The beginning of an exciting year…

by juliakeil

So I recently realised that I have not been using this so called blog to its full extent, except to post the odd poem or photograph, and as it is a new year, the year of 2012, I thought why not start now…

It’s strange how new years do that to you. They really are in many ways a clean slate, washed of all the burdens and unfinished plans of the previous year leaving you ready to start the fast approaching time head on.  Makes you wonder why the same sense of a new start never overcomes you in the say…May? July? Maybe it’s because everyone is riding the same wave so you feel obligated to join in. Herd  mentality. I am in no way criticising, just observing. Wondering. All those ings.

I ramble. What I really wanted to start documenting is the Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary photography which I recently started at London College of Communication. I basically want to keep a record of the evolution I’m going through so that perhaps one day I may look back on this world wide blog and say…hey…I actually learnt something!

SO here goes…

I started the course last week and its already been a breath of fresh air. I can already tell I am going to learn a lot from this year and hopefully will develop and better my abilities. The breath of fresh air very much stemmed from the general vibe of the talented, eclectic mix of people on the course. Everyone just seems to have their head screwed on, and not too tight either. You can tell that everyone is there to learn from the other and is open to whatever may come their if saying.. “bring it!”

Since the start of this new year, I feel I’ve undergone some sort of change. A change of mindset. It feels as though a block has lifted itself from a part of my brain. A block which kept feeding me negative thoughts of comparison, competition, fear, inhibition and just a general feeling of disbelief and a lack of self worth. I feel more open. Like I am once again letting the world and the people in it in. I don’t know if it’s because I am in this new state of mind but I feel that the individuals on this course radiate this open mindset which is like I said earlier…refreshing. I cannot wait to see how we all grow together this year.

Last week were introductions. We each introduced each other and showed some of our work. It was a great way to get a general idea of what each person was about. If a tad nerve wrecking. But then that’s all part of what makes beginnings and introductions so exciting. Nerves.

We were given our first assignment on our first day which was to photograph 3 different people doing different jobs using a 50mm lens, ISO 400, and black and white only, no editing. We were to narrow our shots down to 70 per job/person which we will then discuss and narrow down to just one shot as groups later this week. The point is to get out there approaching people and spending time  with them, studying them in a sense to capture the essence of their job so that it is clear from one shot what it is they do.

I decided to start with what was in front of my doorstep, my neighbourhood, Brockley,situated in south east London. It wasn’t long after that I decided to focus all my attention on the Brockley area and even thought this would be quite a good project to continue with…but let me get back to where I started….

I first made my way to the Broca Food Market which to all those living in Brockley is a wonderful community grocery store full of fresh locally sourced produce and other goodness. Erin opened the store three years ago in what used to be a heroin rehabilitation centre, after her cafe The Broca, located opposite Brockley station was a success. It is at the Food Market that Erin and the staff bake the cakes, muffins and cook the soup which is then brought to the cafe.

When I first stepped into the shop and asked Oliver and Sara if it would be okay for me to follow one of them around for a few hours photographing them working, I was immediately greeted with warmth and acceptance. I even got offered a soy latte which I gladly accepted!

So my subject for the following few hours was 20 year old Sara who is currently studying at Goldsmiths and who told me she practically begged the staff at Broca Food market to give her a job because she wanted to work there so much. And after spending the next couple hours in the shop with her and Oliver, I could see why she loved working there. The general vibe of the place is really laid back and friendly and although Sara was constantly busy tidying the produce, stocking up, making lists of what needed ordering and serving customers, it all went by organically and stress free.

Sara, employee of Broca Food Market, arranging stock.

After spending a few hours there I had a feeling I probably got a shot I wanted amongst  the ones I took so I said my thank yous and stepped outside to see my next subject right across the road from me. A bright yellow elderly Lollipop lady.It was just before 3pm and school closing time.

I began snapping away, studying her movements carefully. The repetitive yet dance like gestures she would make when sailing across those zebra stripes, beaming. Her agility surprised me.  I approached her and got into conversation with her. Her name was Sheila. 75 years old, 35 of which she had been working as a lollipop lady. She loved the flexibility of the job and I could tell it kept her fit. She enjoyed it. With her permission I observed her for the following hour or so, chatting to her throughout. I was overwhelmed by her warm hearted nature and the sense of community and familiarity which surrounded her. Every time someone would cross the road they would greet Sheila by her name and smile and most of the time, she would greet them back with exactly the same respect.  I suddenly felt like I was living in a tiny village where everyone knew each other. Something which I am rather unfamiliar with. I indulged in the feeling of a community.

Sheila, the lollipop lady and her crossing.

When it got to 3:40 pm I decided to make my way to my next stop and on the way briefly stopped to talk to another lovely lollipop lady, Linda, who had been doing the job for 9 years, a baby compared to Sheila.

A brief encounter with the lovely lollipop lady, Linda.

Next stop was Sounds Around on Brockley road, a store which has intrigued me for the past year living in Brockley. I don’t quite know how to describe this store… it is sort of a shop for everything. It has all sorts of trinkets and collectables, batteries, DVDs, skull rings, games, warming animals, cards…the list goes on. I walked in and spoke to a tall, well groomed man with glasses, slicked back hair, a tie and a humble smile. His name was Dave, the owner of Sounds Around for the past 40 years. He runs the store with his family which immediately sparked my interest even more. His sister Pam, niece and nephew Debbie and Bradley and his 96 year old mother who was not present at that moment, all make sure the day to day tasks run smoothly.  To me, this was something special to see a family running a business together, everyone of them so humane.

Dave allowed me to spend time in the store photographing them as they go about their tasks. I decided to mainly focus on Dave as he cleaned the displays, rearranged items and served customers. Once again I was baffled by the sense of community even in that store. The customers that came in seemed like friends and would normally first indulge in a chat before mentioning what they actually came into the store for. Needless to say 9 times out of 10, Dave had whatever item the customers would ask for.

Here are a few impressions of the 2 hours I spent there…

Dave, securing a glass shelf

Arranging the shop window

Dave serving a customer

Dave replacing a battery with his niece, Debbie by his side

Pam making notes amongst the array of stock

Bradley and the swan

I felt free to roam the store and tried to use as many different angles and perspectives as I could think of.  I left close to closing on a high. Mainly because of the people I had met that day. Their willingness to let me into their lives for those few hours of the day was refreshing and liberating. I wanted more.

Over the next few days I arranged to photograph two more people at work, all in the Brockley area.

On the Sunday I met with craftsman of wooden creatures, Jeff Soan in his studio also in Brockley. Jeff was a builder for 17 years before he turned his true passion of toy making into a business in 1987. I actually wouldn’t describe his wooden creatures ‘toys’ because they are so much more than that. Each creature is created with such love, sensitivity and vision that they evolve into these life like beings which move and wriggle and have this amazing ability to bring a smile across your face. Each one made from an assortment of different wood, they develop a unique personality. Expression. It truly is magical and I wouldn’t expect any less coming from the hands of such a genuine craftsman.

I watched and documented in fascination as Jeff went about creating his creatures. While I was there he spray painted an octopus he was working on for an ‘Under the sea’ museum in Sheffield and smoothed out the edges of an aardvarks tail.

Jeff, smoothing out the edges of his aardvarks tail

Jeff, maker of wooden creatures

The aardvarks tail

Seal made from the wood from the Cutty Sark

Octopus for 'Under the Sea' museum in Sheffield

Last but most certainly not least, I ventured to The Brockley Garage, a in my opinion, visually interesting space with his blue tones and piles of tyres. Of course this assignment was in black and white so the colours were not exactly that relevant in this case.

The owner of the garage is Steve who wears a blue kit to match his working space. He took over the garage in the mid 1980’s and has been running it with his partner in crime Damien, originally from Poland, for the past 4 years or so. The two of them reminded me of an old married couple in the many ways and made quite a comedic pair. You could immediately tell that they genuinely enjoyed each others company and worked hard as a team.

I went there not knowing what to expect. I started off following Steve as he checked if a car was in working order by raising it with a special contraption and viewing its underside (something I have never seen before!) .  After some time I made my way outside to where Damien was running about changing tyre after tyre. I found his fast pace riveting . He definitely kept me on my feet and all throughout he would talk to me about his life, experiences when he first came to London from Poland, his personal love for photography and his respect for his boss, Steve. Both of them were once again, such wonderful people. I really couldn’t believe my luck.

Here a few impressions…


Steve, under the car

Underside of a car

Buttoning his kit, ready for action



A happy customer


Damien at work

Getting close to the end of the day, a moment of exhaustion


The end of the day is near...

So I’m sure I could go on telling about my time spent with all these wonderful individuals who kindly let me into their lives for a brief moment, but as this entry has now formed into quite an essay and I am getting tired, I think I better bring this to a swift end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this first assignment and hope to continue this Brockley project over the next year. I finally feel like I am becoming a part of this community, a feeling which I welcome with open arms.

That’s all for now. Till next time…