I do love a bit of “Pop -Up Art” and in the last couple of months have been drawn to two areas of London where artist Liz West has been commissioned to brighten up an otherwise concrete jungle and she has created a kaleidoscope of colour in an otherwise drab exterior.
About Liz West
Liz West (b. 1985) is a British artist who graduated from Glasgow School of Art and whose body of work encompasses site-specific installations, sculpture, and wall-based artwork.
Liz has been commissioned worldwide by institutions and organisations including Natural History Museum, National Trust, National Science and Media Museum, London Design Festival, Natural England, Allied London, Grosvenor, British Land, Salford University, Leftcoast, Allenheads Contemporary Arts and Bristol Biennial.
West’s work has been included in exhibitions with St Albans Museum + Gallery, University of Hertfordshire, Chester Cathedral, Compton Verney, Castlefield Gallery New Art Spaces, Cornerhouse, Brunel University, Bury Art Museum & Sculpture Centre, UK Young Artists and Royal British Society of Sculptors in the UK, as well as internationally in Italy, Dubai, France, Germany, Spain, India and USA. Liz West also has a solo exhibitions at Hyvinkää Art Museum in Finland, which has just opened.
Greenwich Peninsula has commissioned Liz to create Hundreds and Thousands for The Tide in 2021. The Tide is a walkway that links the O2 complex to the river and the abundance of new housing that has been built on the peninsula, along t the Thames Clipper ferry port on the Thames.
The artwork wraps 700 m of the walkway’s glass balustrades, creating a ribbon of undulating colour, and when I visited, on just the right day weather wise, the sun shining through the coloured film provided an abundance of photo opportunities – albeit not my usual street character compositions, it did make for some interesting images.
Canary Wharf – Summer Lights
In Docklands – they have launched “Summer Lights”
A colourful exhibition celebrating natural light across the Canary Wharf estate.
Summer Lights features eleven exciting new artworks that shimmer and shine in natural light.
Here Liz West has produced Hymn to the Big Wheel – an immersive sculptural work exploring the illusion and physicality of colour and natural light in space. Consisting of a multi-coloured octagon nestled within a larger octagonal shape, this work encourages the viewer to reposition and align themselves to differing colour ways to see a changing scope of colours mixing before their eyes.
This has been a personal street photography project, mostly using my mobile phone to capture these groups of elders from the Sikh community of Gravesend town centre, and mostly without their knowledge.
Whilst walking around, i noticed they met in regular groups, most mornings, to chat, laugh and share stories together.
They became ‘My Boys’ and I became known for regularly posting their daily gatherings on my social media – this is a social documentary that has taken over a year to produce
It wasnt always the same bench, but it was always the same group – some days they seemed to follow the sun but this wasn’t just a summer thing – they sat there throughout the year.
Some days, when they moved into town, the benches on New Road just weren’t big enough.
Some days it was a tiring waiting game for a seat!
This was a favourite bench outside B&M store – and sometimes they spread to the opposite bench too – or had they fallen out ? It was always an interesting dynamic.
Some days, the benches were infiltrated by others . . I often wondered if these interlopers knew of my photographic documentary and sat there to ensure they’d be a part of it!
The groupings differed some days, as did the clothing, but still they gathered.
Some days I was convinced I’d been spotted taking the shot . . .
Some days, I diversified as I found the ‘aunties’ were also not adverse to social gatherings around town
Event Days – on event days in town, ‘The Boys’ still featured and ultimately almost lead to the end of my little photo project – the image below with the hidden ‘Batman’ was one of the last photos I took, this was set up and I asked them to pose for me – though the boys were unaware that we had positioned Batman behind them – but i had identified myself, and this time with my proper camera.
2020 and Beyond
This photo project was done throughout 2018/2019 – before we knew the phrase “social distancing” and before the Covid19 Corona Virus changed us, and the way we are currently allowed to socialise; now in 2020 – with the over 70’s tasked with self isolation indoors to protect their vulnerability, I wonder will I get to see ‘The Boys’ back in town again?
As mentioned in the last blog – back in June on my solo trip to New York one area I had planned to visit was Coney Island – the largest amusement park in New York City and its most famous playground with a heritage that stretches back more than 130 years. Luna Park in Coney Island provides New Yorkers and tourists from around the world an unforgettable seaside experience with family-friendly attractions and entertainment, shopping and dining on the scenic landmarked boardwalk, thrill rides and special events.
Adjacent to nearly three miles of sandy beaches, two and a half miles of boardwalk it has a wealth of opportunity to photograph people “at the beach” and those who live and work there – but when I visited, the weather was so nice, I picked the warmest, sunniest day of my week in New York, I spent the first couple of hours, top off, relaxing ad enjoying the beach – which if anyone knows me – is a first – as despite losing weight over the last two years, and enjoying having upper body tattoos, I DON’T take my top off anywhere – am a suffer of body dysmorphia – but I guess being on holiday, and where no one knew me, I relaxed and enjoyed the sunshine for a while.
After grabbing a beer and with the beach getting busier after midday – it was top back on and camera at the ready – to capture some of the characters and tourists of Coney Island in the theme park and along the boardwalk.
Along that boardwalk I spotted another street photographer who was very approachable – an amazing guy called Kenny Vena – a US veteran who lives in Manhattan but enjoys, much like me in the UK, just getting out and about documenting life on the streets – i shot a few photos alongside Kenny, who told me about some of the characters of Coney – he also recommended the Nathan’s Hot Dogs and local beer – i sat a while and we chatted – he was such a nice guy – and we are now social media chums too – and i get very jealous seeing all his New York photos he posts week in week out.
As and when i go back to New York, I’ll definitely get back in touch with Kenny
After the two year COVID hiatus, I eventually got back to my favourite city (after London) on holiday in June 2022 – this was trip number 6 to New York and my third solo trip – no desire to do the tourist stuff, though it is inevitable as every corner you turn in New York there is a landmark or building you’ve seen in a film/tv series – in fact most of Manhattan feels like a film set such is the magnificence and familiarity of the city.
I did have a few firsts, on this visit – after 5 previous visits this was the first time I saw the infamous “Naked Cowboy” Street Entertainer on Times Square – Robert J. Burck has for over 20 years, been singing and playing guitar on 46th Street and Broadway in his painted underwear, cowboy boots and hat. His mission is simple, entertain as many people as possible and become rich and famous no matter what. But as can be seen in one image below – not everyone is as appreciative of him as I was . . . and there was me thinking this was “the city that never sleeps” !!
Another first, and this one was planned – was a trip on the subway down to Coney Island a peninsular neighborhood and entertainment area in the southwestern section of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The neighborhood is bounded by Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east, Lower New York Bay to the south and west, and Gravesend to the north. As Town Centre Manager for Gravesend in Kent UK – i wanted to visit the area of Gravesend New York – i kind of did but it was only a fleeting visit – so a good reason why i’ll have to go back again sometime and visit it properly.
Street Photography – is so easy in New York – images are there to be captured in your every turn, so it was a tremendous joy to be contacted by a member of Street Photography Challenge pages I administer on Facebook – Neil O. Lawner who lives in New York and is part owner of a photography gallery in the SoHo area.
Neil met me at Columbus Circle and we spent a great few hours together in Soho, Greenwich Village and ending in Chinatown, where i was treated to a slap up lunch – followed by a private tour of the gallery ‘Soho Photo Gallery’ which alongside the gallery walls even has an amazing photo installation in the toilets!!
Every corner you turn there is a landmark in New York – a living film set.
In street photography, there are two ways of working – fishing or hunting – the first, is where you find a location, a coloured wall, window, or other setting and sit waiting for the right subject to enter your frame – the latter, where you prowl the streets and snap away as people surround you.
On this day I was a hunter. I went out armed with my new Ricoh GRiii camera and an empty memory card looking for targets.
Following my usual route from parking my car in Wapping, I walked up towards Aldgate and wandered north along Brick Lane watching, looking, hunting for characters and faces – only stopping occasionally to take in some street art or listen to a busker.
As I entered the market area towards the Beigel shops, the street got busier and I was amidst the busy street scene – I recall it was on the junction of Brick Lane with Sclater Street and I was looking out for character faces and suddenly this lady appeared – like a vision – I first noticed the obvious – her spectacular necklace made entirely of Simpsons Character Toys – it was like like McDonald’s Happy Meal Jewellery – and such colour, her hair, the furry yellow jacket, the handbag – and the covid19 face visor – and I took a shot – one simple shot and she was gone – off amongst the crowd – no chance of me getting another shot – I don’t even recall which way she went, else I could have followed her. She was gone – like an episode of the Simpsons – my time with her was short.
When I got home that night, I uploaded the SD Card from that day and could only focus on that one shot – was it in focus? Please let it be in focus! I’ll be honest, its not pin sharp, but such was the speed it was taken, and it was an only shot so it would have to do.
The more I looked at it the more I was amazed by this characterful woman – I have seen some sights on Brick Lane over the years but she was “Unique” an absolute gem of a character.
Next day, as is my norm, I uploaded her to a number of Facebook Street Photography pages to which subscribe and therein started the notifications.
To date, she has become my “most liked” street shot with over 4,000 likes
Urban Street Photography 570 Likes
Street photography In The World 565 Likes
Inspired Street Photography 509 Likes
Street Photography 461 Likes
International Street Photography and Reportage 352 Likes
Storytelling and Street Photography 267 Likes
Street photography 142 Likes
Ricoh GRiii The Ultimate group 140 Likes
The Worldwide Street Photography Group 127 Likes
Plus likes from: Street photo Daily; Ricoh GR; Capture The Street – Raw Moments of Life; Street Photography Artists; Progressive Street; Freestyle Street; United We Shoot plus many more.
Thank You mystery lady – I have looked out for you on recent visits since that day but you elude me – you were my lucky shot that day.
For a few years now, my release from work has been to wander the streets of London with my camera and capture “Street Photography” and the many characters and situations that throws in my direction.
Shoreditch has kind of become my second home, my safe space and my go to location for all things “street”, from the wonderful characterful people, the food (always have to get a Beigel) the coffee and of course the ever changing “Street Art” for which Brick Lane and Shoreditch is renowned.
From spray paint, to paste ups to stencils, the artwork around the East end provides colour, art and often political statements relative to the day and through the recent Covid 19 Pandemic this has continued – albeit slightly abated during lockdown, but now back in abundance and with messages of Hope.
Along these streets you often find quirky paste ups and stencil art which capture a sense of fun, or make their own statement and, as I say, there have been words of encouragement too.
It was via Instagram that he recently contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in documenting photographically, a new piece he was working on, to go high up on a roof space in Shoreditch – well I didn’t take much persuading – all we had to do was get our diaries together and check the weather forecast (which, incidentally lied to us!! – More of that later).
The roof in question was at Village Underground Night Club – an area I know well and we arranged to meet bright and early at 10am – the owners had pre-arranged his access via a fob, but beyond that it was fend for ourselves so with ladders, paint pots, rolls of stencils and my own camera bag, the adventures began. Up a staircase, across a roof and clamber over a couple of walls – who knew the roof was going to be this dramatic though . . . what a space!
The board in question was, for some time, home to artwork by graffiti artist Sr.X “Buy Shit” the board itself was shabby and weather beaten but Unify had a plan, to transform it, and started to work cleaning it up and painting the frame work.
A new “blank canvas” was created and his vision could be created . . .
Throughout the time on the roof, we chatted loads, and I got to know a lot more about “Unify” and he about me – we both have “day jobs” and both love our tattoos; – we use our art (his stencils, my street photography) as an escape, a release and somewhere to show our creativity – he was also forthcoming with tales of other street artists some of whom I knew, and a few I didn’t, and explained how artists got given wall space and also the downside of the street art world, where taggers trash great pieces without respect.
As we were at Village Underground – it seemed apt to also discuss the recent “Banksy” work on a Tube Train and i learned a few bits of info about that too. . . all is not as it seems in the art world.
Unify’s vision for this new piece – one of his biggest, was indeed “Hope” as London releases from Lockdown due to Covid 19 Corona Virus Pandemic we all need Hope. Hope that things will return to normal, or what is being called the “new normal”
So “Hope -Yoga Girl” was being created, in between snaps, it was great helping with the stencils and seeing the creativity and intricate design work, that went into making them, and learning about use of the spray cans and nozzles to create the right effects.
Over the four hours or so we spent on the roof that Sunday, it was interesting to see life continue below – Sundays in Shoreditch are familiar to me, but never before from this angle; it was interesting seeing people spot us and take their own snaps from below wondering what was going on, who we were, and what was being created.
We did also wonder if the Police, who passed by often, may have taken an interest, but they didn’t – we were up there with permission anyway and had the key fob to prove it.
What was supposed to be a bright and sunny morning did however, take a couple of turns for the worst – as I say the weather apps lie!! A couple of times, I had to stop us chatting and remind “Unify” to get a move on, otherwise we may be in for a drenching . . such were the black clouds looming
We just about got away with it, as by 2pm the “Hope – Yoga Girl” was complete just as the heavens opened – so it was a quick clear up of empty spray cans, rollers and camera gear put away and a hop back up the ladder and over the walls – taking a brief refuge in the roof toilet area whilst the showers fell.
Once down, it was a chance to admire what had been created from ground level before heading off to the pub for a couple of drinks and where we continued our chat long into the afternoon
What a great day and one I’ll never forget – here’s hoping its the first of many as I know Unify has plans for more work, in fact he’s been in touch with me since, showing me that he’s already undertaken some “brandalism” elsewhere in London with his artwork. Look out for his Tag next time you’re in town.
Whilst enjoying my Street Photography around London in the last year or so, something I use to reduce stress, work/life tensions and as an enthusiastic hobby, a little side project I have been undertaking, whilst out and about, was to watch and record how people interact whilst sat in the window seats of a certain coffee shop.
It always seems as though they think they are out of sight – yet there they are for all the world to see – one of the best branches for this is Holywell Lane in Shoreditch though some other stores in the chain also feature in this blog. I thought id have a play with P R E T titles to the images I captured. Thanks to those on Facebook who helped with some adjectives.
Then, mid March 2020 and suddenly my street photography fun was ground to a halt as was the business of coffee shops and all non-essential shops, as the global Covid19 CoronaVirus Pandemic hit the UK
By late April early May there was light at the end of the tunnel as stores adapted to the social distancing needs and added new health & safety measures for staff and public protection
I’ve been a ‘Street Photographer’ for a few years now, its my release from everyday life and work, I simply enjoy being out on the streets capturing the sights and shenanigans in the city, sometimes walking for ages and not taking many shots – other days I start snapping as soon as the camera is out of the bag.
I’m not aware that I have “a style” as I simply take what I see – there are many famed street photographers out there – from Vivian Maier and Henri Cartier-Bresson to modern day snappers such as Martin Parr, Bruce Gilden and Dougie Wallace – each have their own style and I have researched and tried many of their techniques, with varying degrees of success but feel I need to find my own way on the streets.
Usually, I like fun and busy people shots and look out for ‘the characters’ especially in East London around Shoreditch and Brick Lane – but with that area beng such a magnet for pro, amateur and would be Street Photographers – you have to find your own take as the area has been snapped to death.
Other areas of London give great backdrops too – namely the Barbican Estate – the 1960’s built residential complexes in the City of London – its brutalist architecture allows for some scenes and textures and design features of their day to act as amazing backdrops for photography.
It was in the Barbican just two weeks ago where I took what has turned out to be, so far, my most “Liked” and praised street photograph to date – and one that was one of just two chance snaps, taken whilst walking down a large glazed stairway on the estate exiting The Barbican Centre onto the external terrace – the day – Sunday 27th October was a rare sunny sunday with glorious sunshine and blue skies allowing, as you can see from “the shot” some great shadowing, light & shade.
As I say, this was one of just two shots I took out the window of a staircase, exiting the building – taken in colour I converted it to B&W after in Lightroom – and for a couple of days It sat on my hard drive – it wasn’t my usual ‘people shot’, there’s no faces, no characters but in the middle of that week, I decided to post it on some of the Facebook Street Photography sites I subscribe to.
Within minutes – it got a few likes; that’s cool thought I, away from my usual style, but a few people obviously saw something worthy in it – I closed my ipad and went to work.
At work, I noticed my phone screen saying I had some activity on Facebook and on opening my phone the Notifications were in double figures! This continued for the next few days – the best site where it accelerated was a site I was previously an Admin on – Street Photography Vivian Maier Inspired
Within the first 24hours on that site alone, it had achieved over 150 likes – far exceeding any image I had posted before – and every day so far that number has risen – it was chosen by the original administrator of that site – Dave Burridge as being worthy of being added to the Street Photography Vivian Maier Gallery Page – an honour indeed.
As I type this (5 Nov 2019) my one chance shot has received 640 Likes on VMI Page alone
Alongside VMI, I also posted it to Street Photography – Henri Cartier-Bresson Inspired – where it has received 125 likes and was awarded entry into their esteemed gallery.
Across other sites the likes continued:
The World Wide Street Photography Group; Urban Street Photography; Pure Street Photography; Progressive Street; Street Photography Passion
Another Facebook Group – Street Photography Artists with over 6k members worldwide gave it an Honourable Mention – and what’s more remarkable, is that this was my first post on that page – I have a lot to live up to there . . .
Lastly, I submitted it to Eye Photo Magazine Group on Facebook – where it has achieved 100 Likes and was selected as that weeks “Eye Catching Moment”
This was trumped then by the team at Eye Photo Magazine who have contacted me saying my photo had been selected for publication in their December issue – please can i send them a quality jpeg of it – so this ‘chance shot’ will now be published. I will be a published street photographer – I am very chuffed.
On the last Sunday in September each year, the Pearly Kings and Queens of London – London’s Costermongers, celebrate the harvest in their own unique style at the spiritual home of the Cockney, the church of St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside.
During the afternoon there are performances at the Guildhall Yard including morris dancers, musicians and drummers, the highlights of which are the maypole dancing involving all the Pearlies, visiting dignitaries and Chelsea Pensioners, and the perambulation of Pearlies singing the traditional Cockney songs.
A parade of dignitaries with edible goodies is then transported by barrow from the Guildhall to the church for a special service. Well known hymns are sung appropriate to the season and the Pearlies will speak about their history and involvement with charitable works.
The famous Bow Bells are rung for the event, which is a rare chance to hear them.
I have covered this event for the last five years, since stumbling upon it in 2015 on one of my London photo walks, and have photographed the Pearlies, many of whom I have gotten to know now, at this – one of my favourite London events each year.
I have also supported & photographed the Pearly Kings & Queens at other events around the capital including collecting on Brick Lane, at the Greenwich Pancake Races and in the London New Year’s Day Parade.
On Saturday 18 May 2019 I visited Photo London at Somerset House – the central pavilion was covered along one side with photography by Mary McCartney (daughter of Sir Paul) and her B&W images of the Royal Ballet – called “On Pointe”.
Throughout the day they themselves made for some interesting street photography for myself.
In March 2019 whilst on holiday in New York, I spent a day in and around Chinatown on the Lower East Side of the city.
On a hot sunny afternoon the community spent time in small groups in Columbus Park – the ladies playing card games called “Dou Dizhu” and the men, Chinese chess “Xiangqi” – it made for some fascinating photography of some awesome characters.