The weirdest thing about this blog is not that its taken almost 2 years to write it, or that its been on my ‘to do’ list for all that time but that I finally get round to writing it sitting in a hostel in Reykavik Iceland watching dull grey clouds roll overhead.
Id wanted to go back to London for a while, well since my last trip in fact. It had been a winter one with short days shooting and long nights in a hotel room sitting watching TV. (what Id be doing right now in Reykavik if Id not booked it all a week in advance and had to take whatever accommodation was available for my dates, but thats another story that will probably take another 2 years to write).
I arranged the trip for the week of the 12th July, the holiday season back in Belfast or the silly season depending on your point of view. Either way theres not much corporate work on and in the past this was swapped for covering the odd riot or several but now its just back to the get away and do something else season.
Many years ago Id spent a summer working in London and one of the overwhelming memories was the oppressive heat so this should be a good one.
My choice of timeframe coincided with my brother being placed on ‘gardening leave’ whilst moving between jobs. Id had 6 weeks of this myself in my previous life, you move jobs between competitors and they march you off the premises and you see out your contract on ‘gardening leave’. The idea is you cant steal information and maybe raid the stationery cupboard or stick that bottle of 20 year old malt on the expense account. Im actually one of the few people Ive ever met who used their gardening leave to actually do their garden.
My garden has got worse during my photography career because if the weather is good enough to cut the grass/do the garden then its good enough to be out taking photos.
It also coincided with my brother being 6 months away from the arrival of his first child so more than likely the last chance we would be allowed away together anywhere, forever.
Im pitching this ideas as if its two boys continually out on the tear in London, that couldnt be further from the truth. My brother is a nurse and used to early shifts so 6am starts were a lie in for him, 6am starts for me were something I read about in photography books from countries where it didnt rain all the time.
He was joining me for a couple of days in the middle of my trip so it would be good to have a wingman and someone to watch my back, we could do some night stuff and maybe venture into the more dodgy areas that I would be stupid going alone. At least this way there would be two of us being stupid!
A new route to London Southend airport had opened up from Belfast so I thought I would give that a go and just come back via London Stansted. Both really have a cheek being called London anything but to be fair they are closer to London than they are to Belfast.
I love flying in to the wee airports, yes it can be a pain to get to and fro but if they are on a train/bus route then it brings the flying back to pre oppressive security days, when it was easy and a joy to fly to places.
On my last trip Id booked a hotel on a train route into London with a 30 min travel time to the centre, it was winter then and with the sun not rising until about 9am and setting about 4pm or so that wasnt an issue, this time I really wanted to be central and roll out of bed in the morning and get on with it.
I spent the first day photographing in and around the hotel area (Waterloo) and then a few items from the shotlist Id been provided as rush so Id get them done in the first two days and away to agencies and do the rest at leisure or if the weather broke spend the days in the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. I worked round the corner from the British Museum for 6 weeks straight then on and off for a period of 2 years. Ive been to London regularly since I was about 9 and havent set foot in either. In my defence Ive always been working and when photographing the weather has always been good. Its the same with me and Dublin, Ive never been to the museums there or visited thhe Guinness factory.
When on these travel trips you rarely get to do any of the touristy things you are sent to photograph. Even if you have arranged to photograph or an event its usually a photocall or a small section and then on to the next thing. Thats the big difference between actually being a tourist taking photos and a travel photographer, you have only a finite amount of time and have usually a shot or scenario list that needs to be covered ‘Or dont come back!’
I got most of the urgent stuff photographed, edited and away before my brother arrived so met him at the train station and sat down over coffee to ask for his input as well. It was also useful to have a ‘model’ for certain things as well.
He had a few good suggestions and mentioned that two new burger places had opened up near one of my favourite old haunts, Covent Garden. I arranged a schedule were we could hit both places on consecutive days for lunch.
We also hit a cafe next to smithfield market for a fry up that would choke a horse but the miles we were putting in meant it was easily burnt off. And no I dont believe that either.
One thing you have to get used to in this business is the ‘you know what would make a good photo’ type comment made by someone standing between you and the good photo you had just seen. To be fair though once I heard a wee voice behind me say ‘thats a nice photo, thats a lovely one, you should send that one’ over my shoulder as I edited and wired photos from the Boyzone reunion concert. I looked round about to give the guy an earful when it was none other than Louis Walsh the bands manager. Pull up a chair Louis! He picked out 4 photos I wouldnt normally have sent and every single one of them sold.
For every occasion that happens theres 500 others that dont. Including one band member in Canada calling me away from rehearsals with ‘Here, Joe, you know what would make a good photo?’ for about the 10th time that day to which I replied ‘Yes’ and went back to shooting, at least that got a lot of laughs from the band.
Back in the hotel room editing the photos that night over decaf coffee and a couple of bananas (yes the boys were living it up allright) my brother mentioned the food photos, then again 5 mins later, then 2 mins later and then every breath until I said ‘there Ive fucking sent them, happy?’ Anyone with a wee brother will understand the sentiment.
The story doesnt end there, both sold within 48 hours, I mean both sold whilst he was still with me. My brother thinks I should now just travel the world taking photos of burgers and hot dogs. The fact they sold for less than the hot dogs and burgers cost is immaterial and I would happily travel the world photographing food if I could make it pay. I was going to add, if I could eat it as well, but somewhere in this blog is the chicken feet story from Hong Kong. I will also remind you I am writing this in Reykavik where the national dish is shark fermented in vomit.
Just ponder that for a minute…. …wonder if theres a good hot dog place somewhere….
In a couple of places I told my brother just to walk off and pretend he didnt know me, for example outside the iranian embassy and outside the security at the houses of parliament. One Irish boy getting arrested is just stupidity, two is a global insurgency!
The benefit of waiting two years to write this was that I took a photo of one of the policemen on duty at westminster. He managed to find the photo somehow and get in contact with me. He said he had posed with tourists for photos for years and now he was retiring had never seen one of them and had no photos of him doing his job. I sent him on a copy and wished him well with his retirement. Thats the thing I constantly tell people during my photo talks and in my business networking and mentoring, we have no idea of the lives we touch and how years later someone can just reach out and find that moment again.
That photo was the last photo I took that evening before leaving my brother to the train. He lives in England and we realised that we hadnt spent that much time together in at least 10 years, and probably not even since we were kids or teenagers going on camping trips or away to football games. We would probably never spend that much time on our own together ever again and that was the sad point of that trip.
I had a couple of days left on my own after he left and still had a few pages of the shotlist left to do, mostly editorial stuff and single photo stories. Definitely no food on the go, for the last couple of days it was cereal and bananas for tea!
Coincidently it was a week before wee prince whatshisname was born and so I took a walk past the Lindo Wing on my way up to 221B Baker street, another place Id never been.
Id been part of media scrums before but this time it was interesting being an impartial observer rather than fighting for my spot. I did feel sorry for the folk camped out here for weeks on end to get photos of nothing much and eventually the same photo of a guy and his wife carrying their newborn 10 feet to a car.
The weather had been superb all week, shorts and t-shirt weather and loads of sun cream but no blisters!
So Ive still not been to either the British or Natural History museums, maybe next time!