On My Jack Jones

Ramillies Street, Soho, London

I am pretty much bored of taking photos. There is no challenge around, nil creativity, internet deluged with mediocre work, everybody falsely praising everybody else, sycophantic and sugar-coated comments becoming the norm, and art critics dead.

Just when I thought I was done, I am able to envision images before shooting, and also getting the results. Oh, no, I am still far from being labelled an expert. Karma is playing a role here. Photography is not letting me go. It loves me. It misses me when I ignore it. It pushes itself in my face, in my psyche, my heart, my hands, and my dreams. It is entrapping me with fluke shots.

Last couple of days I have walked aimlessly on London streets. Like any other metropolis, this too is busy. Too busy to pause, look, or care. The anonymity it lends to individuals is sort of nice. I can sit, think for hours. It won’t impose on me its speed. I won’t be pushed or shoved if I didn’t allow. I am part of a slowly exposed still.

I stop noticing people. They are like a motion blur. My camera is restless. I spend money and time to be there. One good shot would be a bonus. I have shot almost everything on those streets. I start to create ‘odd’ images in my head, and then fire the camera. God damn it! I am starting to get exactly what I pre-see in my head. I have the camera on full manual settings, including the lens. I don’t want perfect results. I want blurs, poor compositions, over-or-under exposed shots, and other such results that will convince me enough that I am not cut out to be a photographer. It is not happening. Something out there is not letting me give up just yet. I want to travel. Have adventure. Spend my days walking and observing life, and nights in dimly-lit rooms in near silence. No camera to distract me.

It won’t happen yet. My camera is intelligent. It programmes itself to my visualisation. It is giving me the results with very little effort on my part except the part where I am being a fantasist. Canon baby is making my fantasies come true. This will last until I fall in love again. I have to pretend to ‘neglect’ it.

Seated on a bench, I watched the pigeon. It won’t leave my feet, hopeful for some crumbs. It then flies. I wait again. I will photograph it in flight, between those buildings, almost silhouette-y, but not entirely, as I want the lamp to have some light from underneath the white globe, and also slightly exposed buildings to give some context to the bird’s position.

Wishful thinking with an all-manual camera and an unpredictable bird.

It comes in the view, and I wait again until it is there where I want it. Will it? Maybe not! It just might!

And, it did.

One shot only. I didn’t want to do a second ‘for luck’s sake’. I wanted a ruined image. I wanted to return home frustrated, angry.

Can anyone ever get a image exactly how they imagined against such odds?

Divine intervention, perhaps.

On a separate note — I feel like the bird. Free. On my Jack Jones amidst urban chaos.

Like Rick Blaine, I never make plans that far ahead.

The year was 2011, a year or two into my street photography work. I photographed much of this part of London. This was the area I started with. This was the area I continued with for a couple of years. This was the area I returned to after unsuccessfully dabbling into the kind of street photography that never appealed to me. A consummate lover of all things classic and historical, I photographed in a manner that would retain the feel, which meant waiting at length for streets to be somewhat void of crowds.

That day was the very first time I stumbled upon this shop. Bogart did it. So did the red. Without him selling the store, there was no way I would be half as interested in stopping to photograph. For a long time after that, I called it the Humphrey Bogart store, for I thought it only sold Bogart memorabilia. I fired some half-hearted shots, with the intention of returning for some more when I would return specifically for it. In the meantime, I neglected the earlier (above) shots. My ‘I can do better’ mantra forever buzzing in my psyche. Don’t save copies, delete the files, take more tomorrow. Knowing full well the area was undergoing changes, I ignored walking past the place, even when only a few hundred yards away on many occasions, busy taking photographs of other streets, as I believed that there will be a next time, plus I might still have some low-res files somewhere in a corner of my folders. I went past it only once after that, took some shots of standing Bogart at the entrance of the shop, but was too lazy for the shot that I was after – from the street opposite.

Some other time! And I went away.

In 2018, when I was packing my gear to return, finally, to Brewer St., I was asked by someone, “Tomorrow, will you….?”

In reply, I swung my head in isolation, from side to side, like a hip-hop dancer, and spoke the famous words, “I never make plans that far ahead.”

Come tomorrow, I looked for my hero everywhere. Couldn’t believe I was seeing what I was seeing. I never experienced the kind of pain I did that day at a scene that was lost forever. Brightly lit clothes shop in place of the cool, dark, old, soiled, worn, seedy, hip, noir-ish, sexy, burlesque-y red shop that sported the cutout of Bogart, the stylish seasoned smoker.

What do I do now? My files gone forever, taking my arrogance along. I could NOT do better, every time. In my dumped folders, I scavenge for the photograph from before. Now, my only hope, the low-res file, was corrupted too. When I clicked on it, it would for a split second reveal what we see above, but then go blank. So, I take tens of screenshots. One screenshot worked, and I got this scene, still corrupted, but it held a mysterious charm due to those two bands running across the image, forming a deeper-red panoramic window, creating an illusion of a private eye seated in the cafĂ© opposite, making a note of the scene. Like I were the private eye with my secret camera. I love the drama that the “window” creates. Oh, so The Third Man!

I am keeping this image. This is a big part of my photography work. It has everything that I love in my work for this documentary – mystery, drama, sleaze, thrill and Rick Blaine.

Like him, for better or for worse, I still don’t make plans that far ahead. And like him, I too once smoked sutta very professionally, as a good friend, a keen observer and writer, flatteringly, wrote about me in his book. More on that another time.