Forgotten images

 

 

During Lockdown, like many people, I’ve spent some time looking over my archives. On my infrequent Instagram postings, I’ve decided to feature three images that were in the mix for my second book, The Palaces of Memory – Tales from the Indian Coffee House, but never made it. The editing process was very thorough and sometimes you have to let go of pictures that you like and think are strong but simply don’t fit a narrative. That was true of so many photographs that I made over the years on this project. Never so much as the image below however.

It was made in Shimla on a freezing cold, three-day trip staying in a miserable budget hotel, a twenty minute walk from town. The frame, shot on a really awful early digital Leica (an M9) seemed to encapsulate my feelings echoed in the face of the waiter on the first day. I didn’t like Shimla that much. I just saw a tatty old British capital playing on its dubious heritage, packed full of noisy tourists. But maybe that was just me on those days – the rest of Himachal Pradesh remains beautiful. The Coffee House was nice though. Welcoming and warm.

I remembered that I’d arrived in the evening after a long drive from Delhi with my long-time driver/fixer/partner-in-crime, the late and much missed, Armajeet Singh.

I wandered alone into the warm fug of the half-empty coffee house late at night. There were pictures to be had and now, years later, I remember the yellow light and the steam, but I hesitated and shot nothing preferring to just look. I had a coffee and left, angry at myself for not pushing harder. It was however, a cold calculation born of not wanting to make a mistake before I’d had chance to ask permission properly and work out the lay of the land. Of course, when I went back over the next couple of evenings, it was never the same.

It never is.

Perhaps that’s why the waiter’s face chimed with my mood when I made this picture the next morning. You always end up photographing yourself in one way or another. Photography’s funny like that. The frame often has you in it, even though you’re not…

It was certainly how I felt when I was just starting the project and was unsure where it would go or whether it would work.

I’ve always liked the image however.

 

A waiter and customer reflected in a mirror at The Indian Coffee House, Shimla, India.

The Bridge and the Eunuch

 

Recently I stopped my car to take a photograph. I stopped on a stretch of road (actually a bridge) that I’ve traveled a thousand times; a stretch of road that leads to the gora ghetto of Jangpura Extension, a sort of home from home in one of the world’s most cruel and beautiful cities. I stopped to make a simple image – with cars whizzing past me – of a brightly coloured apartment block (on the roof of which some years ago I’d been shown by a young man how to fly a kite) crucially situated between a drain (old) and a flyover (newer). I made a very simple picture but this being Delhi, the ground itself hides more than it tells. This stream of black water is actually called the Barapullah and it’s one of the key drains of the city. Barapullah apparently gets it’s name from a bridge built across it by the then emperor Jahangir’s chief eunuch, Mihir Banu Agha. The bridge had ten piers and twelve columns – hence, the name, Barapullah.

According to RV Smith‘s wonderful The Delhi that no one knows, by 1628, the road between the Barapullah and Humayun’s Tomb was a wide tree-lined path. The bridge now stands amidst a makeshift market near Nizammuddin railway station and the traffic of the main road. The Barapullah drain that flows below was one of the ten streams in the city that drained eastwards into Yamuna. Sadly, it’s simply now an open sewer.

By coincidence, I’ve photographed that same market several times over the years on my walks around the area and I show here two images that give a sense of what the drain looks like now and the market itself.

 

 

Gaily painted apartment blocks overlook a grim flyover and a polluted drain (open sewer) in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, India

 

 

A white Egret sits on a rock in the middle of an open drain beneath a flyover near Nizamuddin Railway Station, New Delhi, India

 

A man at his vegetable stall, near Nizamuddin Railway Station, New Delhi, India

Holocaust Memorial Day 2018

 

On this anniversary, I thought I’d show images from a remarkable story that I illustrated for a Channel 4 documentary many years ago. Titled The Last Jews of Berlin, the film featured Jewish survivors of the Reich that had successfully lived undercover in Berlin for years. I present two images from that set.

 

 

 

 

Delhi’s Jantar Mantar closed for protests

 

 

I was very sad to read that the Delhi government has, under the pretext of the violation of ‘environmental laws’ closed the protest site at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. The order was carried out this morning evicting and  razing the temporary shelters of protestors.

For those that don’t know, the street was a kind of Speakers Corner crossed with an Occupy site that allowed a very limited amount of protests to be carried out by those with a grievance. The street – adjacent to the famous monument – was chosen as a protest site in 1993 after the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid movement raised security concerns and the government banned protests at previous demonstrations sites. The Jantar Mantar site was one of the few places where people in the city could protest and let off steam. It was also a fascinating place to walk through and see just what kind of issues affected everyday Indians – and their faith in their democratic right to that protest.

I’d been to a few demonstrations at the Jantar Mantar over the years. They never made great pictures – the gatherings – the pushing and shoving with the police were formulaic and regimented by the authorities. However,  it was always heartening to see the faith that especially the rural poor – many of whom had come from all over the country to shout about their (usually myriad) grievances – displayed. Heartening but of course ultimately futile: policy in India is rarely affected by such organised protests and increasingly one sees that cold, hard hand of the State for what it really is. As a symbol for where modern India is moving the broken tents and the tarpaulin of protesters scattered across the street that I’ve seen this morning in the Indian media could not however be more telling. How similar they look to the scenes that I’m reading about in Kathputli Colony as well today as the authorities seem to have finally decided to tear that Colony down for ‘development’. You can read about my previous writings on Kathputli here.

I leave you with two images. The first from the Jantar Mantar, not of a protest but of what I remember best from the place – engaged activists talking and debating. Creating a space where people were able to discuss their city. The second, from Kathputli in 2014 of local residents discussing the future of their slum colony that had clearly already been decided long ago for them.

Both of these spaces – so crucial to cities are now areas where the poor and voiceless are systematically excluded – and thus from the narrative of Delhi. It’s enough to make you wonder who these cities are actually for…

 

Two men talk by a demonstration near the Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, India

 

A local meeting of residents and activists at Kathputli Colony that is faced with destruction and closure, New Delhi, India

 

The King is dead…

 

 

I’m no Elvis fan but I know lots of people have a very soft spot for The King and his music. For many, the anniversary of his death today is a significant one so I thought I’d show a few images that I made at an Elvis convention some years ago in Blackpool as a mini tribute. Once upon a time I was shooting a good deal on a rather lovely 5×4 Horseman Camera with Polaroid Type 55 (pos/neg) instant film. Working that way allowed me to shoot rather formal – but unexpectedly beautiful images that I could peel apart and then give to the subject (whilst shoving the negative in a big tank of fixer). It was a lovely way to work but my back never forgave me for the weight of kit I had to lug about. Anyway, here’s a triptych of some of the work…

 

 

 

 

ps. You might like to look at another image of Elvis fans that I made years ago that I featured on this blog in 2015…

Triggering Article 50

 

 

Whilst looking through my archive yesterday for something completely different, I happened to chance upon this image that I think, whichever way you voted in the EU Referendum, might sum up today’s triggering of Article 50 by the British government. It was from an assignment for the Times Magazine on David Miliband in 2008. I’d travelled with him to Kiev, Brussels and errr… Birmingham as well as shooting a portrait at his home in London. This was taken after a rather laborious interview in the European Parliament’s TV studio. Everyone else had cleared off and just the dying buzz of the tv feed remained in the air. Clearly weary, he held his face in his hands as the lights started to dim. It’s never been published before and I’d forgotten all about it but I thought today it might have some … resonance.

 

David Miliband, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Member of Parliament for South Shields, Tyne and Wear after a live broadcast with a TV channel in the European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium

The Folly of Poundbury…

 

 

Yesterday, I was delighted to learn that Prince Charles and family – surely Britian’s most celebrated benefit claimants – were visiting his very own bejewelled architectural confusion, Poundbury. Three years ago, I visited the same town – a kind of Daily Mail wet dream of Middle England, to write about it for a special edition of the German magazine, Brand Eins. I found the place mostly deserted with a chill wind whipping through a stage set of architectural pastiche and folly. Charles, a fan of the work of Albert Speer, has overseen the creation of a fantasy land: a reimagining (from a lonely castle window) of a ‘former’ but entirely fictional Britain well suited to the Brexit generation (British homes for British people…) – an airbrushed past of classical architectural tropes masquerading uncomfortably as an (upmarket) housing estate.

You can read the piece called ‘The strange Death of the British Utopia – or how Britain live in her own past’ here (warning: it’s long…).

but I leave you with an image of a deserted street and a Neo Classical … errr bus shelter.

A traditionally styled shelter in Poundbury. Poundbury on Duchy of Cornwall land is Prince Charles' attempt to create an urban extension to Dorchester famed for Its pastiche of traditional architecture. Dorset, UK
A traditionally styled shelter in Poundbury. Poundbury on Duchy of Cornwall land is Prince Charles’ attempt to create an urban extension to Dorchester famed for its pastiche of traditional architecture. Dorset, UK

 

 

A traditionally styled building in Poundbury. Poundbury on Duchy of Cornwall land is Prince Charles' attempt to create an urban extension to Dorchester famed for Its pastiche of traditional architecture. Dorset, UK
An empty street in Poundbury. Dorset, UK

Tearsheet – Written on the walls of Delhi

 

Here’s a recent commission – images and words – from Thai Airways magazine about Delhi’s burgeoning street art scene. A million thanks to ST+Art India, Anpu Varkey and Harsh Raman. A really interesting and colourful piece to photograph – and write.

 

A Day in A Life-NEW Delhi-1s

 

A Day in A Life-NEW Delhi-2s

 

A Day in A Life-NEW Delhi-3s

 

A Day in A Life-NEW Delhi-4s

The Delhi Walla

Even before we met a couple of years ago, I’d long admired the blog and books of Mayank Austin Soofi AKA The Delhi Walla. He has a forensic eye for all things Delhi (and Proust for that matter). Here’s a recent picture of us in the Indian Coffee House in New Delhi – a place that has been – and remains – important to both of us.

 

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