Smithsonian Magazine – Cycle Opera

Earlier this year, I was commissioned by Smithsonian Magazine to photograph a really interesting story – an opera based on the life of Albert ‘Lal’ White an Olympic cycling champion in the 1920s.

Because of the magazine’s schedule the rehearsals were photographed long before costumes or props were really ready and unfortunately, none of these images (some of my favourites) were included in the final spread.

I work vary rarely in England and have never been to Scunthorpe (or Hull for that matter) but had a wonderful time largely due to James Beale‘s great company, Sue Hollingsworth‘s boundless enthusiasm and Kirsty Halliday‘s great organisational skills. Lastly, I should thank Smithsonian’s Associate Photo Editor, Jeff Campagna for sticking with me when I expressed disbelief that they actually wanted to send me to Scunthorpe… (which was pretty nice to be fair) when I was convinced he must have meant Sri Lanka…


UK – Scunthorpe – Jamie Beale, director of Cycle Song an opera about Albert ‘Lal’ White a champion cyclist photographed in front of the town’s steelworks


UK – Hull – Director Jamie Beale rehearses drama students from Hull University for their parts in the forthcoming production of Cycle Song in the Gulbenkian Theatre


UK – Hull – Drama students from Hull University rehearse for their parts in the forthcoming production of Cycle Song in the Gulbenkian Theatre


UK – Scunthorpe – Sue Hollingsworth, head of the Scunthorpe Cooperative Junior Choir leads a rehearsal for a production of Cycle Opera at Henderson Avenue Primary School


UK – Scunthorpe – A young girl forgets her lines at an audition for the production of Cycle Opera at Henderson Avenue Primary School


UK – Scunthorpe – Andrew Garbutt, Head of Music at the John Leggot Centre conducts members of the Youth Concert Band during rehearsals of Cycle Song. John Leggot Centre


UK – Scunthorpe – A young musician, part of the Youth Concert Band pulls faces during rehearsals of Cycle Song at the John Leggot College


UK – Scunthorpe – Erica Hardy leader of the Second Concert Band of the Youth Concert Band leads rehearsals of Cycle Song at the John Leggot College


UK – Scunthorpe – Two schoolgirls laugh and chat after gaining choir parts during auditions for a production of Cycle Opera at Henderson Avenue Primary School


UK – Scunthorpe – Schoolgirls chosen for the choir as part of the production of Cycle Opera practice for the first time in costume in the playground at Henderson Avenue Primary School after a thunderstorm




The future of the rag-pickers


According to a piece in the Guardian, it seems that authorities in Delhi are piloting a project to tackle the city’s enormous waste problem but the solution may affect those whose livelihood depends on it. Currently, waste is sorted manually by an informal army of men, women and children and then passed on to middle-men to sell or recycle. Three new plants (one at Ghazipur) will, it is hoped, sort the 8000 tonnes of Delhi’s daily waste automatically. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people work in this informal sector (known as ‘rag-pickers’) in and around the capital. The work is terrible and dangerous but for a significant section of the transient population of one of the world’s fastest growing cities, it is at least a living.

Over the years, I’ve photographed and written about many of the city’s rag pickers who exist in a twilight, Dickensian world ignored by almost everyone, quietly making the city function in a most human but terrible way.



India – New Delhi – Buddhi Lal, 30, a rag-picker, works before dawn collecting refuse to recycle and resell. On a good day he can make perhaps Rs150-200


India – New Delhi – Buddhi Lal, 30, a rag-picker with his small children playing behind him on the pavement, sorts the refuse that he has collected during his dawn round to sell


India – New Delhi – A child rag-picker collecting plastic bottles (and anything else he can scavenge) from the carriage of a train at New Delhi Railway station


India – Delhi – A child rag-picker cleans his fingernail with an old razor blade at a rubbish depot in Old Delhi


India – Delhi – A boy scavenger on the Yamuna River on a home-made raft of sacking and polystyrene. By dragging a magnet through the filthy water he collects scrap metal to sell





London sees a rise in rough sleepers

UK – London – Friends, Claire, 36 and Edwin, 61, both homeless, talk after a soup run organised by a Christian Charity on the Strand


The Broadway Homeless charity have just reported that London has seen a 43% increase on people sleeping rough in the capital from last year. The only glimmer of home in this figure is that 70% of those aren’t sleeping out for the second night due largely to the actions of charities like Broadway and increased work from outreach teams. This, despite Boris Johnson’s pre-election pledge to ‘end rough sleeping by 2012’. According to a Guardian report in April this year, £5m – underwritten by central government – was diverted from the Mayor’s budget for rough sleepers, to ‘other purposes’. Expect worse to come if proposals to remove housing benefit for under 25’s come to fruition.

There is a clear link between London’s rents becoming more and more unaffordable for large sections of the population and these figures. London is often referred to as a divided city. It isn’t. It is now many cities. Extraordinarily wealth in the centre, guarded and cosseted by technology and private security (tested and honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan) swimming in an ocean of increasing poverty – material and aspirational – that finds its dreams impossible. All of this underwritten by a facetious, poisonous narrative of unfulfilled personal responsibility and fecklessness.

According to Stuart Hall, cities of the nineteenth century and twentieth centuries were monuments to Imperial power: motors of industrial production and trade. Globalisation has significantly reshaped London and the people sleeping on its streets (or the thousands a breath away from it) as inconvenient dislocations from an industrial to a service economy dictated to by modern day robber barons fixated on personal wealth and profit. I write so much about the Developing World, Delhi in particular (and recently Athens) that it is easy to neglect what is literally under my feet.