A picture tells a thousand words

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I’m not a big fan of busy pictures. I think my images are generally hallmarked by their simplicity and order. But sometimes even a complicated picture can have great composition – like this one. Every person or animal just seems to fit into its own space; nothing seems to be competing with each other. And so I like it. Maybe it also comforts me because it reminds me of a biblical scene – of the animals sitting around the baby in the manger. Except in this case, instead of something being conjured up for an audience, it is real – the animals and humans actually are together in total harmony.

The whole scene looks so perfect that it is like I have played director and staged the shot, but of course I didn’t. I did hang out at this little chai shop for many a morning, so maybe that’s why everything came together. In fact it was one of my favourite places in which to sit, because there was always so much going on. It was located on a kind of crossroads (like the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of Varanasi) right next to a temple. Which is why the cows seemed so at home there I guess, because they would be given offerings and always treated with kindness.

I remember when the biggest bull I have ever seen came by and the local people gathered around to care for its feet. He just patiently stood there, picking up his huge hooves and soaking up their attention as gentle as a lamb. It was one of those sights that stay with you forever and makes me realise that you needn’t be scared of anything, big or small, so long as you meet it with love and compassion.

I love the scene so much because it contains so much that I remember about India: the chai stalls; the people reading newspapers; the spiritual men; the animals all around you; and that sense of peaceful harmony in spite of the cacophony all around you. It’s an essence of India that I hope I never forget.

Mother and child bonding

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A mother was sitting with her young daughter and son outside the Printers & Stationers cafe just off Columbia Road – which is a wonderful place for people watching – especially on Sundays, the flower market day! The sight that first caught my attention was the red glasses next to the red flower as their heads almost touched, so I wanted to capture that – purely for aesthetic reasons. But just as I was discreetly photographing them the little girl moved closer to her mother and then leaned her hand against her head with such effortless affection. It seemed such a mature thing to do that it felt as if the roles had been reversed and the child had become the mother. It was such a moving sight that I’m glad I captured it. I hope they don’t mind my sharing this sweet little moment of intimacy!

Rock Star

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This photo was taken at a car boot sale in Spitalfields, East London. I don’t know if the Rock Star jacket was placed there deliberately because it so aptly matched the colour scheme of the graffiti backdrop, or if it was just a happy coincidence. But it somehow makes the car seem almost unnoticeable, and the whole scene just feels complete, like the jacket is part of the street art and not a random addition. I love serendipity like that.

The Boy with the Balloon (in colour)

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I found out yesterday that this photo has been selected for a photography exhibition in Bristol. The judge is a winner of the Deutsche Borse photography prize (considered the most prestigious European photography award) so I was pretty chuffed that he considered my image worthy of inclusion.

I’ve previously included a monochrome version of the photo on the blog: https://anenchantedeye.com/2014/07/07/boy-with-the-balloon/ but to celebrate I thought I’d now include the original, which is how it will appear in the exhibition.

John and George continued

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It seems that my post regarding John and George touched a few hearts. And quite rightly so as it’s a wonderful story of someone turning their life around thanks to talent and also the help of a rather special four-legged friend. I was very excited to be reuniting with them both again at the Howard Griffin gallery in Shoreditch, though I didn’t really know what to expect.

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Anyone familiar with London will know that Shoreditch is a very trendy, artistic area in the East End that feels like a rough cut diamond – it’s a bit grotty, to some extent deliberately so, but art and innovation is at its core and that makes it a very exciting place to be. I wasn’t surprised when the taxi pulled up outside a gallery that would not have looked out of place during the Blitz bombings of London. I was glad that I had dressed down in jeans. What did surprise me was that John, my companion Sam, and I were to be the only people wearing jeans that night! The whole place was full of suits and cocktail dresses who had bravely ventured outside of the City walls in order to open up their wallets for a good cause. Now I understood why the guest list was so particular – the idea was to bring in people with money!

We snuck in anyhow and bumped into John escaping for a breath of fresh air as we were doing so. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the intense heat he was trying to escape from, or the people. After braving it out for a few minutes we too joined him outside. He introduced us to his family and I told him that I’d written about him on my blog. “I saw it!”, exclaimed his sister-in-law. “Remember John, I told you earlier that someone had blogged about you.” I like to think that this revelation gave us a little bit more cache with John and his clan. I may not have a fat wallet but I was genuinely interested in him and my friend and I were not just there for the Cabernet and canapes.

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But it was Sam who later got the warmest reception, from the other star of the show – George. We realised that we hadn’t seen him so we asked where he was. “Follow the trail of the canapes” we were told. And so we headed downstairs to where they were being dished up and there was George staring at the serving staff as if his life depended on it. “He’s eaten so many I’m surprised he hasn’t been sick” exclaimed one, as she gently popped another one into his mouth. It seemed that George was quite easily adjusting to the life of a celebrity. As I came empty handed, he ignored me, but when Sam called him he trotted towards her. We were sure it was because he remembered her giving him water on Columbia Road last Sunday. He hadn’t forgotten this act of kindness from a stranger when, to all extents and purposes, he was just a sad and beaten up street mutt, not A list celebrity in doggy world.

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Last time I had seen George he was in a sad state, but now he was apparently back to his old self. He was clearly a very warm, gentle dog – but also one with a bit of East End attitude. He strutted around the gallery, ate the canapes as if they were dog biscuits and cocked his leg up outside a lamp post as if he was a celebrity and he didn’t give a toss who saw him misbehaving. John was a bit more bashful and I sensed that his dog was adjusting to the limelight slightly quicker than himself.

By the time that we had left that evening we’d found out a bit more about John and his relationship with George (for example he was ‘bought’ from a friend in exchange for an extra strong can of lager); fed George far too many canapes; photographed them both; bought John’s memoirs hot of the press; received another sketch of George from John plus I bought myself an early birthday present of John’s favourite picture of his best friend (seen in the background in the first picture of them both).

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As we headed for our bus home we saw an elderly homeless guy with a very little dog in his arms. We stopped to say hello and he turned out to be a lovely softly spoken gentleman whose sweet dog, Pixie, couldn’t hold back from jumping up and licking us.   I wondered if maybe we would have just walked on by if it were not for our recent encounter with John and George. Together they had taught us an important lesson – that things are never quite what they seem, and you should never judge a man by his appearance or by his current misfortune in life.

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John and George

 

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Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to do things like this blog. Don’t get me wrong – I love sharing my photos, and I love getting feedback even more! But if I wasn’t sitting at my desk publishing my photos I could be out and about in the streets of London forever meeting fascinating characters. People like John Dolan and his wonderful dog George.

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I spotted George before I saw John. I was captivated by the sight of this dog with begging note and bowl and thought what a clever idea it was to dress a pet up in a jacket and get him to do the begging for you (though it turned out that the jacket was only on him because he was cold). But I soon discovered that George was more than just a characterful dog; he was a lifesaver. And his best friend happened to be a pretty good artist who was busy sketching his faithful friend while he was earning his Pedigree Chum. And John was more than just an artist – he was a man with an incredible story, whose life had been turned around thanks to this dog in front of me.

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John didn’t need much encouragement to tell his story. It  turns out that he is a former petty criminal who has been in and out of prison more times than George has shaken a leg; he is also an ex-heroin addict and has spent far too many years living rough on london’s streets than was good for him. It was George that got him off the crime because John realised that if he was sent away again he wouldn’t be able to look after him. (Incidentally, the affection between the two is palpable and the intense pleasure on George’s face when his master goes to pet him is so evident that I doubt John can bear to be away from him even for a second). So he switched to begging instead. But he found the process so demoralising that he decided to place George in prime position so that the focus didn’t fall on himself. But he had to do something to entertain himself while George was doing his job, so he returned to the one thing that he had been good at at school – art.

John gradually re-found his groove at drawing and, as generally happens when you have visible talent in the streets of London, he was eventually discovered. What happened next is like the script of a feature film. John got himself off the heroine; got himself an exhibition (his collaborative prints sold for up to £50k each); his book is about to hit the streets (which he assured us would be a bestseller); he’s a regular on TV and there is now an LA stamp in his passport.

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Like George, who was sadly beaten up by some other dogs the night before and was looking very delicate as a result, John still bears his physical and emotional battle scars. And while there was no doubting his talent I could not help but wonder just how much of what he was telling me was true. I enquired how much it would cost to buy the sketch that he was working on. “They usually sell for £50 but I’ll let you have it for £20” he replied. I didn’t have that much on me and I was so distracted by the conversation and in taking photos of George that I forgot to pursue purchasing it. But I did tell John that I’d love to photograph him. “I tell you what, I have an event at Howard Griffin gallery in Shoreditch on Thursday” he replied. “Come along!” “Ok, give me the details”. With that John drew me a little picture of George and said “That will get you in”.

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After saying our goodbyes I decided to view the gallery website just to check that the event really was taking place. Sure enough a rather impressive exhibition of John’s works was just coming to a close. But there was no mention of an event, so I phoned the gallery. “Yes there is a reception,” the employee told me, “but the entrance policy is very strict so you really have to prove that you have been invited  to get in.” So I sent them a photograph of John’s sketch and  a nice response came back saying that my friend and I were now indeed on the guest list. I felt rather honoured to be included, but also rather churlish for not having taken up John’s offer of his latest sketch of George for just £20!

Well least I still have his little sketch in my notebook, which had already felt rather special, but now has an extra monetary value that I hadn’t fully appreciated at the time!

You can find out more about John Dolan and George here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/john-dolan-homeless-addict-to-artist-and-author

and see his pictures from his exhibition at Howard Griffin here: http://howardgriffingallery.com/exhibitions/john-and-george/

The event I am attending is in aid of Wrap Up – a charity that donates coats to the homeless. (John’s life may have moved forward in incredible ways, but he hasn’t forgotten where he once was, and could still be now, if it wasn’t for that rather special dog called George).

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Dress rehearsal

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Here’s one I took earlier – a Queen’s Guard in his scarlet best. He was photographed in June just before the Queen’s Birthday parade rehearsal – back when summer was still full of promise; not dolefully bowing its head to make way for the scarlet leaves of autumn. I’m sure I will be dazzled by the autumn colours this year, as I always am – but I wish I could bring June back again.

 

The lost Elvis

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Something that I have always loved about my area of London is all the free music festivals. And also the fact that you can pretty much guarantee that if you go to one you will see ‘the two Elvises’ giving it everything on the dance floor. I’ve seen them strutting their stuff for about ten years now and I can’t tell you my delight when I came back from having been away for five years this April to one of the first festivals of the season to see them there on the dance floor as if I’d never been away. It felt so reassuring – as if the clocks had stood still in my absence.

But at today’s festival something was amiss. Only one of the Elvises was dancing! The other one sat looking incredibly forlorn just watching on from a deckchair. He did not try to hide his misery – their was no stoicism about him. It was like his reason for being had ceased to exist. His partner was trying to take up the slack by giving it all she had but it was not the same. She would never be one of the two Elvises – she knew it, we knew it and he damn well knew it.

“What is going on?” I kept asking my companion. “Why is he not dancing? It’s like he has become suddenly disabled, and yet he is tapping his feet so he can’t be.” “Go and ask him” she said. But she didn’t understand. You don’t talk to the Elvises – it would ruin the whole mystique. They danced; they let you take their photograph, but they didn’t talk.

However, fate intervened and as the final band was packing up the still active of the Elvis, to my utter surprise, approached us and offered us his Churros (a kind of Mexican donut) that they hadn’t eaten. This was the most surreal thing ever for me. It was like Elvis himself had suddenly decided to rise from the grave to converse with me. I seized the opportunity to ask him what the hell was going on. Why was his friend not dancing?! “His knee has mysteriously swollen up” he replied. “He’s devastated.” As I watched him later hobble away with his friend and his partner supporting him it was one of the saddest scenes I had witnessed. I wanted to take a photograph because the scene was so poignant but the battery on my camera suddenly died. It felt apt really, as if he shouldn’t be recorded that way.

The guy lying in front of the free entertainers is John, whom you will probably guess was rather drunk. My friend and I watched him with fascination as he attempted to stand at the end of the event; wobbled on his feet somewhat; gazed to the sky as if for inspiration then went crashing through the barriers in front of the stage and lay prostrate for several minutes. We brought him over to sit with us and tried to prize the drink off him, offering to trade it for coffee, but he wasn’t having it. He turned out to be a very sweet person who worked as a litter picker (it took him several attempts to say that) and kept asking us what football team we supported, as if that was the only important thing in life really (he was a West Ham supporter). As we packed up to go home he asked to take a ‘selfie’ of us. We agreed and on the count of three we both kissed him on the cheeks. I have no doubt that the whole concert will soon become a total blur to John, but I smile as I imagine him looking at his photo maybe on the way to work and thinking “Crikey! I must have had a really good weekend!” Unlike the poor forlorn ‘Elvis’, who was missing his blue suede dancing shoes.

 

 

Spotted in the streets of Kathmandu

Looking back at the photos I took in Kathmandu, it’s incredible how prominent the big soft drink companies are – in particular Coca Cola and Pepsi. Much more so than in India where the country’s own drinks such as Thumbs Up still rule. I wonder how many of the people can actually afford to drink these expensive foreign drinks and whether it’s more a case of getting their buildings painted for free if they let the companies use them as a kind of billboard.

Meetings and greetings in Madhya Pradesh

 

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Regular followers of my blog will know that I was fortunate enough to stay in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh during my time in India last year. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life – calmer even than being out at sea on a sailboat. I loved waking up early and going for strolls in the first light when the air was still blessedly fresh and cool. Fortunately everyone else had the same idea, and the local folks were happy to stop and chat (or smile when my limited Hindi ran dry) on their way back from the village pump or on their way to work in the fields. Often they would happily let me photograph them too.

The oxymoron is that I seemingly witnessed joy and poverty in equal measures each day on my walks. I’m not saying that these people are happy because they are poor, but maybe they don’t yearn for things that they have never known. When I witnessed the sense of peace and contentment all around me I felt sure that an influx of material goods would not make them any happier. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to move away from subsistence living – for none of the children to have swollen bellies, wear tattered rags or peer at me through infected eyes. And maybe having electricity to run a fan and keep themselves cool during the intense summer heat or light a bulb or two once the sun went down would not spoil their lovely, kind, generous natures either.

But unfortunately it often seems to be all or nothing in India. And so these folks will keep getting by – with that shrug of acceptance bordering on cheerfulness – in spite of their daily struggles, because of that inner calm within that seems to stem from their beautiful surroundings, family, and the close-knit community that they live in.

Columbia Road people – and pets

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As promised, here are my people photographs taken at Columbia Road on Sunday morning, with the occasional dog thrown in for good measure. There is a slight nod to two very different street photographers – Martin Parr and Vivian Maier – in them, especially in the final two pictures (no prizes for guessing who features in the last one!)  I think the photo of the lady smiling with the flowers looks slightly out of place amongst all the other more somber pictures, but I included it because of the contrast with the homeless guy in the background looking on rather dejectedly. And yes he is the same guy featured in two other pictures. I don’t think he was having a very good day so he moved around a lot.

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Colours and shadows

 

DSCF3510-4It was a glorious evening earlier so I took a quick stroll along the South Bank to practise some camera settings – in a bid to get those colours even more vibrant, and those shadows even more intense. It was probably hit and miss, but if you don’t try these things out you don’t develop.

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Colours of Columbia Road

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On Sunday I organised a photography excursion for my female photography group to Columbia Road flower market. This is such a great location for photos because not only do you get to see the flowers of course, but also so many interesting people – from the die hard Eastenders to the ‘hipsters’ that have invaded this part of town and of course people flock from all over the world. Then there are the buskers and the cools cafes and the lovely shops selling handmade or vintage produce.

With all this around me, naturally I made sure I found time to whip out my own camera! I’ll share some photos here this week, including some people posts and more flower pictures. But first I wouldn’t to give you an idea of the vibrancy of the market, even on an overcast Sunday morning with a whiff of autumn in the are

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