London Calling with the X100F


All images shot on the X100F - Standard 23mm f/2 lens and WCL-X100ii adaptor.

Flashback three months. London in February, bitingly cold winds whip around the glass and steel geometries. I've forgotten my gloves. Camera in hand the bright cold silver metal burns my fingers, but the magical winter light of mid-afternoon through early evening keeps me wandering the streets, shooting. I figure I can always duck into a coffee shop and defrost, but Chinatown is worth the risk of a mild dose of frost-bite. I'd never really explored that little zone behind Trafalgar Square, filled with curiosity shops, indie cinemas, takeaways and grocers - but I am finding it very rewarding - all those reds and golden yellows. It's a day set-aside purely for photography, no plan in mind, just wander and shoot and see what happens before the evening coach home. I'm shooting JPEG only - with just a film curve to apply later on my tablet it's very liberating.    

I hit a second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road and find a hardback copy of Magnum photographer's Chris Steele-Perkins' monograph, England, My England. A mere twelve pounds, how has nobody picked this up yet... are there no other photo book collectors in London, or something? I retire to a pub for a pint of mild, thumb through the book. All of life is in there. Love and anger, rich and poor. old and young, the loved and the abandoned, the weak and powerful. It's incredible. One quiet photograph in particular leaps out at me. Three West Indian lads in a stereo store. The sign says, "Do Not Touch", and yet the lads cannot resist twiddling the dials of the stereos on display. There's a photograph in my mum's biscuit tin, one my dad took of me when I was a toddler. It's a flash photograph of myself caught in the act - startled - as I twiddle the big forbidden volume dial on the record player, enjoying that smooth, machine dampened action. Some kids can't take a telling. I feel a remarkable affinity with those lads, captured in a photo the year I was born.  

It's a great book, but it proves awkward to carry with clutching, frozen fingers as I wander the financial district looking for odd reflections and abstracts. It's fortunate that I just have the X100F on me and am travelling light. I continue weaving through the crowds, camera in hand. Lens set to f/8 aperture, shutter speed 1/250, shooting zone-focus and eyes sharp.

The shadows lengthen and merge as I wander the City of London. I spy The Monument, a great stone pillar nearly fifty metres high, built back in the 1670's by Sir Christopher Wren, ostensibly to memorialise the Great Fire of London. It still towers above most of the rooftops, and it must have completely dominated the then small city back in the early years of the Restoration. A great spiral staircase leads up and up and up within. I'm almost dizzy by the time I reach the top of the 311 steps and its icy cold up top. But it's worth it. The sun is near setting. The light is beautiful. The mildly obscene power-structures of the financial sector almost look romantic. The balcony walkway around the top of the monument is entirely exposed to the elements, with just a tall mesh enclosure protecting the viewing platform from the pigeon hordes. I try to squeeze my lens through the gaps in the mesh. No dice. 

Across the river stands the Shard. It's the first time this provincial lad has really laid his eyes full-square upon it. Just enough time to cross London Bridge and investigate. Upon leaving The Monument I get a certificate to certify that I have climbed all three hundred and eleven steps. Cute.  

The sun is setting and for some reason I cannot stop humming David Bowie's 'I Have Not Been to Oxford Town', as I hop over the bridge. The Shard is like some alien spire. Gazing up at the summit I wonder how far the apartments and offices stretch up, and whether it's hideously uncomfortable and pokey at the top, with diminished floor-space and a great cold, empty feeling looking out at an empty skyline. Rather them than me. Though impressive it's a cold, hard building befitting its name. I think I rather prefer the leafy terraced streets of Cardiff, with some solid hills at my back. 

Im reasonably happy with the images I've found, and thrilled by the book I bagged. It has indeed been a fine, if cold, day trip to London. There'll be a fair few more this year now that some quality photography exhibitions are underway or imminent, especially with the Magnum Home exhibition starting soon. All the same it's a strange experience shooting in London. The pace of life, the crowds, architecture, the ambience... all so radically different from Cardiff. Almost like another country entirely from my laid-back little city on the River Taff. Hmm, I should probably travel more.

On the ride home I get some shut-eye on the coach, muscles aching, anxious to clamber into a warm bed and drift away to sleep. London may be a jewel for photographers, but it is pretty exhausting. Still, I shall return - there's just so much to see. And the coffee's pretty good.  

Until later, and thanks for reading.