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 been living in London a few years by the time I took this shot (1987?), and 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 guy) 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 done in the film era, and 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.
(See my “London In The 1980’s” gallery on HamishReid.com for a gallery of images from the same era).