraits I have in my own folders and how they hide away so easily behind these small blue files on my Apple Mac.

Honami Nishii in Crystal Palace

Honami Nishii in Crystal Palace    ©Gavin Freeborn

Honami, originally from Japan came to London five years ago and has been engrossed in creative learning since she first stepped off the plane. Spending a number of months enlightening herself travelling in Europe before her studies, it’s obvious to me that Honami’s creativity has really blossomed during her time here and at Chelsea, part of the University of the Arts London. Now she is in her last few months in Europe as if sandwiched in time around her studies. These in and out periods act as a playful and informative time which prepares one for the next step in life.

Honami on her temporary street

Honami on her temporary street    ©Gavin Freeborn

As Honami will return to Japan soon she has been feeling free in London, having all sorts of magical adventures including house-sitting for friends in Crystal Palace. I went to explore the area for the first time as I’d heard lots of good reports about the neighbourhood and wanted to interview and photograph Honami in her temporary home.

As always my epicurean streak came out and I googled the best places for Sunday brunch. The Blackbird Bakery came up tops, so we arranged to start our conversation there…whilst feasting our eyes and our bellies on their homemade delights. Satisfied and as full as frogs we literally rolled down the hill and Honami took me to the wonderful Haynes Lane Market where we enjoyed rummaging through antiques including a vintage gramophone which linked nicely to our progression into the digital age.

We headed down the hill to visit the lovely semi-detached family home that Honami was taking care for a few weeks. I could really see that she was in her element in this beautiful space where her friend, a fellow designer and her author husband used the garage and a garden shed as their work spaces, in a lovely little garden which magically leads into an allotment that looks down over the valley towards Kent. It’s like something out of a novel that likely sits on one of the many bookshelves in this family home.

I photographed Honami in her temporary abode…with the essence of England and London all around her. Little signs like the Queens’ ERII insignia embroidered on a chair she sat on, a whole bookshelf dedicated to London in her room. We ended our shoot in the garden where Honami opened the door into the allotment producing a feeling of pure magic.

Honami on British soil

Honami on British soil ©GavinFreeborn

The Curiosities of London

The Curiosities of London ©GavinFreeborn

Honami's Secret Garden

Honami’s Secret Garden ©GavinFreeborn

The Next Step

Honami’s Future ©GavinFreeborn

Over Thai food that evening I talked excitedly about my own deep roots surrounded by the cultural and creative jewels of my homeland in Ireland. I recommending strongly that Honami spends at least a week discovering the mystical island I originally came from. I’m sure she will find plenty of inspiration there to take back with her to Japan and a little fairy dust too. Talking of Japan, I was lucky enough to spend a month there myself some time ago and look forward to seeing it again one day for further explorations.

Interestingly Honami told me her family name Nishii means West and her mother’s maiden name is Azuma, which means East. So if “nomen est omen” as the old Latin saying goes, then her time here has surely seen that destiny through with East meeting West. In terms of what is next on her life journey in Europe and when she returns to her home country Japan, whatever Honami’s future holds I’m sure it will be a bright one as she’s a stellar creative and a wonderful young lady.

Take a look at Honami’s website and enjoy the film she made to show her creative process.

The Pure Genius of Plume

Dan McMahon, the Genius behind Plumemudguard

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

I ride a beautiful 30yr old vintage Raleigh racing bicycle and like many others who ride beautiful bikes, mudguards are an ongoing subject of conversation. Stylish bike lovers often don’t want an ugly mudguard on their streamlined fashionable mode of two wheeled transport…..and living in London where it rains fairly regularly makes this a logistical challenge! It was just that which inspired Dan McMahon (pictured above), when he was studying at Camberwell College of Arts, part of University of the Arts London and riding around London having to choose between getting wet or defacing his bike. Dan decided to try and find a design led answer to this challenge and after years of research, planning, a crowd funding campaign and blood, sweat and tears of course….PlumeMudguard was born! Plume is the world’s first recoiling bicycle mudguard.

Sleek, stylish, minimal Plume

Sleek, stylish, minimal Plume

It was when working for Chelsea College of Arts myself, I recently received our staff newsletter and spotted a story about Dan and his product being shortlisted for the 2014 Design of the Year. Finally, someone had invented a sleek utilitarian and yet stylish product to match my needs, and the needs of tens of thousands of riders around the world. I signed up for the Plume newsletter to find out when it would next be in stock. I was hooked!

Plume recoiled

Plume recoiled with it’s added reflector

Then I spotted that Plume was based in London and Brooklyn. I happened to be heading to Brooklyn soon after to visit friends so I got in touch with Dan to catch up with him and his awesome Plume. He was coming back from some travel the day before I left Brooklyn but we managed to cross paths a few hours before I flew back to London. It was great to meet the creative mind behind a product which I honestly believe is a little stroke of genius!

©gavinfreeborn (8)©gavinfreeborn (9)

As I truly believe in this product and feel the world should know too…I want to spread the “Gospel of Plume” so tell all your friends and feel free to re-blog or share this because if those who read it are half as excited about Plume as I am then they will be joyous of your sharing!

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

Dan McMahon, Brooklyn, USA

See Plume in 2014 Design of the Year exhibition in London until August and get in line for 2014’s hottest new product. And if you see this man….please shake his hand…for he has changed the cycle industry forever…Ride On Dan McMahon.

Femi: Egyptian for Love … Southbank Skatepark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged on here as I’ve been fully integrating into my new life in London, settling into and blogging daily for work, in an exciting job in marketing and communications at Chelsea College of Arts, part of University of Arts London (UAL). I have an extensive body of work from my travels and early days in London, which I haven’t blogged but recently showed some of it in a staff exhibition at Chelsea. I felt a sense of achievement from a professional hang such as this. Anyhow…there will be more posting in the near future hopefully now that I am more settled…living in the awesome neighbourhood of Brixton

Today I was in town to see a few exhibitions with a friend. I wandered by the River Thames past the colourful South Bank Skatepark which has been threatened with closure recently by the development of a commercial development. The Long Live Southbank (LLSB) campaign was created and has had support from everyone from Thom Yorke from Radiohead to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who The Guardian explains has halted the £120m development plan by saying that the skatepark should be left in place.

As we arrived to spectate the skaters entertain, I spotted a real character, who I asked if I could make his portrait. He said a number of people had asked and he’d said no to them…but for some reason I got a yes!


Originally born in Manchester but now living in London, he is called Femi, which after research I see is a unisex name of African origin, meaning “Love Me” or “Love” in Egyptian.


The Colour of Love and the upcoming Valentine’s Day of course is often seen as red, which Femi is currently sporting in his very own way. It’s also the colour of the famous Manchester United football team coincidentally…always a great colour on these crisp days…crimson against the grey of London’s current climate. London is full of fabulous characters to photograph so I hope you enjoy Femi.

©gavinfreeborn (2)

Nell Bryden – A Pure Legend of a Woman

©gavinfreeborn ©gavinfreeborn (1) ©gavinfreeborn (2)

I first met Nell Bryden years ago when she played at WuFest @ Dr Wu’s Bar in Leeds, organised by our mutual friend and superwoman Emma Tate nee McPartland whose wedding I had the pleasure of shooting a few years after. From the moment I first saw and heard Nell perform I knew there was just something about her. Nell and I met at Wufest a few years running when she was over from New York and we would have our annual catch up sitting by the mesmerising silver ball fountain sculpture on Calls Landing near the river Aire. A year would have gone by and we would hear each others news on life, love and lots more.

Time passed and for various reasons we didn’t cross paths both being busy in our own lives. I was out of the country a few times when Nell played Leeds again, although I was aware she had been making waves in the UK music scene with six playlisted singles on BBC Radio 2. The Irish broadcasting legend Sir Terry Wogan is a big fan! So when I was searching gig listings in London recently and found Nell was playing the Roundhouse in Camden, I was super excited to catch up with an old friend. Then I read news of Nell’s experience with battle with hair loss through alopecia which was detailed in her feature in the Daily Mail.

Nell full life story can be read here. It really is a truly unique and wonderful story showing how life shapes people. Through being a highly sociable person I meet a lot of folk and I feel very lucky to have happened upon such a talented strong and inspirational human being. Nell grew up on Brooklyn and was there when the 9/11 attack devastated her home city of New York. It took her a long time to write about it but when she did she really did! Every time I listen to this track Sirens it brings me close to tears. In my opinion President Barack Obama should have this song as the unofficial national anthem of the United States of America…what would fit better for a nation who are pushing to improve themselves and stay strong in times of uncertainty?

Nell is starting her new tour in May so don’t miss out if you get the chance the voice of this Pure Legend of a Woman.

Looking forward to seeing you again soon Nell.

Faces of St. Patrick’s Day London 2013

Mighty Craic!

Mighty Craic!


©gavinfreeborn (7)

©gavinfreeborn (6)

©gavinfreeborn (5)

©gavinfreeborn (4)

©gavinfreeborn (3)

©gavinfreeborn (2)

Commissioned by Irish in Britain who do sterling work for the Irish community on these shores!

A nod to my good friend Tenacious JHCG


Tenacious JHCG

John Henry Coe Graham, tenacious indeed!

Memoires from recent time spent visiting an old college friend in the Irish countryside.

So, John and I first knew each other when we were in class together at Greenmount College studying Agricultural Technology, John was “Dairy mad” and I was “heading towards the ancillary industries of agriculture e.g. the supermarket business”. At that stage John and I clashed in persona and we didn’t really see eye-to-eye.

After three years on that course together with a “sandwich year” on work placement in the middle (where we worked in our chosen industries not just ate sandwiches) John and I went our separate ways. John went on to farm full-time and work for the IFA (Irish Farmers Association)…at one stage he was doing both full-time jobs in two different ends of the country!

England called me to my top-up degree in Marketing, a brief appearance on the English national TV appearance on Channel 4’s Faking It show learning to be a Hairdresser, assistant managing an Irish bar in London’s West End, working in sales and marketing in the English Lake District, marketing, communications and cultural project management for Leeds Metropolitan University, managing music festival arenas such as Leeds and Latitude Festivals, lecturing a little in marketing and developing a passion and career as a Photographer, most recently whilst making this blog.

John happened to come from a few miles from my Granny in the scenic western county of Sligo. I can’t remember who got in touch with who a few years after we left college but I was invited to visit and stay with John and his family for a night after Christmas around 2002. Lo and behold…we actually got on very well as friends! Maybe outside a college class situation we were calmer, maybe the scenic vistas of Sligo made us feel more relaxed around each other, maybe it was the foot deep snow that Christmas…or just more likely we’d grown up a little after a few years in the big wide world as proper functioning adults.

Since then John and I have kept in touch via phone, text, email, Facebook and most recently Instagram. I had been waiting to visit him and catch up on this my most recent trip to Ireland but since I was heavily involved in helping my parents with renovations at my original family home on the farm in Donegal, I hadn’t much time to spare. Finally I got to go on my “staycation” to Sligo, heart and mind full of excitement to see my old mate. It had been a few years due to me being out of Europe recently and John being away for a few Christmases. I had heard the tremendous news of his engagement and I was delighted to hear that his fiancee had recently moved down to the farm in Sligo carving herself out a rural career in teaching, business consultancy and farming.

That Thursday evening our time began with John’s homemade creation (in between all the farming duties….TENACIOUS AS EVER) of beautiful roast salmon dinner and a glass of vino but only after meeting his fine lady who no more than myself would “talk the hind leg of a donkey!” (Miss McNulty has roots in Donegal very near me so like me, has the “Donegal non stop talking gene”).

Then on to a fun night of great “ceol agus craic” (singing and good times in Gaelic) watching and dancing to one of John’s old school friends Sharon Conway and her band Ruby Ridge in Hargodans Pub, Sligo…both stunningly beautiful and Ireland’s finest…Sharon and Hargodans that is! The household even returned home with a free CD as a prize for the best dancing.

Friday was spent out on the farm with John which I very much enjoyed. Farming for me is fine recreationally…as long as I don’t have to do it for any length of time…I love the countryside and have a love of the land but to be a full time farmer really is relentless hard work. People often complain about farmers but do they realise how hard farmers actually work to produce the food that we all need to survive?!

After a great staycation and technically John taking part in The Freeborn Travelling Portrait Project I bid them adieu and John’s advice for my career and future is “You were born to make people happy…that’s your talent!” and “You have a natural ability for opening people up and getting them to communicate freely”.

Although work isn’t particularly easy to come by in London I’m certainly meeting lots of great people and sure as the saying and the song goes “people make the world go round”. I’m sure if I keep true to myself and keep communicating openly with people, more opportunities in photography, marketing, communications, cultural project management will come my way. I’m also aiming to learn the art of mixology.

Who knows what I’ll have to report when I next visit Tenacious JHCG! Whatever it is I’ll be happy to see him and his lovely lady Brid on their little patch of rural bliss in County Sligo, Ireland.


So…I’ve been in the Irish countryside working on the farm, chopping wood, growing a beard and working in the garden. Now I’m back in London and I wanted to share more of the interesting experiences I had when I travelled the world and expanded my mind. I have a host of images in my “bank” that I’d like the world to have the opportunity to see….and here are some more of them…

As we say in Ireland…”What’s the story?”…..Well, my younger brother Stuart (Disco Stu) and I travelled to eastern europe for a week last June, from Budapest out to Lake Balaton to visit some family and then up to Bratislava, across to Vienna, down to Gyor in northwest Hungary and back to Budapest. It was quite the spin!

We had 24hrs in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava which we found very charming. Arriving at a Couchsurfing social with our bags on our backs (or wheels because it’s the way to go these days) we offered two lucky leprechauns to the highest social bidder! Well it was a fun night and we ended up staying with top bloke called Anton Cernak who we had lots in common with and had a right laugh.

We only visited the Tourist Information Office once, preferring to find our own way around, but when we did the gruff lady who “received” us…gave us the wrong time for the bus to Vienna. I always do my best to turn a negative into a positive and found myself enjoying the funky artistically decorated graffiti of Bratislava’s bus station. When I went to the toilet and stood at the urinal this shaved headed guy walked in and at first I put my hand to my pocket in case of being pick-pocketed (I shouldn’t have judged so quick) only to find that the guy was working as the toilet attendant. He was fixing the soap in a net that hung above the wash hand basin to avoid the soap getting dropped on the floor. I commented “that’s clever” and smiled at him (not something most straight guys do in toilets considering that even making eye contact with another guy is a real no-no…and women actually accompany each other to the toilet…???).

He then came out of the toilet and lit a cigarette as I was leaving. I couldn’t resist capturing the image of such a striking character, of course introducing myself first and asking his permission.

He told me his name was Vladimir…

I then ran for the bus to find that it wasn’t coming for another hour so I popped back to chat with him a little more and take this photo as I wanted to get a little closer and see some more of his great character.

The moral of the story is that as much as I try not to stereotype it’s slightly engrained. The above photo is of Vladimir holding my business card after we had a broken English/Slovakian (I had a handful of words)…and he was an absolute gent.

It’s amazing where you can meet real characters in this world and how wrong you can be when jumping to stereotypical conclusions. I’m just glad I observed who Vladimir really was, spent a little time with him and gave him a coin for keeping the Bratislavan capital’s bus station toilet clean and presentable.

Marjorie & Me

So I’ve been travelling at a fairly rapid pace these past few months, through Japan, Singapore, England, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Ireland. I’ve been zipping across the British Isles visiting family and friends. Of course, throughout this time I have continued to take quite a few photographs which I will be blogging here retrospectively.

Japan was a phenomenal cultural experience, a truly alien experience and yet wonderful! I made some fantastic friends for life there and hope to return one day. I’m working on a photo essay of Japan which I will post a link to soon.

Eastern Europe was great but my time there was short, taking in three countries in one week with my younger brother Stu who I absolutely love travelling with. We spent two months travelling SE Asia together at the very start of this blog. You can look back to the archives for November and December if you haven’t already seen this.

It’s been quite the experience returning to the UK and Ireland with refreshed spirit and eyes. I have some beautiful moments to share from this time too.

I’m currently staying on Amhurst Road, Hackney in a friend’s apartment for three weeks whilst she’s on holiday. I’m living on a 44p reduced IKG Sourdough bread and using my friend’s girls vintage Olympics bicycle to explore the creative and edgy East End with a view to living here for a while.

The other evening I cycled up to Homerton Hospital to the NHS walk-in centre to see a doctor as my recent chest infection morphed into a sinus infection (all part of travelling fatigue..typically you get sick as soon as you rest for a while)…afterwards I cycled through Clapton, Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, Church Street, Clissold Park and Dalston and it’s certainly quite the neighbourhood here!

As I was cycling round Dalston I spotted a characterful old lady and stopped to chat with her. During the hour I spent in the bus shelter with 86yr old Marjorie (my new girlfriend) we talked about her life here over the past 50yrs in London, travelling from Trinidad on a boat and living in a basement with 20 people, pregnant and in her early twenties during the race riots, going dancing in Stoke Newington Town Hall and watching shows in the famous Hackney Empire Theatre, plus raising a family throughout all of this!

I had stopped and asked if I could make Marjorie’s portrait using Instagram on my iPhone and was pleasantly surprised when she suggested we sit down and have that chat. Afterwards I asked if I could return to make Marjorie’s portrait with my SLR camera one day and next time I intend to do her full justice with a fully professional image which I will share here and hope to make part of The Freeborn Travelling Portrait exhibition one day.

Although I am back in England and some would say I have finished travelling however I would disagree because I feel I can continue to travel every day. It’s people like Marjorie who are the reason I started this blog and the reason the project will continue now that I have wifi and I’m “a little” more settled.

So watch this space and pass on my blog to everyone you think might be interested. I intend to share my travels retrospectively and give you highlights of London’s most interesting people, places and culture!


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