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London in a Frame
Union Jack postcard? Check. London Taxi? Check

I just came back from my fifth visit to Istanbul; out of every city I’ve been to it’s the one I keep going back to. For a lad from Lower Hutt, New Zealand, it’s a city made of the very stuff that sends you out in the world with an overstuffed backpack, eager for a dose of the exotic.

I had some of those feelings the first time I stepped off the Tube in the middle of London back in 1994, on the short walk from the centre of town to Euston Station, wandering around a huge metropolis I had only ever seen via a TV set or a film screen. Living here nearly 20 years, I’ve always tried to remember that feeling when I’m walking around the city that’s been home for so long. It’s a good watchword to live by if you’re a photographer – keep your eyes open, and you never know what might be around the corner.

I shoot Istanbul as an outsider; as much as I love it, I’m mindful that I photograph it very much on a surface level, rewarded with whatever life on the street provides. The London I shoot comes, instead, with all the numbing familiarity of a place I have slept in for 7,000-odd nights. How do you look at your local streets and see it with that undimmed enthusiasm of a newcomer? That’s what every photographer has to work out when they point their lens close to home.

The shot above, to me, shows that you can always explore a place you know well. This was near the British Museum, on Museum Street, full of cafes and souvenir stores waiting for the hordes of tourists that make their way to and fro. I had a day off and a new camera – a tank-like Canon T90 – to put through its paces, loaded with a roll of Ilford’s classic HP5.

I can remember it being a grey but clammy day, with occasional bursts of sunny light flaring through the grey sky. Preparing to take a picture of the postcard stand – the fact I was shooting black and white didn’t matter on a bright but grey day – I realised the street was almost empty, apart from a London black cab that was approaching from behind me, and a single figure about to walk into the frame. I had time – just – to capture this blur of man and taxi inbetween a mono Union Jack.

In nearly 20 years living in the city it’s one of my favourite pictures – and proof a street you’ve walked down countless times can still bring surprises.

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Stephen Dowling
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9 years ago

Love reading your blog. Just got back from 4 days in Lower Hutt myself!