Curry love

I was intrigued to read this morning on the BBC website that National Curry Week ends in couple of days. I had no idea that there was such a thing but as I was talking about Pie and Mash the other day being snubbed in favour of fast food at the Olympics, I thought I should pay attention.

Britain’s first Indian restaurant, The Hindoostani, was opened by a fascinating character called Dean Mahomed in Portman Square in London in 1810. It was essentially a coffee house where one could smoke hookah and enjoy authentic Indian food. Perfect for the Colonial English gentleman missing his exotic spices. The restaurant, certainly ahead of its time, went bankrupt and Mahomed ended up running a rather successful baths in Brighton – but that’s another story.

It does seem a cliche but curry is often called Britian’s national dish and, although I have no issue with that, nearly all of the UK’s ‘Indian’ food is actually a Bangladeshi hybrid of dishes from all over the sub continent. Strangely, I’m going to be teaching in Bangladesh in January (more later) and so I’ll be able to judge just what authentic Bangla food is like as I eat my way around the country…

‘Curry’ is a shorthand for lots of dishes that is relatively meaningless. India itself (not counting Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka) is extraordinarily culturally diverse. Hundreds of ethnic groups divided into thousands of sub-groups have such a multiplicity of recipies and I’m sure it’s possible to never eat the same thing twice if you tried. ‘Curry’ seems to have been coined to catch everything that is cooked in a gravy. Some people seem to contend that it comes from the Tamil ‘kari‘ but there doesn’t seem to be a definite answer. Like so much in India…

By the way, if you are interested in the synthesis of English and ‘Indian’ you could do worse than buy a copy of ‘Hanklin Janklin’ a fascinating study of ‘Hinglish’ words by the late and sadly missed Nigel B Hanklyn a long time Delhi wallah.

Last year I had the good fortune to be on assignment in Delhi photographing some of the lesser known dishes the city has to offer. I am indebted to Hemanshu Kumar who runs the Eating Out in Delhi blog for his extraordinary insights and his re-discoveries of several dishes. I don’t pretend to know very much about Delhi street food – it’s a vast subject – but I do know how wonderful much of it is. Some of that work is below. Not a balti in sight. Happy eating…

India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - A butcher cuts up meat for Nihari (a breakfast stew made mostly from Buffallo meat but with some mutton brains)
India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - A vendor serves Nihari from a pot outside his shop. Nihari is a breakfast stew made mostly from Buffallo meat but with some mutton brains.
India - Delhi - A dish of Nihari

India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - A street vendor fries potato cakes on a griddle
India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - a street vendor kneads filled dough ready for cooking
India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - A dish of Daulat Ki Chaat, a chilled milk froth considered an ancient Delhi delicacy
India - Delhi -
India - Delhi - A man eats a small pot of strteet chaat

Andy Aitchison

Andy Aitchison, an old mate and editor at Network Photographers, has for the last five years been documenting the Orthodox Jewish Community in Stamford Hill in London. Not only is this work excellent but shows a unique commitment to a section of London’s community that is normally firmly closed. It’s part of Photomonth and is on at Madam Lillie in Stoke Newington – open for a month, every Friday – Sunday, noon – 6pm until Sunday 6th of December 2009.

I spent my first couple of years in a cold, damp house in Stamford Hill in the late 1960’s and the areas always been a draw for me: but unlike Andy, I never got around to exploring so thoroughly.

Yer actual Olympics. Innit?

I just picked up a story today from the Newham Recorder about how, and I quote,

“Pie and mash, jellied eels and a dose of Cockney charm will be used to sell a slice of the East End during the 2012 Olympics”.

Apparently the Mayor wants to showcase ‘local’ foods at the events but it seems that independent food producers will be excluded by the Olympic Committee in favour of exclusive deals with multi-national chains. Of course there’s nothing like watching supremely talented athletes in a competition sponsored by a burger company specialising in fatty, over salted, reconstituted animal ‘product’. The irony of the Olympics was never lost on Iain Sinclair however, and in this piece he articulates what a great number of Londoners feel – that the whole thing is a unsavoury liaison between developers and government. It will undoubtedly make both parties a great deal of money but like the enormous blue fence that surrounds the building work will effectively exclude the locals.

Interestingly, the traditional non-globalised foodstuffs of the London poor – eels, fish and chips and cheap cuts of meat, never caused an epidemic of obesity, developmental problems or litter. Still, best not to stand in the way of progress…

Here’s an image to warm the cockles on a cold November night – a shot of a pie and mash shop in Hoxton produced for an Annual Report a couple of years ago.

Bon appetit.

UK - London - a woman pours liquor into a carton in a Pie and Mash shop in Hoxton
UK - London - a woman pours liquor into a carton in a Pie and Mash shop in Hoxton

The Unseen Bert Hardy

Tomorrow night (the 10th of November) the Photographers Gallery in London will host a talk by Graham Harrison who has recently unearthed work from the Hulton Archive by Bert Hardy. If you are in town, I urge you to go.

Hardy was a giant of the British documentary press tradition and is best remembered for his work for Picture Post Magazine. Born into poverty in Blackfriars he taught himself photography and was renowned for his sensitive, human images of war and everyday life.

Bert was an inspiration for me and I had the privilege to photograph him shortly before he died in 1995 upstairs in the flat above the darkroom that he’d set up near Waterloo. I had hoped to show that image here but after moving offices recently, I’ve mislaid the transparency. I will post it soon I hope. I’d also like to write more about the Bert Hardy Darkrooms and Charlie who tirelessly printed my work for more than a decade – and I will soon.

It seems that Graham, an extraordinarily talented photographer and now the creator of the Photo Histories website has found a huge number of Hardy’s unpublished images for Picture Post. Some of the very best will be shown for the first time.

Audrey Niffenegger

A recent portrait set on Audrey Niffenegger, author of the Time Traveller’s Wife and lately Her Fearful Symmetry for an American client. Shot in Highgate Cemetery on a chilly autumn day.

UK - London - Audrey Niffenegger, American author
UK - London - Novelist Audrey Niffenegger whose last book, The Time Traveler's Wife has just been made into a film. Her new novel is called Her Fearful Symmetry. It's the story of twins who move to London to an apartment left them by their dead aunt. A good deal of the novel takes place at Highgate Cemetery where in real life Niffenegger volunteers as a guide

Michael Clark – a blast from the past…

So, last Friday I went to see Michael Clark’s new work, ‘Come, been and gone‘ at the Barbican – his tribute the the 1970’s music of Lou Reed and David Bowie. Shockingly good if only for seeing Kate Coyne stuck all over with syringes… (you had to be there). Anyway, I remembered that I’d recently scanned an old set of trannys of Clarke in rehearsal for ‘Mmm’ years ago. All shot on 320 Tungsten film pushed one or two stops… you had to hold your breath and hope the shadows wouldn’t block completely. With the advent of digital, that seems such a long time ago…

Anyway, here’s some images from that set…

UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"
UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"

Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"
UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"
UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"
UK - London - Ballet dancer Michael Clark in rehersals for his ballet "Mmm"