Yesterday morning, I was up at 3am. This, I hasten to add, is an unusual occurrence as I’m not at my best in the wee small hours, and I tend to take a good while to get moving at that time of day. That makes it all the more surprising that I was out of the apartment by 3.20, and wandering through the dark, deserted and decidedly drizzly streets of Stockwell.
As you have probably guessed, the only thing really capable of getting me out of the house so early – besides going on holiday – is a photo opportunity. I am currently doing a piece of work with a project called All Aboard for Stockwell, which is carrying out a variety of activities to document and celebrate the 60 year anniversary of the iconic Stockwell bus garage.
My contribution is to take photos, in some cases of the individuals who are being interviewed for their insights into the history of the garage and in others – like yesterday morning – to capture images of the garage itself.
The garage is, of course, a 24-hour operation, and by setting out so early I hoped to capture a side of it which few people see. I was not dissapointed – as I arrived, the reception area which is normally buzzing with activity as drivers clock on and off was deserted, apart from Jim the duty manager who had arrived early to get ready for his shift.
I am fascinated by places which have an “after dark” existence – I think there’s something intriguing about spaces which continue to operate at some level while most of us are sleeping. As people come and go, the level of energy and activity waxes and wanes; and as time passes the nature and quality of the light shifts subtlely too.
As the morning wore on, drivers started to arrive for their shifts. Mercifully, given that they were about to take control of their buses, they all looked a good deal more awake and with-it than I felt! There was a gentle hubbub of conversation in the previously silent space as the chat ranged over bus garage business, newspaper articles, and the usual banter of people who are comfortable with each other’s company. We chatted a little about what I was doing there, and I felt very welcome, but by and large I was an observer on the edges of the group, noting and at times photographing what was before me.
That happens a lot to a photographer – you are privileged to observe little snapshots of people’s lives. Sometimes those are momentous and exciting occasions like a wedding or a big party; sometimes historic like a conference or a speech; and at other times the snapshots are comprised of the myriad everyday little moments that make up all of our lives.
I think that’s one of the things I love about photography – that privilege of being invited in to other people’s worlds. So often, we get so wrapped up in our own little world that we lose a sense of perspective. These little snapshots I’m exposed to help me to put my own life back in context, and to realise that oftentimes the things I am excited, apprehensive or concerned about are not so very different from everyone else’s.
And of course, although the camera helps focus the mind, you don’t have to be taking a photograph to be open to that sort of experience!