I like London. For me it’s maybe the best thing about the UK. I was born there. Grew up there. Left and went back and worked there. Left again and now, occasionally visit there. When I go back to the UK, it’s always London I fly into. It is not perfect, it has too much of the UK’s power, it has fewer and fewer Londoners in it. It’s righteous and greedy and leaves people from other places further afield feeling overshadowed. I don’t think it is as interesting as it once was, neither do I think it’s as alive or vibrant or exotic as many of it’s cousin cities around the world, but I suppose as much as anywhere that grows and changes and morphs constantly can feel homely, to me it still does.
One of my earliest memories of adolescence was being allowed to get the routemaster up west where a bunch of us would go to the magical emporium that was Kensington Market. This was the era of enamel Communist badges, baseball jackets and DM shoes. It was probably not nearly as exciting, but I remember that place being a smokey warren of small pokey stalls, illegality and wrongness just a counter away. It must’ve been a massive fire risk, given most of it’s natives were either stoned or chain smoking cheap fags, and it was probably not that raggedy by the very fact it was in Kensington to be honest, but it did feel it to us lot, it was our own little corner of counter culture reachable by the No33 bus.
Recently I returned and found myself with an unexpected afternoon in the capital. I wandered and re-visited. Or at least, I tried to. This time, maybe a couple of years since the last time, I was kind of shocked at how many of the quirky little corners of interesting life I was looking forward to eating omlette and chips in or buying records or rare books from had been washed out by harmogenised coffee and the same old brands brands brands. Gone were the independent shops that sold better Carhartt shorts than the Carhartt store. No more was the shifty as hell trainer emporium in Streatham that always had imports a trainer head’s imagination couldn’t even conjure up. Clearly Photographer’s gallery will never be the same without that bloke with the quiff’s home made banana cake – Focaccia doesn’t make that ok, I’m sorry. Vacant was the cramped, awkward and flakey but IN-TER-EST-ING Food For Thought restaurant/ kiosk/ bar / chaos thing in Neal Street. You could just feel the Wagamama / Pizza Express middle class creche programme hovering round the corner waiting to move in.
I found myself wandering from point to point and it could have been any city in Britain. That was always the best bit about this city, it’s lifeblood was that it still had inhabitants that owned and shared a little corner here and there for others with the same eclectic tastes. Not just a Superdry like every other high street. Of course there was always high street blah, but there was also another London. And it’s those little jigsaw pieces dotted all over the city that have been hoovered up in a dull cull of independence.
So, last trip, a few months ago, I ended up around the traditionally camera shoppy part near the British Museum. A couple had gone, but I turned into Museum street in hope and it was still there – The Aperture Photographic cafe and camera museum. In fact, it seemed to be doing ok, revived no doubt by the new school idea of shooting film again.
I love this place. It is a cafe. It is a camera shop. It is a camera museum. It is a couple of floors of rooms where people can disappear and not be bothered. It is a place the imagination can run free and still pop upstairs for some Rolos when they run out. I have sold them cameras. I have bought cameras here. My darling Mamiya 6 lived here for a while. They stock my favourite film and there seems always to be very good music playing. It’s not the most sophisticated cafe, it has boggo Walkers Crisps and Kit Kats out front but in the same vein it’s so unpretentious it’s kind of refreshing. And it’s all the better for it’s honesty. It’s hard to nail down, but there is a kind of calming energy there too. It’s like you understand this and sign up by sitting down. Those that don’t get it probably wouldn’t stop anyway. I love it. It’s still there and I love that. I could have stayed all day and they wouldn’t have said anything. I should’ve stayed all day. Next time.
If you’re in town and you have time – and you must have time, I urge you to go.
In fact that whole area is quite interesting, just one street parallel north of the world famous conveyor belt of predictable consumerism.
They are here… Aperture Photographic.