I have a soft spot for Camden. Growing up in Kent I’d come up to London at the weekends with friends and, with our ridiculously wide jeans soaking up the muddy street water, buy Nirvana t-shirts in Camden Market and then wander around the Lock eating greasy Chinese food. Even now, the smell of weed that impregnates everything bought in Camden, rekindles in me that feeling of the first flushes of teenage freedom. I also lived in Camden when I first moved to London post-university, and dodging the rowdy crowds as I made my way back home from the tube became a regular Friday night occurence. So when I heard that Fox and Squirrel (the guys behind the fantastic Brixton food walk I did back in January) were taking part in the inaugural Camden Create festival, I quickly signed up.
Camden Create was a three-day long celebration of the area and the recent influx of creative new businesses. There were lots of talks and activities, and a fun sculpture put up outside Camden tube in its honour. I think they will be running it again next year (or at least they definitely should). I went along to two of the Fox and Squirrel walks: a lunchtime food walk they’ve just launched, and an abbreviated version of their street photography course, which has been held at different locations around London.
Eat Your Way Through Camden
This walk was run by Lindsay Faller and Penelope Sacorafou, the same two guides as the Brixton one, and they started in a similar way by telling us a little about the history of Camden. In the 1800s the middle classes moved to the area, building elegant town houses in the hopes of making it a desirable address akin to nearby Regent’s Park. However the Industrial Revolution brought an influx of Irish navvies to Camden to build the canal and the railways. The area quickly became soot-stained and the three-storey houses split into cheaper flats. This affordable accommodation brought artists to Camden who set up studios, and turned it into a quirky, bohemian neighbourhood, the spirit of which is still alive today. Along with the Irish, Camden has also attracted other groups of immigrants, and is home to strong Cypriot, Turkish, Greek and Bangladeshi communities. It was the first three of these that the walk really focused on.
Our first stop was to George at Camden Coffee (11 Delancey Street). George is Cypriot, and his grandfather ran a roastery in Cyprus, which he worked in before moving to London 37 years ago. Once he arrived he decided that he didn’t want to pursue the career in engineering he had trained for, but his own business instead. He befriended the previous owner of the Camden Roastery, who hadn’t wanted to pass the it on to his own son as he didn’t think he could roast to his own high standards. George convinced him to give him a trial, and roasted his first batch two days later while the owner was still asleep. The owner was so impressed by his roasting he signed the shop over to George, who has run it ever since. When I mentioned him on Twitter, I was told that apparently Rod Stewart has his coffee shipped out to LA! George still uses the same machines as his predecessor, and as you walk up Delancey Street you can see the smoke puffing from the building, and smell the incredible scent of freshly roasted beans. George is a fantastic character, who could probably keep you amused for hours with stories if you let him!
Our next stop was to White Kitchen (79 Camden High Street), which doesn’t look like anything special from the outside; I’m sure I’ve walked past it numerous times without taking note. The Turkish owner was working at Pizza Express when he realised there was a gap in the market for a lower priced pizza, so set up his own restaurant to fill it. A 12″ margherita is just £3.79, and none of the pizzas are more than £6. He uses stoneground organic flour, which has far more nutrients in it than the 00 flour normally used to make pizza bases, and gives the dough a beige colour. I was genuinely very impressed with the pizzas – the crust was thin and crisp, and the toppings plentiful. It would make the perfect pre-gig at Koko fuelling pit stop.
Next up was Karavas (79 Camden High Street) which was set up by a Greek Cypriot, and named after a town which was invaded by the Turks in 1974, who then forced out the entire Greek population. However, it has since changed hands – into those of a Turkish Cypriot – but the Greek food has remained. Penelope commented that it is nice that he hasn’t tried to Turkify the place, and kept the menu faithful to the previous owner. It seems that on the neutral ground of London, the two ethnicities have managed to develop a rapport that hasn’t been possible in Cyprus itself. We were served a typical Greek meze, with bowls of creamy hummus, taramasalata, tzatziki, and Greek salad, with stuffed vine leaves, grilled chicken and lamb. Everything was delicious, particularly the juicy, char-grilled meat, and it would be a great place to go for lunch.
On our way back to The Collective we stopped at a Greek supermarket to see the range of ingredients and produce available, and a little place which apparently makes excellent pastel de nata (my favourite place to get them in London is here), but were sadly unavailable on the day. Finally we were treated to Black Sheep coffee, who are currently based in The Collective (159 Camden High Street). The company is so named as they have choosen a very unorthodox bean to work with. Rather than use arabica, which almost all companies do, they use 100% robusta beans. Robusta is normally only used for low grade, instant coffee, and is mass produced to very low standards in Vietnam. However, Black Sheep have found smaller growers in Kerala, who hand pick and double wash the beans to a much higher standard. The beans give a coffee that is very high in caffeine, and low in acidity with walnut and bitter chocolate flavours that punch right through milk; my flat white was fantastic.
I really enjoyed the walk around Camden, and despite knowing the area pretty well, I was still taken to places that I had never been to before. But as with the Brixton walk, the real value was in meeting and chatting to the owners of these businesses and hearing their stories, as it is they who really form the heart of Camden.
Street Photography Walk
This walk was a shorten version of the normal Fox and Squirrel one, and, as it was part of Camden Create, we were lucky enough to begin with an introduction to street photography by Gerry Images, whose offices are in Camden. Jacqueline Bourke, the Creative Planning Manager, showed us defining photographs in the history of street photography, talking us through the techniques and thinking behind them.
These images illustrate two very different approaches to street photography. The top one, Meudon, was taken in 1928 by André Kertész, and is of a quiet Parisian suburb. It is an example of a ‘decisive moment’ photograph, in that Kertész chose to press the shutter at the perfect moment. He took a great deal of time setting up this image. There are other shots taken from the same viewpoint as he worked out the best frame for his photograph. He then waited for the action to come into shot, and clicked at the exact right moment to create a perfectly balanced image.The second one is William Klein’s Gun 1, taken in 1986. Klein was a New York street photographer, and was known for getting involved in his photography, for engaging and provoking his subjects. His photographs are ‘indecisive moments’ – they’re very raw and energetic, there is no sense of carefully thought out composition, just a spontaneous grabbing of the moment. I love the punchy quality to this photograph, it comes right at you like a fist!
This is just a small sample of our talk, but it was one that I very much enjoyed. Getty hold regular talks as part of In Focus, and you can find out about upcoming ones here. We were also shown this fantastic video of current New York street photographers, Everybody Street. Find out more on the website.
After the talk we took to the streets with Stuart Beesley, an award winning travel photographer, as our guide. He gave us a series of assignments, certain things to capture on camera, and then report back. He said that it is sometimes helpful to go out with a certain task in mind, as it can be much easier to try to capture something rather than everything. For the first task we were all given a specific colour to focus on. I got red, and after a few minutes of unsuccessfully trying to capture a guy in a bright red jacket, I decided to use one of the techniques from the talk, and found a scene with lots of red in it and then waited for action to come into the shot. I did feel slightly stalkerish standing outside this house, but I’m quite pleased with the results!
This was followed by assignments to capture people cowering from the rain (it was a miserable day), and reflections in windows or puddles of water. I’m not a natural photographer, but the course did give me a push of confidence to try different things. Stuart was great at chatting to us all individually about our cameras and photographs, and I think on the full length course there is even more time for this. These two walks once again convinced me that Fox and Squirrel are running some of the best, most creative, walks in London. I can’t encourage people enough to go on them!
The Camden Food Walk is £35, and the Street Photography walk is £75.