Flight To Enchantment

Spring 2013: I was walking along Riding House Street in London’s West End towards All Souls Church Langham Place very close to the BBC and the old/new Broadcasting House. It was a little before 2.30 on this sunny afternoon and I had my old Kodak ‘Autographic’ camera with me loaded up with film ready for action. This antique piece of kit dates from 1913 with a leather bellows-type mechanism and was the very first camera I had used as a child and later received as a present from my grandmother when I was 9 or 10. It became my favourite toy and has remained a treasured possession ever since; this simple camera – now a hundred years old – awoke in me a love of photography. I had it restored a few years ago to working order and I am still using it to take pictures with the image here the result of a recent foray into the city streets. 

People often ask what prompts the moment to take a picture? How long do you have? But in this case, the brief answer: as I was meandering along this thoroughfare that links the bustling grandeur of Regent Street with some fascinating back roads leading to Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road where an exciting assortment of restaurants, cafés or shops await discovery, I found myself enmeshed between three sets of high verticals and yet all these buildings were very different to each other: an archetype 1960s office block on my left with glass predominant, on the right-hand-side there are hints of the baroque with this grand edifice of an early 20th-century pedigree and then straight ahead there is the tell-tale steeple of All Souls Church designed by Nash in the early 19th century and a survivor from the Second World War. Instinctively I felt that this might make an interesting picture – such is the eternal optimism of us photographers. So I stopped walking and carefully aimed my camera trying to capture this trio of verticals while contending with a primitive focusing thingummyjig that displayed the image upside down and laterally reversed. So I pressed the shutter and it clicked comfortingly. More about the finished image in a moment.

This area of London has a special resonance for me as just around the corner from All Souls is that evergreen media institution: the BBC and back in the early summer of 1985 I had the privilege of attending a radio production/presentation course there. It was an excellent training ground in radio and it opened up my eyes to the true magic of the spoken word on the airwaves. I learnt, for example, that the best pictures exist on radio. Shortly after this course, there was a very happy event in our family when my wife gave birth to our first son that same summer. So, I suppose you could say that I came of age as a fledgling father and a novice broadcaster at around the same time 28 years ago. Later, I went on to use these newly-acquired media skills as a freelancer for the BBC World Service while working overseas in the Middle East.

And the bird flying majestically through the top of the attached picture is a complete fluke I promise you – no photoshop, honest guv. Every so often as a photographer, you get these lucky breaks. For me, this image has come to convey a sense of timelessness within what is normally a busy metropolitan setting and yet it is also something extra – a memory or glimpse of happiness with a hint of movement, of life. A flight to enchantment perhaps?

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