From West London to East London

30th April 2021 - Binal Patel

Self Portrait photo by Binal Patel

During lockdown 2.0, or whichever one we were in (I’ve lost count now), I was looking for something to get involved with in the community. I’m not originally from east London and all my friends and family reside in west London, so I wanted to meet more people living in Newham.

Just by the off chance, while scrolling through Instagram, I came across a Newham Heritage Month ad which asked; Do you live in Newham? I do. Do you like to take photos? I absolutely love to. I read no further and contacted Newham Heritage Month. Immediately after speaking with Jan Cullen who set up the volunteer offer, I was given my first task which was to take a photo of essential items, a self portrait and a photo outside my window. So, I dusted the cobwebs off my camera and started to set up my shots. What started off as a simple task ended up being a full blown photoshoot. It reminded me of how much I love taking pictures. My dad is a photographer, so I’ve grown up with backdrops, lights, tripods, my bedroom was even converted into a dark room with that glaring red light. It really connected me to him, especially during these ‘unprecedented’ times.

My essential items in lockdown - trainers, mask, headphones, coffee and book. Photo by Binal Patel

We started our weekly Zoom meetings with the rest of the volunteers. The first session was super exciting simply because I got to see new faces! It seemed like it was a common theme for us all; I remember someone saying “it’s nice just to talk to someone new”. However, the icing on the cake was that I got to meet new people who loved photography as much I did.

The first few weeks we were tasked with taking photos of buildings we liked. I’m sure everyone was in the same boat of getting sick of going for walks BUT nothing beats going for a walk with a PURPOSE. So off I went trailing the streets of East Ham looking for buildings. I didn’t have to look far as plenty are placed at the spectacular cross junction where High Street North and South meets Barking Road.

Throughout the weeks Keith Martin, our photographer tutor, would give us hints and tips on framing, perspectives, and editing. I was lucky enough to have Adobe Lightroom so I invested time to learn the software and what a game changer that was! Before I knew it hours and hours had passed and I had just edited one image, the possibilities are truly endless.

He also showed us other photographers’ work such as Tish Murtha, Sylvie Belbouab, Vivian Maier, Zaha Hadid and many, many more. Armed with all of this information I went forth and tried my best.

We then moved onto the topic of the project which was Shops, Docks and Factories. Being in Newham all three are on our doorstep. We were then tasked to start documenting any shops that we had connections too. During the sessions everyone was given the opportunity to showcase their images and explain the photos. It was so interesting hearing others talking about their photos and the stories behind it.

It wasn’t simply ‘I just like the look of it, so I took it’ you really had to think ‘what drove me to take this image.

Adding a pop of colour to Barking Road. The Cali Candy Shop & The Greengate Café, Plaistow. Photo by Binal Patel

In one session we entered the world of Layers of London. This was led by Lucy Madison and Iain Bruce from the Hackney Archives. As a lover of maps, you can find yourself lost in the vast amount of information. If you haven’t already, you should check it out!

After the various phases of lockdown we were able to meet up not once BUT twice! In any other year meeting people in the flesh would be just the norm, however during a year of lockdown it was exciting and something to really look forward to. I wondered whether I remembered how to be social or would I shy away? Luckily, I remembered and the hours we were all together went in a blink of an eye. The whole time was spent just talking, oh and of course taking photos!

Our first meet up was based around shops. Meeting in Stratford we took the walk down towards Plaistow. On the way we were lucky enough to photograph a few shopkeepers outside their shops such as G & R Butchers and the stunning florist shop; Sewells, as well as a memorable moment inside a laundrette. It felt like we had walked back in time. The Newham Recorder online did a piece on our photoshoot which was great to see.

Our second photo meet up was based around the docks. So off we went to the Royal Docks documenting the overwhelming cranes and the new buildings around.

I am so glad that I came across the Newham Heritage Month project. By simply clicking through I have gained so much more knowledge, met some absolutely wonderful people but most importantly found a new love for Newham and the wonderful buildings it brings with it.

1 - 31 May 2021