New York through the Lens

 

22/July/2015

My wistful yearning and melancholy longing for New York sent me back to this populous city to complete my photography works with my analogue and digital gears. It was a mixed sad and happy feeling, a pleasant memory filled with sadness that I might not have a wonderful experience like the one I had before. My memories of this vast city have always pierced my mind with incommunicable sweetness such that the mere mention of “New York” brings good images of what I really desire- to explore the ever-changing landscapes of New York City through photography and writing. My main aim was to capture, explore humanity, human behaviour, relationships between people, and the association between people and their environment. The essence of this kind of photography is the impulse to capture candid images in the course of everyday life. To me, street photography is both ambitions and humble. Ambitious, in the sense that it aims at depicting life in its different manifestations- joy, sadness, absurdity, grotesque, fun, irony, melancholy and innocence. Humble, since it depicts the everyday situations.

In the 1960s, New York was the central nerve of photography where prominent photographers would sometimes meet. Practitioners, including Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz, crisscrossed Manhattan and other places to capture shots that caught the city’s myriad dramas, tempo and its citizens both at play and at work. Winogrand set a strong platform for street photography such that it was impossible not to follow in his footsteps. Meyerowitz compared Winogrand’s influences to jazz and explained that one just had to join in the groove. More than four decades later, Friedlander, Meyerowitz and Winogrand are still influential figures in street photography, even to a generation that is hell-bent on rediscovering and re-inventing the form. Many pioneers of photography- Jacques Henri Lartigue, Brassai, Eugène Atget, André Kertéz, Walker Evans, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank –are all street photographers, as the term is now used to denote an attitude and a genre that was defined by New York photographers in the 60s and 70s. Today, street photography is particularly a contested area in which all collective anxieties come together: paedophilia, terrorism, surveillance and intrusion. It is ironical that we insist on our right to privacy and yet we end up snapping everyone and anything we see-both in private and in public-on digital cameras and mobile phones. Perhaps this could explain why the New York police have become increasingly aggressive and the fact that they use violent means to approach individuals who use photography on crucial landmarks. They are neither helpful nor polite. My encounter with the police was a frightening experience. A policeman questioned me of what I was doing as I tried to take pictures of the black people dancing on the street. Since I am deaf, I could not hear he was saying as I was walking ahead of them and he tapped me hard on my shoulder. I sighed with relief when a nice lady explained to them that I was deaf, which made him hung his head in embarrassment. I was even more perplexed when the police apprehended the dancers for using loud music.

I could not allow my unpleasant encounter with the policeman to dampen to spirits. My exciting walking tour through Little Italy explored the former homes, social clubs and haunts of the most influential mobsters of the 20th century. My efforts to get a glimpse of the mafia works were not fruitful as they were very secretive. However, I could recognise some people by their smart suits and shiny gleaming oiled hairs. It was best not to approach them as I might have become one of the victims of the Costa nostra! Evidence of the erosion of Little Italy’s past is written all over the original police precinct that has now been replaced by condos.

I managed to reach the top observation tower at the Rockefeller centre to explore the beautiful city.  It was already evening when the high human traffic and too many vehicles clogged the road after work hours. From the top, I could see the Times Square, Central Park, the Empire State Building and other popular places.  I had previously read a lot about this emblematic cityscape and its complex elements that make it appealing to visitors from different parts of the world. With so much cultural and history surrounding the Rockefeller centre, it was definitely a must-see New York City attraction. Despite the bad weather, I enjoyed the views of the entire city from every angle. It was a quick visit but I managed to take amazing photos that show how big the city is.

Perhaps the most memorable part of my tour was my encounter with the Amish people in Orange County. I have always known the Amish for their plain dress, simple living and their reluctance to embrace the conveniences of technology. It is no wonder that they shied off from the camera in a bid to avoid an encounter with modern technology and other influences. But it was a delight to see the older Amish girls and women in their caps and aprons and the boys and men in suspenders, broad fall trousers and broad hats.

My exploration of the magnificent New York City led me to Brooklyn, the most populous of the city’s five boroughs. When someone mentions Brooklyn, memories of baseball, egg creams and beaches come to mind. But the focal point of Brooklyn is her incredible intensity and diversity. As I traversed the commercial and residential streets, I couldn’t help but notice the presence of vibrant communities from different parts of the world. Many neighbourhoods in Brooklyn are ethnic enclaves, predominated by particular nationality and ethnic groups and cultures. Particularly, the Borough Park is predominantly Jewish. Again, like the Amish, the Jewish girls and women were dressed in modest, loose-fitting dresses while the boys and men wore black pants or suits with hats or yarmulkes.

At last I got to see the famous Coney Island, with the funfairs and trains travelling on top of cars. I had only seen it in the fantastic French Connection crime drama film starring Gene Hackman. As usual, my camera clicked away, capturing the fantastical and the real as they blurred together.

There is so much to experience in the city of New York, whether you want culture, sunshine or simply great drink and food.  My street photographs of New York convey the irony, the beauty and the humour of everyday life, by juxtaposing people and the environment to create an interesting effect. It would be great to come back more often to see how much this beautiful city is changing.

Contax645 & ContaxG2 

   Kodak BWCN 400, Portra 160, 400

An Englishman in Paris

15/June/2015

The incredibly inspiring and invigorating nature of photography deepens my senses and awakens me to discover new irony, pattern, colour, beauty and more. It is for this reason that it became imperative for me to go back to Paris to recreate the role of Eugene Atget, who found his calling in documenting old Paris before its radical physical transformation in mid-19th century. To me, photography is a way of touching, of feeling, of catching a passing moment by holding it still. I enjoy travelling, I enjoy photography and I enjoy food and Paris came to my mind as the best destination to put these three things together.

Style and art seemed to seep from every pore but I was unable to capture them wholly using my analogue gadgets because of the high traffic density and the high number of people rushing up or down the streets. The last time I set foot on this populous city of France, my camera clicked away numerous times but the many distractions did not allow me to capture nice shots. So this time I landed in Paris with one goal in mind to story tell with art. Unfortunately, I was unable to see many places as I had planned due to time constraints and the traffic was also horrendous!

I idled away a few hours in the intricate backstreets of Montmartre neighbourhood where many famous artists had studios including Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, Camille Pissarro and Salvador Dali. I photographed many people while traversing this incredibly unique place but some were not obliging!  I decided to keep a map in my pocket and wandered through the cobbled and steep streets of one of the most interesting and historic neighbourhoods in Paris. This very place had seen the emergence of the Turkish and the eastern community who were not as friendly as I had imagined. Besides that, the sight alone was simply remarkable-dirty and messy than before! The famous Parisian architecture and the gastronomic restaurants have become a thing of the past and the imprint of western civilisation was evident all over the kebabs and the one euro shops that sell cheap and tacky clothes!

I came across many landmarks but I was not lucky to get in as countless nationalities mixed on the long queues especially at the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, I got to visit the Notre-Dame, a gothic masterpiece on a tiny island in the heart of Paris. The building was the first cathedral to be constructed on a monumental scale and became an architectural prototype for future cathedrals such as Rheims or Chartres and cathedral of Amiens, just to name a few.

A walk in Paris provided invaluable lessons in history, art, beauty and life in general. One may wonder Paris is always the number one destination for many photographers. For 15 years, I have been travelling South of France and the answer seems quite simple to me because Paris is a great source of ideas. Just like Italy, Iran….. or Spain are the best sources of saffron. If you want to get opium poppies you go to South-East Asia or Burma but if you want to harvest novel ideas, Paris is the ideal place. Back in my hotel room, I sat on the bed and flipped through the shots that I had taken earlier in the day.  I doubt that anyone can develop a painting or a photograph or a symphony that can compete with a magnificent city such as Paris. It is simply impossible. Because every boulevard, every street has its own unique art form and when you think of the violent, cold and meaningless universe in which Paris exists, you meet the lights. I mean, nothing happening on Neptune or Jupiter can be compared to the lights, the cafes, and the wonderful and chaotic sounds of jubilant Parisians drinking and singing. For all we know, stories are found everywhere in Paris, even on the subway commute in the evening. To me, London is a riddle. Paris is an explanation. I know that someday I will fall in love, drink coffee, get lost, go shopping and have fun in Paris.

Like water, creativity fuels my growth as a photographer and enables me to see something differently with my photography. However, technological advances of the digital age make it nearly impossible to create compelling and lasting photography. For me, there is nothing more important than being authentic, and perhaps this explains why I like presenting objects without making alterations. After using my new contaxG2 35mm camera, I was deliriously happy with the outcome and I will definitely use it for my many travelogues in the future since it is also easy to carry around. I took some pictures with Contax 645 although I mainly used professional Portra 400 film for this trip since it delivers reliable and consistent results under a wide range of lighting situations.

I lost track of the hours and could not believe that it was finally time to pack up and leave. Upon my arrival in the huge ponderous London, I was suddenly filled with despair at the thought of not being able to see croissants, the Eiffel Tower, baguettes and the ladies on gorgeous bicycles that had I had become used to during my long stay in Paris.

Contax645 & ContaxG2

    Kodak BWCN 400, Portra 160, 400

Venice, The Floating City

21/Oct/2014

I have encountered my best moments in this world during my wanderings through sumptuous sites and breathing in the extraordinary extravagances of a cocktail of cultures. I had heard and read a lot about Venice and even I found myself thrilling at the thought of visiting the floating city, perhaps because of its romantic atmosphere, unique culture and fine architecture. While documentaries, photos and articles show the very best things to savour in the city, from wine to tapas, to local cicchetti dishes, to the historic landmarks, particularly, my visit to Venice was triggered by the desire to capture the intriguing largely forgotten stories of Italy through the lens. As my camera clicked away to record shots of the sinking city, I noticed that Venice is so picturesque such that it looks like a move set. Inevitably, it was a point for me as a Venice lover to look beyond the alluring sight of the glittering city and over to the cluster of islands across the lagoon that was once known as homes of thriving communities. 

I began to explore the city on St. Mark’s square and the cathedral courtyard, the lowest points of the city. At some point, I took a gondola in order to get around quickly. A gondola ride will do for those who wish to have a romantic ride, although they are restricted to more scenic purposes rather than transporting people from one point to another. I preferred walking for the most part of my trip because my attempt to ride on the gondola was thwarted by the feeling of uneasiness caused by the presence of loving couples all over!

When turning down the streets and embankments that appealed to me, I came upon many surprises of a world hastening towards ruin. The sight left me pondering about the apocalyptic scenarios that have been left behind after the city has battled the water since it was founded 1, 600 years ago. As I perused through a local newspaper, I came across an article about the city working on a project to prevent the floods that threaten to erode its sense of place and that experts are uncertain about the possibility of restoring the city’s diminishing glory. I gathered from the person standing next to me that the daily visitors to the city outstrip the population living there and that beleaguered residents are backing the idea to control the flow of tourists. At this point, I could not keep my mind from thinking “can a city have it all? – is it possible for it to be both a nice place to live and a tourist attraction?” Well, maybe I should have posed this question to the water that slithered through the manhole covers, first bubbling slowly, then more steadily. I even attempted, for my own satisfaction, to understand “this man-made disaster” but no explanation appeared adequate. Those with sensitive noses claim the water stinks; for some, it smells of the sea.

The first thing I noticed upon my arrival in Venice is the absence of anything with wheels (cars, scooters, bikes, buses and trains although I spotted a number of odd goods trolleys and wheelbarrows). Exploring the city without any wheels made it a particularly pleasant experience. Although the absence of cars makes this pedestrian city easily traversable, standing and walking all day can also be very exhausting.  During my wanderings, I enjoyed walking through the Rialtine islands, which are small enough for one to walk from one end to another in about an hour although with special attention to all the tiny walkways and canals to avoid getting lost.

As I made my way through the marble archways, mould-filled staircases and vaulted passages that led nowhere, it became clear to me that Venice is not an easy city to explore. I got lost several times and the wrong directions I was given by the local people made it worse for me keeping in mind that I am deaf and cannot understand their lingos! I found myself in the middle of the crowd, being pushed here and there, and experiencing difficulty getting my photography right.  Crowds can sometimes be beastly, but I could not allow that to deny me the peace of mind I needed to enjoy my trip. And yes, Venice, the once magnificent and powerful mercantile sea power is sinking, literally beneath the rising sea levels as well as figuratively under the massive weight of the endless number of tourists. However, this beguiling city has managed to rise beyond these obstacles to continue thriving as the pre-eminent location in Italy for contemporary art.  A walk along the Grand Canal gives one a panoramic view of high-end hotels that have sprung up while the back alleys are now filled with a string of new night spots and restaurants. So, these impressive features made it possible for me to leave the famous sights to the crowds and to shift my focus to the less overt splendours of this watery wonderland. However, well-travelled spots including Murano, which is widely known for glassmaking and Burano, whose residents are famous for lace-making, provided remarkable scenery for my photography because of the colourful houses and warm-heartedness of the people!

The savoury food was excellent, but I did not come across different delicacies as I traversed the city, it was all the same spaghetti Bolognese meatballs etc.!  Dining out in Venice is very expensive, and to think that I had almost believed that Monte Carlo was the most expensive destination I have been!

The time in the big city felt like years, and I spent much of my time wandering aimlessly, with my analogue gadgets in hand ready to record every interesting thing I set my eyes on. Using my analogue cameras was not a pleasant experience because I was being pushed by people and it took some time before I could capture good shots. Perhaps I should bring my digital camera next time to avoid wasting my film rolls!

Contax645 & Leica M6

    Kodak BWCN 400, Portra 160, 400 & 800 

Fuji 400H, Kodak Gold 200

Tri-X, XR2 & 125PX

 

 

Traversing Transylvania

11/Aug/2014

I was in Transylvania for another leg of my analogue photography tour and I was thinking about the region before I came here was about mountains, dark forests, vampires myths and Dracula!

All four things exist in Transylvania, well maybe the forest isn’t that dark but there are a lot of trees. I did visit Dracula’s Castle that stays in Bran, near Brasov which is the biggest city of the area. Transylvania is by far the most romantic and inspiring of Romania’s provinces. Its very name brings to mind visions of mountain peaks rising up to the sky above wooded valleys and sparkling streams, visions of high-roofed wooden churches, legendary castles and a troubled history.

But there is much more to it: ski resorts and health spas, hiking trails and the Retezat National Park, fascinating medieval towns, art museums and good hotels. In Transylvania new vistas and leisure activities appear wherever I go. 

It lies in the central part of the country, surrounded by the Carpathians which cross Romania. One of the main cities, Cluj-Napoca, stands on the plateau, while Brasov and Sibiu are at the foothills of the southern Carpathians. The shepherd is honoured as a guardian of an ancestral rural heritage.

This medieval city, picturesquely situated nearby the Postavaru Mountain, is both fascinating in it and is close to Transylvania’s major mountain resort area, with first class hotels.  the Old Saxon architecture around the 14th century Black Church, the ruins of the citadel, and the 18th century Old Town Hall.

A trip to take from Brasov is to the castle of Bran, supposed to have been the home of Prince Vlad Tepes, who inspired Dracula’s legend, Bran Castle is a good castle to visit but don’t expect Dracula here. The grounds and views are great as is the self-guided tour through many rooms. Furnishings and history of occupancy are explained in fact, not fiction.

Transylvania is best known as the mysterious land of bloodthirsty vampires and howling wolves. Some may think it’s fictional, but the central Romanian region is a real place. And it’s pretty special, too. Some people warn me not to get bitten by anything but I did get bit by a stray dog who came me from behind as I was in a private property taking a picture and was surrounded by a small crowd of stray dogs who was smaller but very ferocious. After I got bitten more of a scratch I was worried I was turning into a vampire or werewolves but ended up only a relief but sore scratch to show.

Bordered to the east by the Carpathian Mountains, ‘the land beyond the forest’ still feels undiscovered. So, pack your garlic – here’s the lowdown on one of Eastern Europe’s most captivating regions.

While it’s hard to avoid the creepy count, you’ll also find hardwood forests, lush pastures and wildflower meadows. Described as ‘the last truly medieval landscape in Europe’, travelling around Transylvania feels like you’ve gone back 100 years. Horse-drawn carts rumble along dirt roads, while shepherds tend their flocks and villagers make hay while the sun shines. Keep your romantic notions in check, though. This also means poor infrastructure, such as pot-holed roads and slow trains, so I’ll need a bit of patience. Trains were slow, so buses were my best bet between towns and cities, but I did hire a car to explore the countryside.  Driving conditions aren’t as bad as some make out. Crater-sized potholes and the odd stray dog were my biggest challenges.

The foods at the restaurants were a very French influenced idea and I did savour most of them and they were very nice but ended up diarrhoea most of the times!

The people were friendly and helpful but not to the dark skinned people from gypsy and old Turkish region at the town where I did tried to take social documentary pictures were not very friendly as the looks on their faces were very aggressive and very alienated.

Contax645 & Leica M6

    Kodak BWCN 400, Portra 160

Fuji 400H, 200 Superia & Gold 200

Neopan 400

Sidari, Corfu: A Greek Tragedy

23/July/2014

Splinters of sunlight sipped through the tree branches as we approached Paleokatrista, a quieter and more relaxed resort on Corfu’s west coast. As we walked through the town that stands on high cliffs tops, we enjoyed the view of the beaches and sea below. The crystal blue waters and the golden sand left us with a deep-rooted appreciation for the breathtaking natural beauty of the region.  The main part of Paleokatrista has bars, cafes, shops, restaurants and a number of large car parks. We could see people enjoying a variety of seaside activities while others relaxed, perhaps to soak up the sun on the beaches situated in between the abrupt cliffs. Others chose to venture further out in the water with canoes or paddle boats towards caves and small grottos.

After the day’s intense heat, the air in the room was barely breathable. So we set out at a traverna to enjoy a nice cold drink. I stared out over a beautiful bay. I could see the water out of the corner of the door, now I understood why Paleokatrista bay area is famous for its clear water, beautiful cliffs and striking blue-green colours. It conspicuously stands out among a string of six spectacularly situated coves. The view of the dramatic hills and cliffs surrounding the traverna was simply breathtakingly as the eye wandered through the incredible colours and background. Our craving for open spaces and fresh air led us to the many beautiful rocky beaches. We could not stop admiring the beauty and tranquillity of Paleokatrista, often hidden behind the lush greenery.

Sidari, a combination of small former fishing villages has slowly developed into a popular tourist destination.

Corfu grew in the 1980s into the veteran resort that has beds to accommodate over 14,000 visitors. It is certainly the place to be, especially for those seeking to relax in a popular lively place with many bars, restaurants and many hotels and apartments that can pack hordes of tourists. However, the effects of austerity and recession are clearly written all over Sidari, given the many hotels and shops that have been closed down. A few years back, this was a sleepy little place with a cluster of showily brilliant cottages surrounding a village square. Besides being a popular holiday destination, Sidari is becoming a little too commercialised with the overturn of the British visitors, and British bar owners. This reminds me of my home country, particularly in areas such as Canvey island and Blackpool which have been ‘invaded” by British commoners and British cuisine! I would certainly not go back to Sidari since much Greek culture has eroded, blurring the national identity and self-image of Greece. The most unpleasant moment that will remain etched on my mind is when we swam in a swimming pool that was next to a large pylon filled with electricity boxes with no safety and health awareness! No wander I could not catch sleep with no air conditioner!

Although a large part of the island is in ruins, at least much of it is still in perfect condition. Further, there are many magnificent natural attractions on Corfu where one can find peace.  The ‘delectable landscape’ of the island can still be seen on the beaches in the archipelago. One may even say that Corfu is somewhat a luxuriant Garden of Eden lying comfortably within the northwest region of Greece thanks to its beaches that have remained impressive, formidable and magnificent despite the aggressive nature of package tourism. 

However, we cannot refrain from noticing the undesirable aspects of Greek tourism-the once peaceful villages are now engulfed by drunken louts, while the once exquisite coast line massacred by the debris of sea pollution and cut-price tourist development. The once extraordinarily fine islands that had attracted mass tourists in the 1960s have been indiscriminately exploited over the years and fallen into a state of disrepair. The island’s deliberate destruction is a consequence of run-amok tourism, of handing a special jewel to unsparing tourist developers on a silver platter. 

Contax645 & Leica M6

   Kodak Ektar 100 , Porta 400 & 160

Fuji 200 Superia & Gold 200

 

New York, New York….

14/July/2014

The force of my bedroom window slamming closed blew a neatly arranged heap of paperwork into a snowstorm of receipts and flight tickets. On this day, anticipation and a buzz of excitement filled my stomach as the gap between the brown curtains revealed a pearly-grey morning light. It was the spring holidays of 2014, and on this particular day, I shoved my clothes and analogue gears of photography into my suitcase before setting out to collect memories of the greater world. In part, my newly refreshed sense of adventure brought about by the demise of my father inspired me to make this journey. However, to a large extent, I was going on this mission because I did not want to seem like a boring old person when my friends asked what I had done with my life in my youthful years. I wanted to create an impression of an audacious and bold youthful middle aged man who had hurried toward gayety at every walking second.

Even before leaving London for New York City, I could tell that I wanted to come home and document my time out and about the Big Apple in a fascinating photo blog post. Since the city exerts a sufficiently great impact upon finance, media, art, research, education, commerce and entertainment, I knew I would not lack interesting places, people and things to snap photos of. The nourishment that New York City provides my soul fuels my creative process. Being in this city is like walking the streets of Rome 2000 years ago, it makes one feel the influence of being in the cultural hub of the 21st century. However, underneath all this glory lies the brutal honest truth about the everyday life of people living in New York. When I arrived back home and started going through the numerous film photos I had taken, it occurred to me that my favorite shots were not of the usual New York landmarks. I did not capture the South Point view, the Rockefeller or the Coney Island. Surprisingly, none of the Time Squares shots captured my attention. Rather, perusing through the photos, my eyes could only wander through shots of the Empire State Building in the city’s skyline before abandoning them in search of something interesting to gaze at. At this point, it became apparent that my favorite shots were slightly different, those that reflected the minute details that make New York City great. It’s those photographs that I want to share with you, the pieces that epitomise an extreme reality that is somehow buried by many.  Still, this collection includes photos of yellow taxis, the Central Park and the Chrysler buildings.

The everyday life of the people of New York City inspired me to capture objective, candid and truthful images that deepen your understanding of life in the city, and establish an emotional connection with its people. This perhaps follows in the footsteps of famous photographers who have explored New York City including Walker Evans, although I must admit that it was not easy to do so. I even came across photographer Bill Cunningham, a man who has been shooting the street and catwalk fashions of New York for over 40 years. He uses his favorite mode of transport, the bicycle, to traverse the city as he snaps the good, the stylish and the great. As for me, walking is my favorite way to explore a place, capturing images modestly, quietly and almost invisibly. When I was not drooling over pretzels, I was getting lost in museums and walking the streets.

Despite my busy itinerary, I always made time to walk daily and my deaf friend Charlie was good company for me as we explored the neighborhood without any particular destination or goal. We just wandered and observed. It was all about seeking out and capturing humanity, images of ordinary individuals going about their activities. In these fleeting and unseen moments, I found something creative and life-affirming and preserved it forever through the lens.  I captured interesting scenes in places such as Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, East Village, Midtown East, Upper East Side, Ellis Island, Weehawken, Central Park, and Memorial Park.

Another dull sunrise bathed the skies in a weak glow, perhaps to chase away the night’s darkness shadows. It was time to head back to London. As I gazed through the hermetically sealed windows, I thought of how my life had felt terribly empty since the demise of my father and I miss him every day. The only person who knew me well was my father and for a long time I had imagined that no other person would ever care about me the way my father did. Well, but then Charlie has always been there for me. Apart from that, looking through the lens makes everything new, peculiar, and exciting and a fascinating spectacle that makes life worth living. Having molded myself into the designated observer and interpreter of New York City, I will definitely visit again in the near future to take more photos, especially in the Bronx area and Coney Island. 

 

Very special thanks to Charlie, who was my companion throughout the trip and his nieces Anna and Lisha for putting us up in their scrumptious apartment in Weehawken, New Jersey, overlooking the glorious view of West New York!

 

Contax645 & Leica M6

   Fuji 400H, ACROS 100 & Kodak 400 TMX, Porta 400 & 400 BCWN

Fuji 800 Superia & Gold200

The Demise of Canvey Island…

20/June/2014

Since all of us have been children, we have a physical place that is undeniably part of our being, having being the place of our becoming. The sound, scent and sight of living, the very tactile presence of living remains embedded in us. As adults, our lives are filled with layers of the present, past and future. Visiting Canvey Island as an adult took me back to the old good days. As the sky’s golden yellow flame of the flickering sun glinted in my eyes, memories of the full, original, rich and real lives of the Canvey inhabitants filled my mind. Although some Londoners may not have a clue of what and where Canvey is, it is a few meters from St. Martin’s-le-Grand and it is connected to the rest of the world through the London South-End Railway . Before the construction of the Colvin Bridge, the Benfleet creek could only be crossed by rowing-boat ferry or by stepping stones or a gravel causeway at low tides. Since the 1970s, local politicians and residents have called for the construction of more roads in a bid to ease the congestion at rush-hour and to have a viable means of evacuation during flooding.

The location of Canvey Island has seen it welcome people of different walks of life: those who visited to tap the seawater salt, the traders and Romans who used it as an entry point into Britain, cheese makers, shepherds and many others . For me, the fascinating journey to this island had been triggered by a sentimental yearning for the past. The first place that I made for upon my arrival at Canvey was the sea-wall, a place that I had undoubtedly heard a great deal about and had been eager to make a closer acquaintance with. The floods that devastated the island in 1953 and left 59 islanders dead have been remembered on the 80m sea wall. Individuals have wept at the pictures on the gigantic mural, perhaps due to the memories that they have brought back, while some have wept with joy.

The island attracted flocks of families for holidays because of its pure, glorious and exhilarating air that oozed happiness and health. Since the Second World War, Canvey has moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Industrial sites, more roads, community centre, beach amenities and recreation ground are just some of them. A second bridge and the new sea walls have further helped in the island’s progress. Early maps suggest that Canvey was divided into several islands. What made Canvey so remarkable is that while Great Britain is an island, Canvey is a peninsular when the tide is down and an island when it is up . Further, the beaches always came to life thanks to the presence of women and men dressed in bright colors, offering hope through their warm smiles. Children, who moments before had been seated attentively in their classrooms, were playing in the sand and welcoming the unending flocks of visitors. These were the days before computers, before mobile phones were a necessity, in a world where adventure was the norm and everyone ceased the moment to explore as much as possible. The people of Canvey and their visitors lived happily in this world of imagination and to them; the island represented the entire world.

On the peaceful island, the morning began in the kitchen. I could hear noises, when I had a normal hearing with my old hearing aids before I become deafness,  of rumbling pots, and knives and spoons banging on the table. This reminded me that it was time to savor the flavor of each mouthful. Everything that was brought from the kitchen was always delicious and magically tasty because of the secret recipe that everyone would share freely. In my father’s words “the secret recipe used around here is called Love”. I remember vividly his robust, warm hands, his quiet gentle love and laughter. We could stroll down the beach together in the evening, looking for shells. I always looked forward to this after a long day of strong sun and salty air. The shells had the most vibrant colors I had ever seen and I imagined that if the cracked shells could talk, then they would have the most interesting tales to tell about the sea and sailors.

Perhaps these shells could make me understand the legend about Canvey’s “haunted house”. It is believed that the haunted house located near Denham Road was at one time inhabited by two old men. While one gentleman was a true Christian believer, the other one was an unbeliever. One day, the Christian believer said that if he died first he would appear to his old friend to convince him of the hereafter. When the Christian died, he sneaked back on a wild night as the wind roared round the chimney. The unbeliever was awakened by a peculiar noise and saw a gust of wind coming into the room. The wind slowly died away but he could not see anything. The cat that had followed him to open the door showed a sign of recognition and even purred and rubbed itself against something in the pitch darkness although the old gentleman could see nothing.

I love to look over at the Lobster Smack Pub on the island on my way to the western end where there are creeks. The view across the Shell Haven Refinery to the buoys and the ships is breathtaking. There is just something about this place, but obviously that is wrapped up in memories of the most expressive landscapes I have ever seen. The magnificent huge sky and the broad river lead the eye to different effects of sunlight and this spectacular natural beauty stirs something in me. Sometimes I try to explain this feeling but I do not know what it is, you know, maybe it’s because human beings have crossed this river for over 2,000 years. But also, looking over at Canvey I think of my late father. Looking over at this once beautiful haven and thinking of him, it is really good. It is heartbreaking at times, but good. That is personal association but I still feel there is something more that I cannot actually put into words.

At times my childhood memories make me sad: others they lift me up when I am feeling low. The shadows of the once blissful Canvey, its people, its customs and its loveliness –it seems that these emotions will never fade away.   The thought that Canvey’s highly praiseworthy assets have fallen into the hands of the prying enemy dismayed me. The captivating and alluring delights of Canvey have been replaced by a damnable ambience as the streets are traversed by ex criminals, scroungers, outdated clothes and chavs. As I watched the moon’s faint glimmers pave their way through the mists, my heart could not help but bleed for the hard time in these lands where a lot of men do things for which they are ashamed and even suffer for the rest of their lives.  

 

Contax645 & Leica M6

 Portra 160 & 400, Fuji 400h, & Kodak 400tmx

Miami: My Photographic Portraits

11/April/2014

Miami is hot and spicy, with a popularity that has endured for more than a century. Its heat inspires waves of visitors and new residents, drawn by visions of sugary beaches and palm trees, convertibles and swimming pools, swanky hotels and nightclubs. It all glitters under the wide dome of a pastel sky that surrenders to the Atlantic Ocean to the east and a vast saw grass prairie to the west. I find a poetic history embodied in an architectural legacy both ancient and post-modern. I look closer at the fantastic shapes and colours of unique plant life thriving in its tropical habitat and embrace the creative spirit on extravagant display at an extraordinary number of arts centres and explored cultural heritage in the neighbourhoods of Little Havana and Miami Beaches. I marvelled at the downtown skyline of America’s southernmost metropolis, where dealmakers transact big business with the world.

The highlight of my trip is a 150-mile coach drive from Miami to Key West is one of the great American road trips, whisking me off the mainland and through the fabled Florida Keys for my Photography trip to an island city that has been a refuge to writers, Cubans and presidents.

Somewhere near Marathon near Key West I thought I saw a UFO! The coach was driving down the Florida Keys archipelago, and high in the sky spotted something motionless and metallic, like a disembodied robot eye. I couldn’t make sense of it, but later someone told me about ‘Fat Albert’, a radar aerostat that the US Drug Enforcement Administration uses to keep an eye on shipping hereabouts. In the Upper Keys I passed a temporary sign at the side of the road; it was diamond-shaped, made of pink canvas, and read: ‘State Prisoners at Work’, to which I photographed at the last minute. A quarter of a mile on, there they were: four men indolently clearing the undergrowth from the verge and throwing it into the back of a truck. I was half-expecting them to be in some kind of prison uniform, boiler suits the same orange as the road sign. They weren’t, and that made me wonder why the sign had to announce that they were convicts at all!

My visit to the Florida Keys is a road trip in the grand American tradition: it’s not just about where I headed, it’s also about what happens along the way.

I did absolutely love the Gator Park Everglades! Tour guides were funny yet sensible and made my time an extra special one. We were given ear plugs, not that I need it because I was Deaf! and then we were taken to our boat which went really fast in some parts of the journey! Afterwards, I went to the benches where another friendly tour guide talked me through some fantastic wildlife facts and shown me some alligators and wildlife, especially the scorpion which made me cringed as it was on my hand!

I was in awe the whole time and also brave to savour the fried Gator sandwich!

There’s not much of a tourist draw for this one specific trip, but it is nonetheless a pretty neat attraction in Little Havana. I did some photography at the Domino Park, because this is where people come to play dominoes, just as they did in Cuba. Of course, there are more than just Cubans here now, although the general rule appears to be that you must be above the age of 65 to sit at one of the tables! The Domino Park is typically Calle Ocho: there’s a large mural, a bronze bust and lots of old Cubans talking loudly in Spanish and playing dominoes. It’s a great introduction to Cuban-American stereotypes (of the more positive kind) and one of the most explicit and obvious displays of the preservation of Cuban culture in Miami, and most of the people were very obliging in posing for my pictures, unlike in Real Havana in Cuba where they begged for my monies!

I did get to meet the American Deaf people and they were very nice, especially a deaf professor named Jose, the head programmer for the Deaf communication training at Miami University, who drives me around in Miami to see places and Fort Lauderdale Deaf Club. I was lucky also to meet another Deaf person by the name of Jesse, who saved me getting the wrong sort of communication with the deaf people as I could not understand ASL (American Sign Language) as I was relying on my BSL (British), he excelled at my preferred language!

So in all, I enjoyed my photography holiday in Miami and will be coming back again in the not so distance future when I make another saving!

I have made numerous photographs whilst on the island but sadly some of my rolls did not come good due to pitch black on my negatives, according to my Scan/developer and realised the mistake I did when I put 400iso films inside the camera (Contax 645) whilst the 160iso dial was still set on my camera!

Contax645 & Leica M6

 Portra 160 & 400, Fuji 400h & Kodak 400tmx

The Colonial Havana

18/Nov/2013

My film photographs of Cuba were taken in Havana, a city almost frozen in time with its colonial architecture and old cars. Present day Havana may still echo the 1950’s but I also find a vibrant culture with amazing music (despite being deaf!), African influences, and, of course, cigars, rum, and dancing!

In Havana I found it resourceful, proud and friendly people, all part of an urban landscape that is so visually rich that I had trouble deciding what not to photograph.

Cuba offers a myriad of artistic, social and sensual pleasures. The art, music and architecture are unparalleled in the Western Hemisphere, the tropical waters sparkling blue, and the people are as warm as a Caribbean breeze. Cuba has a way of going against the grain. It’s all part of its historical make-up, part of its dynamism, part of its intrinsic beauty.
I stayed at the Hotel Plaza in the Old Havana, it was pretty as the Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, Havana’s romantic atmosphere and infectious energy are the stuff of legend. The stomping ground for swashbuckling pirates, a heavily fortified slave port for the Spanish and a lucrative gambling capital for the North American Mafia (I read it history briefly from the old bookshop in Havana!), it’s survived everything that has been thrown at it and still found time to innovate. The old part of the city has spawned salsa and mambo, Havana Club rum and Cohiba cigars, mural paintings, guys with bongos and old men slapping down dominoes and Che Guevara iconography. Everywhere I look there is a unique image begging to be recorded, especially the old antediluvian American Buicks cars are fun to photograph with some (very few) in pristine condition and the majority held together with – who knows what.
As someone else has said, Cuba is a poor country but the people are genuinely very friendly. Yes, I did get a little harassed at times; My Contax645 camera itself attracts attention of people, who will often ask to pose. Several times people saw my camera and suggested shots to me — sometimes because they wanted money, and sometimes not. And I did find the taxi drivers smoking chunky Monte Cristos frustrating – and the taxis didn’t seem very roadworthy!

My big thanks to Old Havana Ltd San Christobal UK agency and Mediterranean Ltd for organising the trip for me. Cheers

Contax645 & Leica M6

 Portra 160,Fuji 400h, 800 & Kodak 400tmx

EXPANDED EYE a thousand fibres….

27/Oct/2013

I was privileged to take photos of the upcoming artists Kev James and Jade Tomlinson at their first exhibition show in East London showing their innovative approach to tattoo design, fusing arcane narrative symbolism with collage, constructivism, hints of Dadarisms, and a playful, occasionally surreal wit with Charles Darwin influences, fine art, gicleè, Illustration and the original of the species.

Kev and Jade was my punk models for my photography project some years ago. It was good to see them again!

Contax645 Portra 160ns & Fuji 400h