La vie en gris

I’ve appreciated my job even more since I got my new camera. London is so bewilderingly big and varied, and I see curious, beautiful and intriguing things almost every second. And trying to capture them has taught me that a photographer really has to live in the moment. It’s no good telling myself that I’ll come back and take the photo another day, when I’ve got more time – it has to happen now, while the iron’s hot. I’ve even missed good opportunities in the 20 seconds I spend dithering before finally getting my camera out.

And one of the most elusive elements at this time of year is the light. We’re lucky if we get one good day of sunshine a fortnight at the moment, and even that’s long gone by 5 o’clock. The rest of the time, even if it’s not raining, the sky is nothing but varying shades of grey, and the streets almost monochrome in their monotony.

But I’m doing my best to appreciate this. A couple of years ago I was sitting on a roof terrace in Delhi, with Kiran, a photographer friend, when the sky suddenly clouded over, and the air filled with the smell and softness of forthcoming rain – and she started rhapsodizing about the beauty of ‘grey light’, and pointing out how it brought out all the colours of the flowers on the terrace, and taking photos of me in the strange almost-twilight that had suddenly descended, the moment before the first drops of rain fell.

Of course, living in the climate they do, Indians have very different views on such things – as Khushwant Singh points out:

An Indian’s attitude to clouds and rain remains fundamentally different from that of the Europeans. To the one, clouds are symbols of hope; to the other, those of despair. The Indian scans the heavens and if cumulus clouds blot out the sun his heart fills with joy. The European looks up and if there is no silver lining edging the clouds his depression deepens. The Indian talks of someone he respects and looks up to as a great shadow, like the one cast by the clouds when they cover the sun. The European, on the other hand, looks on a shadow as something evil[…]. An Indian, when the rains come, runs out into the streets shouting with joy and lets himself be soaked to the skin.

But, in order to make the best of a bad situation, and to look on the bright side (hopelessly inaccurate as that idiom is here!), I’ve been taking pictures of greyness, trying to understand Kiran’s obsession with grey light. And I’ve begun to realize that sunlight is almost boringly photogenic – clouds and mists and rain are much more of a challenge! I’ll leave you to decide how successful I’ve been.

A splendid (albeit slightly blurred) gothic dragon outside the Royal Courts of Justice, on the Strand.

The friendly local blackbird in St James’s Square.

I loved the way the smoke from the vents (just out of shot) blended with the mist. (Taken from somewhere high up in Exchange Square.)

A gloomy day in SW1.

One of two beautiful churches, marooned in the middle of the Strand.

Cranes, lamp posts and St Paul’s, from Blackfriars Bridge.

The view upstream.

Rooftops from Vauxhall.


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