You may well have seen various images of a wet and rainy London cropping up here, there and everywhere over the course of this year, making artistic use of one of the city’s most ubiquitous sights – the humble puddle.
They are the spectacular works of Gavin Hammond, a man of many creative talents who’s subsequently gained some massive publicity for his productions, notably his London in Puddles series.
We were lucky enough to coax him into the London Grilling hot seat this week and question him on life as one of London’s most prolific photographers…
You are clearly a man of many talents! Is photography your first and foremost passion?
Well, I am obviously very passionate about my photography. And it is going off at the moment, so no wonder! I’ve been in news and art blogs all over the world and in major newspapers across the UK in the past few months. It’s pretty crazy how well the London In Puddles series is being received.
It makes me particularly happy when people tell me that they got into my music after seeing my photos and visa versa. I always shoot with a soundtrack in my head and I make very cinematic music, so I am always glad when they work together. I’m looking forward to doing more film for that very reason. Check out Sweet Tooth or my folk stuff – they’re the perfect mood for my images.
As for the writing, I’ve mostly written about music in the past, but do I have a series of London-based detective novels in mind and I am already working on a photographic book – so that’s all pretty joined up. The only random element is my cartoons, but they are all about London love too, albeit through the eyes of my cute, loser alter ego called Zack Stack.
But to get back to your question, someone once said that I began taking photos when travelling the world as a musician and now capture the world as if I were creating the soundtrack for a traveller. I like that idea. This is the multimedia age, so why limit yourself to one form of expression?
Your photographs are particularly inspiring; do you prefer film or digital? Or Instagram for that matter?
I am a film guy through and through when it comes to photography. I love how romantic it is and how it provokes a memory of our town in days gone by. Days when digital tricks didn’t exist and we had to capture a perfect, timeless moment with a big chunky Charlie Chaplin-esque camera…I kinda wish I’d been there too to be honest as I am on a bit of a mission to make tourists out of Londoners and Londoners out of tourists; to re-inspire some kind of romantic passion in the hidden corners of this higgledy piggledy city.
So I only shoot in black and white and use a Lomo, which essentially looks like a toy camera. That way, my subjects don’t take me seriously and stay very relaxed about me being around. And I can concentrate on kneeling down in the rain and working on the light, the stillness and the arrangement of the frame – because I have no fancy buttons to press whatsoever! And nobody is aware that their shadow is likely to be blasted around the world on the internet any moment now.
I do love digital SLRs for film work but can’t get past the emotional connection I have with film, and how it makes me work on composition. But then that’s no great surprise, as I’m also a composer at night!
What tips you can share with our readers for getting the best results with a camera on the move?
Have a camera with you at all times. No excuses. Buy a small one so it fits in your pocket and never stop popping it out and snapping everything you see. Stop the car. Jump off your bike. Run down that alleyway. I have so many creative friends who are amazed that I took these photos but when I ask them why they’re not taking photos too, they always say: “oh I’m too busy…”
Well, I shot all the London In Puddles series on the way to a job, in the lift up to the meeting, out of the window during an appointment, in my lunch-break, on my way home after a day’s work on something else…as my website says: it’s good to create a little every day!
As for techniques: just try to remember that you’re capturing light not buildings or people or things. If the light is good, it’ll look great. If the light is boring, work harder on the angles and ideas. And try to be ‘looking’ all the time. After a while you’ll see amazing things all around you that you just didn’t notice before.
How does our city fare as a landscape for inspiring and producing mesmerising photographs?
It’s the only city I claim to know like the back of my hand, yet I still feel like a stranger here. And around every corner and behind every door is a dark secret or a little bit of history. Because the best parts of London are not just the epic and grand monuments, but the quirky, original, eccentric nooks and crannies.
I work all over London as a freelancer so I’m constantly discovering something new as I cycle about, but I know I will never get bored of exploring it or ever run out of inspiration here. My dad was a proper cockney from Poplar and he was always glad to get away to the country, but I’m happy to be here and seeing it all with fresh eyes.
Having snapped so many of London’s hidden nooks and crannies, where are your favourite secret London spots?
I have just discovered Bunhill Fields Burial Ground near Old Street roundabout, which is an incredibly moving place to be at sunset. Peter Blake and other libertines are buried there and you can just feel the ideas hanging in the air.
I do love Leather Lane markets off Holborn and Church Street markets in Edgeware Road on a weekday. They resonate with the most vacuous and beautiful of desires. I also have a terrible weakness for lying alone in the long grass at sunset in Hyde Park just opposite the Serpentine.
As for the yellow bagel shop on Brick Lane at 10am on a Saturday, well…
What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve ever captured behind the lens?
When the Occupy London protests were happening outside St Paul’s I took some photographs and accidentally captured a really bizarre scene. A banker and some protesters were deep in conversation in front of a couple of placards – and obviously had very different views on the situation. Yet it was the banker who seemed really agitated and the protester who was completely calm.
It made me think about whose conscience was clear and about who had the hardest battle to fight. I don’t think the banker was listening, but at least they were in dialogue on the streets, which is the first step towards a kind of democracy.
If you could go anywhere in the world, camera in hand, where would you go and why?
I would stay in London and keep doing ever more new and wonderful series that help people to see our city in ways they never have before. I’d do postcards, calendars, posters and books that re-invent tourism in the same way that Banksy reinvented street art.
But I have often joked that I’d like to do a global series following on from the puddles that includes LA through silicone, New York through a pretzel, Texas through the sights of a gun, and Paris through lacy knickers. So if anybody would like to pay for me to do that – I’d be delighted!