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.
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.
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!
Josh (Joshua), is Don’s unofficially adopted son. They were brought together through the world’s kinder forces when Josh was around 14yrs old. Don was working in the social arena and wanted Josh to have the best chance in life. I have to admit that anyone coming into contact with Donald Clark will most likely end up with a better chance in life…because he’s an inspirational man! If you are ever near Sydney please don’t be shy to ask me for Don’s contact details and he will gladly have a Chai with you and his dog Cobber (and whomever might be staying with him from Couchsurfing at the time).
It took a few days for me to get to know Josh a little. He’s not the most talkative at first but as soon as we understood each other I was very pleased we got on well. As a portrait photographer I am always very sensitive to people’s different characteristics. Some people want their photo taken, others don’t and then there are some who just take a little time to gain their trust. I’m glad I had the time to gain Josh’s trust as I was and am very interested in his cultural and heritage.
I took this photo that evening when he came home from work and the kitchen was full with Don cooking, Sambath taking film footage, Sam Brown sitting with us and me as usual with camera in hand. For those of you who don’t know the tattoo on Josh’s arm is the Aboriginal Flag. I had to be a little cheeky to ask him if I could photograph it when I noticed it peeking out from under his t-shirt…but that sensitive audaciousness of mine worked out well…resulting in one of my favourite portraits from my time in Sydney. By the way the rabbit behind is from the rugby football team Sydney Rabbitohs.
Thanks for sharing your home with me brother Josh 🙂
Samantha Brown (Sam), is a friend from Leeds where I used to live. When we both found out we’d be in Sydney at the same time as she was relocating to work as an Accountant, we’d said that we’d catch up for a drink. Little did we know that she would be living less than a minutes walk from where I happened to be staying with Don. She came round and I made us all Chai and Don cooked the most wonderful curry…photos to follow. It was lovely to be able to introduce Sam to one of her new neighbours so she’d have a friendly face in the area.