The curtain and the scuff

Recently, for various reasons, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the debates around heritage in England in the 1980s (and 1990s) between Patrick Wright and Raphael Samuel. I suppose thoughts about who controls the narratives of the past (and why…) are on my mind. With the long march of the austerity project – a class war by any other name – and the framing of the Brexit debates around ‘our’ glorious past… I found myself walking, on an unusually chilly night in Lisbon recently, past a particularly fine example of an Art Deco cinema. Drawn by the unmistakable beat of a Tango Milonga, and a terrible sense of journalistic entitlement, I did what any nosey person would do and walked in.

Lisboans seem particularly adept at taking pity on lost, (purposely) niave journalists, especially those who have a very limited repertoire of Portuguese words peppered with poor French and Spanish. Especially those that walk into dance classes uninvited and want nothing more than to drink a small beer looking out to the river through the original Portuguese versions of dirty Crittall windows. When the bar isn’t actually open.

The same Lisboans, happily practising their Ochos that have seen their city invaded, like much of Southern Europe by the ravages of post-industrial-decline-tourism. People like me that come to stare at memory traces for their own reasons.

This is no longer a cinema but the home of a theatre company re-purposing the architecture. Like much of central Lisbon, actual sites of memory seem to have been transformed into what Pierre Nora called lieux de memoire where memory crystallizes and secretes itself. Hordes of millennials prowl the city looking for exactly the same Hoxton-ised smashed advocado-on-toast joints that they could find in any Globalised metropolis. And then Instagram themselves outside to prove they’ve been there. Perhaps I just hadn’t noticed before. It’s not that I crave authenticity and worthy-ness from places I visit – I just like difference. Things that are discernibly of-that-place. Certain parts of Lisbon remind me of the re-created East End – a sanitised simulacra of now hollowed-out working class communities represented by authentic and artisanal. Jane Jacobs must be absolutely spinning in her grave…

The scuffs however; the small patches of delightful shabbiness in the city and the politeness and patience of the Lisboans in the face of the hordes-in-shorts – as well as the small beer – is wonderful.

The irony of this image, taken on an iPhone with a Polaroid filter is of course not lost on me…

How I learned to love Bollywood


There’s a really interesting piece in the Guardian today by Amit Chaudhuri (the British media’s new go-to man for South Asian comment) about Bollywood – the catch-all term for Indian mainstream film. Chaudhuri relates his own personal journey back to an Indian past whilst watching classic Hindi cinema at university in Cambridge in the ’80s. It was a medium that he’d ignored partly because of his middle-class upbringing and partly because he’d grown up on Hollywood movies. Interestingly, as he says, “just as Bollywood seemed to become all gloss and syrup, there was another development.” This came in the form of Independent Hindi cinema. Movies like Maqbool and Omkara. It’s a shame for the outsider who doesn’t speak Hindi because it’s really tricky to find subtitled versions beyond the big blockbusters. I’m still trying to hunt down a version of the Gangs of Wasseypur that I can understand. For me, I remember sitting open mouthed the first time I saw some of the beautiful Satyajit Ray offerings in black and white that are pretty easy to find… but then also loving more modern ironic offerings like Quick Gun Murugan. In any case it will be interesting to see where ‘new’ Indian cinema will go in the next few years in a rapidly changing India.

I’ve never worked on a Bollywood movie (although I did shoot movie moghul Ronnie Screwvalla for the Sunday Times Magazine a few years ago – see here) but did photograph the rehearsals for The Merchants of Bollywood (again for the Sunday Times Magazine) in Mumbai a while back. As my own homage to Bollywood, here’s one of my favourite frames from the job…


Indian - Mumbai - Dancer Ashwini Iyer, 23, practices her routine at a rehearsal of the production of The Merchants of Bollywood in a studio in Mumbai, India
Indian – Mumbai – Dancer Ashwini Iyer, 23, practices her routine at a rehearsal of the production of The Merchants of Bollywood in a studio in Mumbai, India