… Luton in Harmony. The Mall in Luton was alive with some of Luton’s hottest talents today. Coming together to support the Luton in Harmony movement – their website describes the movement – “Its aim is to celebrate the diversity and unity of our communities, and to build a positive reputation for our town.” Lots of the town’s positives were on show belting out tunes and flinging themselves through somersaults and spinning on their heads.
This time last year I was working in Brixton and chatting with people from the area. When they found out I was from Luton they gave me funny looks and asked how things were up there. I didn’t really understand what they meant – I knew there had been some trouble in Luton over the previous months but didn’t realise it was far reaching. The news of gang rivalry between the Marsh Farm and Lewsey Farm Estates (where I grew up) of Luton had travelled to, and shocked the people of, Brixton. I was amazed that the people of Brixton (somewhere I had always associated with trouble, the riots of ’81 and “Bloody Saturday” considered Luton to be an unsafe place to be, whether living there or visiting – “I’ve got friends up there and I won’t go there !” was just one comment) would be interested or shocked at little old Luton.
The idea of Luton being a rough, but more to the point, unsafe, place to visit surprised me. I gave it some more thought and started a photodocumentary on the area where I grew up. Lewsey Farm never seemed unsafe to me but maybe that’s because it’s where I grew up, it’s where I played knock down ginger as a kid, I knew the area and I knew the escape routes should I need them, so maybe my familiarity with the area was giving me a false sense of security. I decided to get around and meet a few shop owners in Dominic Square – you know the type of place, local shops, small supermarket, a betting shop and a bakery, where Grandad gets his paper in the morning and where kids in hoodies on BMXs sit around and talk when it gets dark.
I spoke to 3 or 4 of the shop owners and they all confirmed what I thought – that Luton and more to the point Lewsey Farm was not full of racketeers and gangsters terrorising the local people. So had the press blown things out of proportion ? This was very possible but there was evidence to back up the bad stories the people of Brixton had heard. On 5th September 2012 Delaney Brown, a 19 year old man from Lewsey Farm was mown down by a car mounting the pavement and knocked off his bike, he later died in hospital. This sparked a number of tit for tat attacks and fatalities between youths from Lewsey Farm and youths from Marsh Farm. The trouble and tensions went on for about 6 months, there was a lot of news coverage and sitting down to watch the 6 o’clock news I would be wondering what the next Lewsey/Marsh Farm story was going to be.
Over the first few months of 2013 there was a huge police operation and it combined with community leaders in and around Luton to combat crime on the two estates. Armed fire arms officers were patrolling the streets during the day and at night, community leaders were out and about on the streets talking to kids, the local radio got involved and ran programs dedicated to the subject and a rally was held in Luton Town Centre to bring awareness of the troubles and the ongoing fight to bring law and order to the streets of the town. All in all a huge effort was being made to calm things down.
A year on and I think things have calmed down, Luton is very rarely on the 6 o’clock news so I no longer have that dreaded sinking feeling when it starts. I had a cup of tea and sat and talked to Kath who works in the bakery while I was at Dominic Square yesterday. She’s been working at the bakery for a year, she’ll be 60 next month and would have been looking forward to retirement if the retirement age hadn’t been extended to 67 by the government. She gets up at 6 every morning to be at the bakery for 7 to arrange the loaves and cakes for the days trade, she lost her husband after a long illness 4 years ago after nursing him for 10 years and has been forced back to work but as most people around here she would rather get up at 6 and trudge through the rain and snow than sit at home and claim benefits. And I think Kath is the type of person that sums up Lewsey Farm, hard working, honest, tough but all the time doing it all with a smile on her face. I take my hat off to Kath and all like her in and around Lewsey Farm.
I bought this beauty a few weeks ago off ebay – I’ve been out with it a couple of times and so far I think it all works as it should. The C33 is a late 60s Twin Lens Reflex (TLR – view through the top lens and take the picture through the bottom lens) medium format professional camera manufactured in Japan – it uses 120 roll film and produces square negatives 6x6cm in size. It doesn’t have any metering and is fully manually operated, so to take a picture you either fly by the seat of your pants and use your best guestimate to choose aperture and shutter speed or you have some kind of light meter. The thing to the left of the camera in the picture is a 1950s Weston Master Universal Exposure Meter (another ebay acquisition), I’ve had it checked out and it works fine.
The plan, oh yes, there’s a plan, is to produce a body of work (15 to 20 black and white pictures) that I shoot, develop and print myself. The project will be loosely based on who I am and where I came from. We moved around quite a bit before the family settled in Luton in December 1976 – remember that hot hot summer of ’76? We lived in Milton Keynes for 9 months in 1976 before moving to Luton, before that we lived in a high rise block of flats (almost) overlooking Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium (and now even closer to the Emirates Stadium), before that we lived in Army Married Quarters in Bushey after moving back to England from Germany where Dad was stationed and I was born.
So that’s the plan – I’d like to think that by the end of 2014 I’ll have that set of prints that I’m happy with. It’ll take me to places I’m guessing will look quite different from what I remember. I’ll try and keep the blog updated with a few pictures along the way but the main aim of the project is to produce those pictures through film, negative, wet print and probably a few headaches from the darkroom chemicals – can’t wait !!
I was in the Navy with Mandy, we first worked together down the bunker at the NATO HQ in Northwood, Middlesex. I joined Northwood on 28th November 1988 – 3 days before my 20th birthday. With the words “don’t go down the hole hungover” from my PO at Yeovilton, Lindy, I was down the hole, hungover, within days.
Mandy’s getting married to Tom in April next year and they have asked me to do the photos – I’m delighted that they like my style and feel honoured they want me, and my style, to capture their special day.
We met at the wedding venue, Risley Hall Hotel, Derbyshire, yesterday so I could meet Tom (and Thomas), catch up with Mandy and get a feel for what they wanted from the photos. And of course it was a great opportunity to capture them relaxed before the big day …
Tom and baby Thomas are the 7th and 8th generation Thomases of the Nottingham Andersons. My rough maths makes a generation around 30 years so the family name of Thomas Anderson has been going for approximately 200 years – well done Thomas Anderson (all of you !!).
I’ve always been a big believer in black and white photography but while editing yesterday’s photos there was something about the colours the guys were wearing and the backgrounds. They were a lot of reds and greens and that made for some great edit opportunities …
Tom works in Aeronautics and is based in Kassel, Germany – they’ve been back in the UK for Christmas and have been busy making the wedding arrangements – I’m sure they’ll be looking forward to going home for a rest.
It was great to meet Mandy and Tom yesterday and with the addition of little Thomas, they make a lovely family. They are all off back to Germany in the next few days for some well earned rest – oh yes and work of course. Drive safely and see you all in April guys !!
I took a wander down to Bury Park this morning and met the lady that runs the “In Bury Park” website, Marie. She told me what she was doing and I can fully understand the thinking behind it. For as long as I can remember the only time I have ventured into Bury Park, out of the car, has been to watch the football, and I’m guessing that’s the same for a lot of people.
My own ignorance, before I went for my wander this morning, made me think my camera and I might not be welcome but I’ve never met such a willing and friendly bunch of shopkeepers. Busy setting up, I knew I would get people busy about their business (I’ve been down to Covent Garden Apple Market while they were setting up and that was similar, although I must say they were not nearly as friendly and willing to pose as my models today).
There was a definite hierarchy at the larger shops as they were setting up – wherever you go and in every walk of life there will be a boss and underlings. It was very evident in these shops and almost gave me the feeling that there is a much stronger feeling of respect for the elders in the community. The boss would be stood on the pavement outside the shop directing the younger guys around and making sure the morning’s delivery was set out properly. It was the same in at least two shops and these were the only two large fruit and veg shops setting up. I think things get moving a bit later on – especially as it is Ramadan at the minute. I was advised to come back later in the day as things liven up once fasting is over and food and drink are aplenty after sunset.
The streets were clean and any rubbish was being picked up as they went along. It was a bit like going back in time on a few occasions – e.g. when the lorry was being unloaded and the fork truck was manouvering on the pavement – very skillfully I must say !
I met the local traffic wardens – they were keen to explain there is plenty of parking in and around Bury Park – there are two car parks at the Beech Hill end and plenty of street meters but they did advise to check the signs. On one side it might be ticketed metering but on the other it could well be resident permits only and a lot of people fall prey to the trap. Take a second look if you park on a meter – the wardens are double teamed and do their job well.
All in all it was a great morning. I was there too early but then I didn’t know any better. I will go back and I will, in the first instance, go back this week, later in the day, to see what happens as the day’s fast breaks. I will also go back on a more regular basis, the clothes are a bit colourful for me and I don’t have much money to spend on jewellery but if you are after some decent fresh fruit and veg and well butchered meat – Bury Park is the place.
As I said at the beginning Bury Park has been seen as a predominantly asian part of town and it’s true, most of the shops are run by asians. But there are a lot of other nationalities that run shops, units and street market stalls – among them are Polish, Turkish and Italian and I’m sure there are more. If you haven’t been down to Bury Park recently, park up in Sainsbury’s or on a street meter (watch the signs) and take a wander, buy some fruit and veg, have a coffee and have a chat with the people – I promise you you’ll gain from it.
Popped up to High Town yesterday to see how the festival was going. High Town is a wonderful part of town, it’s underestimated and not given the credit it deserves. The High St is currently part of a regeneration scheme by the government whereby new startup businesses on the High St receive reduced business rates to help with the early years of trading. Shop 33 (Luton Community Arts shop I blogged about a few weeks ago is on the High St) was very busy yesterday with a programme full of local musicians coming into the shop to do an hours set.
Street photography is an art, your mind has to be alive and awake at all times, you have to be able to see stuff going on and capture it quickly. You also have to be mindful of people’s wishes, I stood to take a photo of a young barber cutting hair (it looked great – it was a tight afro with a pattern being sculpted into it) and I noticed as soon as I lifted the camera to my eye he caught me out of the corner of his eye and turned around sharpish. I dropped the camera, smiled through the window and asked if it was OK, he waved as if to say no so I gave him the thumbs up, he gave me a thumbs up back and we went about our business. Most people are fine and even relish the thought that someone thinks they are interesting enough to be photographed but if they’re not happy about it, I find it best to honour their wishes – no harm done.
These guys were very happy to have their picture taken and very good they were too, there were lots of scheduled events but I liked these guys and stood and watched them for about 15 minutes. Impromptu street corner busking, they just pitched up with their guitars and mouth organs and started playing, and very good they were too.
This blog is about Luton – the positives within Luton – it’s about the town but more importantly for me – it’s about the people – there are fantastic people in Luton. People who are proud to say they are from Luton, and this in a week where Luton, again, has been listed in the top 100 crappiest towns in the UK, an honour they won in the books 2004 publication. Here’s what Wikipedia says about the whole crap town affair. Well you know what !! I don’t give a shit about that book and I know a lot of Lutonians don’t either. I could go to ANY town in the country and shoot a series of photographs of dirty back streets, bins overflowing and general detritus. Luton’s got it’s bad points but it’s got a hell of a lot more good points ! I think this subject needs a full blogpost all to itself – I feel quite strongly about this !! Watch this space …