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Posted on 19th November, 2011




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I almost had a feeling of deja vu on Thursday 27th October, as my day closely mirrored that of Tuesday 18th. No surprise that I was in London then, killing three birds with one stone.


George, of G.H.M. Livings, Leyton, 27th Oct 2011.


Firstly, another attempt at getting a decent set of street portraits for The Guardian Camera Club monthly assignment, followed by the reward of a great pint of real ale at Brodie's Brewery Tap. Not that my existing street portraits from Clapham, Walthamstow and Liverpool were bad I'd say, but I just like that style of photography, and I'll take any chance to do more. So it was to Leyton this time, with the aim of approaching Brodie's pub from the opposite direction to that when I started at Walthamstow on the previous visit.


Something else also 'opposite' was the day's weather, as it was wet and miserable for much of the time. And also unlike the previous week, I had plenty of people say 'no' when I asked to take their pic. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised with how Leyton people reacted though: after all, it was the zero 'no' count from Walthamstow that was so unusual in my experience.


Similar to Walthamstow and all other street portrait sessions, was meeting wonderful people. Amongst many was George, the owner of G.H.M. Livings, a house clearance and removals business near Leyton Midland Road rail station. It'd be difficult to find a more friendly and approachable bloke in all of London I'd say: one of the old school, a real character.


One of the old school, a real character, is also how I'd describe the pint of Brodie's Mild I'd earned after a few hours street-walking. Unfortunately though, it was the only £1.99 I spent in the King William IV, as I had to get to the National Portrait Gallery pretty smartish for that 3rd bird I mentioned earlier. But, I'd already planned my next visit, well before stepping out of there onto High Road, Leyton.


So, to the Ondaatje Wing Theatre at the NPG, for portrait photographer John Swannell in conversation with another real character, the art historian, museum curator and self-confessed poser Sir Roy Strong. As you can tell, no bird after all, but the non-feathered ones we'd see in JS's pics would more than make up for that I thought. Unfortunately, not much as it turned out, as most pics were of Sir Roy, and no problem with that I must say, as JS creates superb-quality images. But, there weren't many pics anyway, as much of the hour was taken up by what felt to me like a 'mutual appreciation society' backslapping session. However, in drooling over each other, a couple of things were hinted at that did prick my ears, and I wish we'd been told more of them. Firstly, was the 'luck' that JS has experienced throughout his career, and which, he says, has been such a factor in his success. Was it purely luck, or, as Gary Player / Arnold Palmer / Lee Trevino (take your pick) would say, the result of 'the more I practice, the luckier I get'? Secondly, we could have heard more of the battles Sir Roy had with the establishment when he became the youngest director of the NPG in 1967: that would have been an eye-opener. You can probably sense then that I wasn't overly excited by the event: but oh well, you win some and you lose some. Or, to nick another phrase from across that French connection called the English Channel, c'est la vie.


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