Photographing people in the streets of London is still legal (provided you don’t snap the same people repeatedly, which qualifies as stalking) but there’s no doubt that in these litigious times, taking close-ups of people’s faces now carries more risk of complications. That is, unless you get the subject’s permission. This is often completely impractical in London’s busy streets but with my background in theatre, people and their activities are central to how I photograph the city. For me, it’s all about showing London as a living city by capturing the changing lives and emotions of Londoners. And how on earth do you do that without showing their faces?
After over a decade of photographing London, I was getting increasingly frustrated, feeling that now I should only capture the back of people’s heads — where was the drama and excitement in that? One obvious way around this restriction was to find an interesting group of Londoners who would allow me to get up close without any legal retaliation. I was also keen to try and reveal a hidden side to London, to photograph people who had not been put under the spotlight before. Miraculously, the perfect opportunity literally popped up. Walking by St. Paul’s, I was surprised by a man in green emerging from bushes with a wheel-barrow; a chance encounter that began my fascination with how an eclectic band of 30 or so men and women create natural beauty and tranquility in over 200 green spaces within the Square Mile.
In the City Gardens Team, I had found some unsung horticultural heroes whose extraordinary work gives so much pleasure to all who work or visit the City of London but who had never been consistently photographed. The Corporation of London’s Open Spaces department welcomed my interest and after establishing that I was not a member of the paparazzi intent on sensationalism, consented to my photographing the Team’s day-to-day activities. Thus began a thoroughly enjoyable 2-and-a-half years of unfettered access to this expert team of urban gardeners, with opportunities for close-ups galore. The printed results can now be seen at an extensive free exhibition at the Guildhall Library until 26th July, along with an accompanying book. Out of necessity truly comes creativity.
The accompanying book is available to buy from the Guildhall Library Bookshop: