Just got back from what for me, nowadays, is a long trip. Three international locales, total of 20 days on the road. It’s different now, of course. Road time used to be counted in weeks, not days. First international story I did for Geographic in the late 80’s was 17 weeks, split into just two trips. Crazy. Lived in the East End of London for all that time, in a little flat on the Isle of Dogs, which is a big loop (above) in the River Thames. Had my own local, the Tooke Arms Pub.
This photo took three weeks to shoot. Let me explain. I wandered into the Tooke, which was friendly enough but pretty rough around the edges, as estate pubs in working class neighborhoods tend to be on the East End. No one spoke to me. Had some terrible bar food and a pint of Ruddles. Walked out.
Came back the next day. And the next. Jeez, the food was horrible! I was getting the eyeball, to be sure, but not much else. Kept going. Kept at it. Finally, somebody got curious enough to strike up a conversation. That’s all I needed. Somebody broke the ice, and eventually I was accepted, albeit as an oddity. The pub became my watering hole, a listening post for what was going on in the nabe, and a wealth of potential ideas for photos to pursue.
Shot a young lady’s East End style wedding there, a riotous affair, to be sure.
Also met Robbie there, a wild and crazy Scot, and the driver of the tallest crane in Europe, working over the Canary Wharf site. Wanna come up? Sure!
Got my way to the cab of this massive jib crane, and climbed into a wire frame bucket mounted to the side rail of the jib (no OSHA, no safety belts…toughest part was actually walking out to the bucket. Round, painted steel, just a few inches thick. Crane moving in the wind. Wide, spread legged steps. Robbie called to me in his best brogue. “Now you’ve got your arse in the breeze,” he said, laughing. Said my usual prayer to St. Jude, patron saint of lost causes and photographers everywhere.)
Robbie ran me out to end of the jib in this contraption and started slewing me back and forth over the site. Got to be fun. Pictures never ran, cause they sucked, basically. Just record overviews of a bunch of girder work and dust. Best part was the ride on the jib, and then driving the crane afterwards. Robbie just cautioned me not to hit the emergency brake as the rig would crumple like paper. Okay!
Then back to the Tooke for pints.
Met a bunch of former dock workers who kept up the tradition of taking a weekly steam. Can I come along? Chuckles all around. “Well,” one old salt said. “We’ll all be in the nude!”
I said fine. Kept my Leica wrapped in a towel. Always joke I shot the whole job on one roll of film. (Had no pockets.) Also shot this.
There was considerable discussion about these pics at Geographic. One of them was gonna run big, but there was hesitation about the steamy junkyard, and ultimately the more demure photo won the day.
Time is compressed out on the road now. Which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. This recent trip was painful. Missed home a lot. Missed Annie a lot. Enter RC and Jen.
They were in NY for the Kelby Training Days at B&H, and had made arrangements to see Annie for coffee and a bite. Annie was expecting me home that day, but not until late. The real deal was that I was landing at JFK at 8:30 in the am. Called RC from Abu Dhabi airport. Dude! Make sure you get Annie out to see you guys. Make sure she sits with her back to the door.
Landed and hit NY. Got a new shirt, socks and underwear. (14 plus hours in a coach seat…my buddy Bill at Geographic calls it “chicken and goat class.” Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t very huggable.) Went to the gym. Showered and shaved. Gussied myself up as best as this bedraggled bag of bones will allow.
Got flowers. Great guy at the market. Pulled a whole fresh bunch for me. Sat down in the bus stop at 34th and 9th tried not to go to sleep. Eyeballed the front of B&H. Called RC. All set?
Natch. RC had done the very smart thing of getting Jen to call Annie that morning and swing the deal. You see, Annie and Jen know each other really only for a few hours but it’s like they’re sisters. They know about each other’s families, inner thoughts, secrets, childhood, education, favorite foods, workout routines, nail polish, camera pointers, etc. I mean they’re women, and they’ve thoroughly embraced the gift of speech.
In between hoots, clicks and grunts, RC and I have gotten to the point of agreeing the Knicks are a mess and Isiah Thomas is an asshole.
Kidding, really. RC is a great talker and storyteller, and is an over the top, giddy, soon-to-be father. He’s also a terrific shooter, and he had his D300 in front of him, teed up and ready to go. The three of them were chatting away, at the Skylite Diner on 34th, and I slipped up behind the table. Leaned over and said, “I believe the lady ordered flowers?”
It’s been a long and winding road, to be sure, but it led me to Annie…….
Photos by RC Concepcion.