On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, a group of mostly Londoners gathered around a wooden table in an upstairs room at Forge & Co on Shoreditch High Street. I invited Stu from Inspiring City to come along for a few hours of urban exploration and photography.
We were there to play a little game called Foto Ruta Clue, a photography treasure hunt around one of the most vibrant areas of the city.
We kicked it off with a handful of examples for inspiration, were passed a few standard photo tips (ie – rule of thirds, leading lines, direction of light, be patient!), grabbed a partner and wandered off into the wilds of East London with a set of eight clues and a map of the local area.
We had two hours before we had to report back to review the results.
The following are the clues we were given and the photos Stu and I chose to submit for each category:
CLUE #1: POCKETS OF LIGHT. We decided to make our way to Columbia Road to catch the last of the flower market while it was wrapping up for the day. Around the back, there’s a shop that sells all sorts of bits and pieces and at the front the had a box full of spoons. I immediately thought of our first clue, pockets of light, from the shape of the spoons to the way the light was hitting them. I went for a close crop to emphasize the pattern of the clutter which I really liked.
CLUE #2: FOOD HUNT. The easy way to capture this clue would have been to swing over to Brick Lane market where there’s any number of vendors selling street food that could have made a great shot. But, we decided to go for something a bit different: a visit to Lucy Sparrow’s felt corner shop! The entire shop is full of felt products and is up for a month. It was jam-packed with people on the hunt for “food”.
CLUE #3: DADS ARE THE ORIGINAL HIPSTERS. Just about everyone in the group agreed that this was the most difficult clue. We spotted this guy with his faded tattoos, his blinging watch and grand old beard stuffing his face in shorts and a winter coat and thought – how cool is it to get past that point of worrying about dressing so cool and just do what you want? There’s a good chance he’s a dad and he was, judging by the leg art, at one point, quite cool himself.
CLUE #4: BEYOND RETRO. We could have taken a photo of the Beyond Retro shop nearby but that would have been too easy. We spotted this guy hanging out next to a vintage shop dressed like he fit the bill. He was a great character, and another one covered in tattoos. Maybe he’s friends with the guy above…
CLUE #5: SUNDAY BLUES. This is one of my favourite shots from the day, but unfortunately I couldn’t manage to get one with the cross necklace full in view. Columbia Road market is only open on Sundays, she’s all sorts of blue, from the hair to the clothing to the eyes to the crinkly bag and with the cross bling around her neck she was pretty perfect for this one. It was manic in front of her booth and she was busy serving customers, moving about and people constantly walking in front of my shot, but I love her expression in this one.
CLUE #6: WILD LIFE. What makes this one is the girl walking up who has the same cute look as the Saki & Bitches dragon on the pole as well as the same colour. We thought about pigeons and squirrels or interpreting this is a just “wild” street scenes full of people and a lot going on, but when we spotted this crazy dragon interacting with the life on the streets, it had to be this one.
CLUE #7: STREET NOISE. If you’ve been to Columbia Road Flower Market, you know what it sounds like: vendors with Cockney accents shouting deals on plants and flowers, chit-chat from people walking down the street, the sound of plastic bags and wrapping and the occasional waft of music from a street band nearby. I was on a mission to capture a vendor in action and this one presented the perfect opportunity. Can you hear her?
CLUE #8: FREE STYLE. The last one was up to us. We were told we could present our favourite shot from the day or think about it in terms of free style dance, or whatever we wanted to do. This one is free style drawing as well as one of my favourite shots from the day. Stu was leading me down Hanbury Street to check out this new piece from Nils Westergard when we spotted this little girl pretending to draw the monster. I normally won’t take photos of kids but her mother was also taking photos of her and was happy for us to capture this cute moment from behind. It worked well for the clue and I love the way her feet are positioned like she’s concentrating really hard on actually drawing.
We returned a few hours later, scrolled through the camera and chose the best image to fit each category. Unfortunately, Stu was having some technical issues and couldn’t access the photos he took along the way, so we went with all of mine which is a shame because I know he got some good ones which I’m looking forward to seeing later. Everyone downloaded their images onto the laptops provided and these were then displayed one by one on a large screen.
Over glasses of wine, we talked through them, the quality of the photos themselves, how we could improve them and how well they fit with the clues. It was really fascinating to see how each group interpreted the clues differently. Some even took completely different photos of the same subjects unknowingly.
We were talking about how it could be fun to make it a bit of a competition or for everyone to choose the best photo in each category at the end, and it turns out it actually was a competition and we didn’t realise it. They announced the winner of the best photo today which was mine – number 8 above, the freestyle picture with the little girl! I’m excited to claim my prize, which is round two in a different London location!
You can see everyone’s photos from the day in the Foto Ruta London Facebook album.
Foto Ruta was launched by a pair of expat photographers living in Buenos Aires about three years ago and has grown to include London, Barcelona and Santiago with pop up events in NYC. It’s open to all levels, a fun way to meet new people and explore the city for locals and tourists alike (although it seemed to be mostly locals in our group) and they run a full calendar of events.
Photo: Stu’s photo of me on Hanbury Street hanging out with some work by Roes
Note: My ticket and a plus 1 for the event were comped but the Foto Ruta Clue normally cost £24pp.
Of course, I took many more photos along the way and spent a few hours before the event with my camera as well so more from East London soon!