October 01, 2007
  Hungerford Bridge

Hungerford Bridge, 1986

(Hungerford Bridge, London, 1986. Image copyright Hamish Reid. Click on image above for larger version).

I'm not much good at the social realism / street photography thing, mostly because I don't feel comfortable aestheticising other people's suffering (in other words, I'm no Diane Arbus or Weegee, and I don't think I've ever wanted to be). But I'd seen these two guys around a lot on Hungerford Bridge over the previous year or so, begging from the tourists and the theatre-goers crossing the river. The guy on the right ("Jimmy") had been chatting with me for a few minutes this particular day about Ireland and Australia and how he'd ended up begging (a long story I've told elsewhere) when he saw my camera (which is usually well-hidden; I'm not one of those people who stroll about with camera gear hanging off them or stuffed into camera bags, etc.). He made me take this picture of them so that "the workers in Australia know what Thatcherism is really like". I'm always nervous about taking photos like this, but I did it anyway; so far this is the only real example I have. I never saw "Jimmy" again; the man on the left (a homeless deaf mute) was still around the following year, but I lost track of him after that. That "CND" (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) sign is an absolute classic of its time, too, a then-ubiquitous sign of a London that took the Cold War and its own nuclear obliteration very seriously indeed, in ways that seem a little difficult to believe nowadays.

Note the typical midsummer London light — flat, grey, shadowless, with a steel-grey sky hanging over everything (this was taken late afternoon sometime in August or September). That light dogged me all my days in London…. And note the grain: this was taken with Tri-X (ISO 400) in my old Pentax 35mm hand-held, and push-processed to ISO 1600 due to that terrible light making a couple of earlier handheld shots on this roll difficult without a lot of pushing.

Lovely photo, really, but I wonder what these lads were doing when they weren't a-beggin'?

A couple of links to other Hungerford Bridge, just a historical take on it all, the old, the new, etc.

Beggar Story:

And a very old shot of the not-yet-crumbling footbridge of the 1840s:

And a shot of the new bridge:
"Anonymous" — thanks! Nice links (I deleted the repeat post) — I think I still prefer the old ugly workaday footbridge, but that's maybe just nostalgia. As for what the lads were up to — well, who knows, but the deaf-mute was definitely really a deaf-mute and homeless (he was quite a familiar person to me back then), but "Jimmy" was much harder to read….
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Hamish Reid is a photographer, designer, and software engineer living and working in the Jingletown district of Oakland, California. This is his full profile.

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