Photographer Jerry Syder has made it his mission to break the stereotype of the British capital, by quite literally getting Londoner’s talking.
F or many years, as far back as I can remember, I was afraid of people. I dreaded talking to complete strangers and I never knew why but I do know it was and is a great fear, to this day. However, people always amazed me; I wondered what their thoughts were and if they were married, someone’s brother or sister, a doctor, lawyer, nurse, barista etc.
These are wonders that strike all our curiosity. Then as I grew older I wondered why it is so scary to talk to people. We were all placed here to share the same Earth but we only interact at interviews, when introduced, when asking for directions, when at the store or when at the bank... the list goes on. I had this wonder as long as I had the fear. I guess they go hand in hand. In hindsight, I’ve realised that it’s not the people I feared but it’s the idea of walking up to a complete stranger and engaging; a person that I chose to communicate with. Not because I need something, like the price of an item in a store, or the time, or directions.
Then I ventured into the world of photography. An art that I fell in love with and apart from doing what makes me tick, I was given the solution to both my fear and wonder. Then it was about two years ago when I thought: “What if I can walk up to people on the street and ask to take their photograph, that’s what photographers do right? Then I will have a justified reason to chat with an interesting person.”
This project came off the back of that and it was only until June 2015, this year, when I finally got the nerve to do it. As well as giving those interesting people that I meet a voice to the world, I will be satisfying my own curiosity and sharing that with others. Sharing the thoughts, the pain, the happiness, the fear. And with this, I kick started this project, which I hope will be ongoing.
I really thought that the Taken Word project would be hit and miss but to my surprise, people don’t mind this sort of engagement. The first place I targeted was Brighton; maybe it is the laid back lifestyle that made it ‘easy’, the fact that there was natural interaction around. I started my walk around Brighton and encounter after encounter, I was embraced with warmth and friendliness. I then met Darren Saunders; warm and friendly too but his story reminded me that it is not all glamour and glitter. I remember walking past this cobbler’s shop in Brighton, and I heard what may be the best voice I’ve ever heard. I stopped and looked around to see where it was coming from and the last place I looked was inside this shoemaker’s shop. The capacity and vibrancy of his voice astounded me as it sounded like someone was using a mic. His story saddened me deeply:
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved music; music is a part of me,” Darren told me. “I’m getting a bit old now so my chances are even less possible of making it in the spotlight. I’ve just never made it I guess but I have tried. To be honest, I would have really loved to have gotten a recording deal, not for the money but it’s every musician’s dream and of course I can do with the money too so I can buy a house to live in. When I’m not working here, I’m busking on the streets to help pay the bills, buy food and to put my music out there.”
After Brighton, things became a bit easier but it seems like it’s still not acceptable to just walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. I think it’s because of the fact that we ourselves have created barriers. We are protective over our space because of the path humanity has taken. I’ve even had a guy say to me “I don’t know you”, when I’ve asked him for a chat. It’s only until we’ve gotten to know someone, that we let our guards down a bit. But I still challenge the way of the world. If we are all humans, sharing the same space called Earth, shouldn’t we be there for each other? Should there be barriers separating one from another? Why can’t I just have a conversation with another human like myself? The funny thing is everyone I’ve spoken to, agrees with me.
I’ve met people from all walks of life, young and old too but I recall my conversation with Katya and it reminded me so much of when I was younger. We had some good laughs and spoke a lot about photography, my favourite thing. We also spoke about some of the choices that she made and choices that a lot of young Londoners make.
“I studied photography, Russian, IT and accountancy at college,” she said. “I then joined a Microsoft apprenticeship where I was the only girl, which was nerve-racking as all the boys already knew how to take apart a PC and motherboard. But I'm a determined person and fast learner and was soon at their level. I then went on to work at Random House Publishers. One of the most challenging and enjoyable experiences in life is when I went to Australia on my own. I turned 18 and wanted to do something independent and far away. This tested me in ways I didn't think it would. I used invaluable survival skills my mum taught me. That was five years ago and I'm still learning from her. I love wakeboarding and secretly really want to compete. If I could do anything right now, that would be sailing. Total peace and serenity; something you don't get working full time in London.”
It seems like circumstances really do make us who we are. It either softens us or make us harder and more resilient. After meeting Pickles and hearing her story, it’s made me want to focus on voices that need to be heard. I am still not certain in what way my platform can help people, because I feel I want to but at least they can voice their own pains, struggles and successes and maybe their story would land on the relevant doorstep. It’s funny how things can be happening around us. Lives living; struggles, battles, failures, winnings, success, change, freedom. The list goes on. They say looks can be deceiving. While that might be true, in this case it wasn’t. I saw this lady walking out of a vintage shop with a table and other bits she had bought. Immediately I thought she looked interesting and I wanted to take her photograph. She had an even more interesting story to tell. We spoke about the social cleansing and what I did not know was that tens of thousands of poor families have left inner London in the past five years as a result of welfare cuts and soaring rents. We discussed how the city is changing and a lot of the natural things that people enjoy are slowly getting diminished by the big contractors coming in and making way for the people that have money. Pickles had been affected by this change several times. She once even become homeless and had to sleep under a bridge.
“I own a vintage shop call Skewiff and Scatty, a clothes and bric-a-brac shop in the railway arches just off Brick Lane, literally up the road there,” she told me. “I have been homeless several times because I’ve had to close my shop as I was affected by the change that’s happening. A lot of the shops in the area are also closing down because they can’t afford the rent anymore and people are just not interested in the stuff; you know, the normal people.”
On another visit to Shoreditch, I met yet another person that is homeless. Homelessness is much known on London’s streets. I had walked out the public toilets when I saw this guy sitting and having a smoke by himself. To be honest, there was something about him… actually, there’s something about everyone that I’ve photographed. Something that draws me to them. In all honesty, I was not thinking of taking his photograph but I just walked up and “said hey, how’s it going”. Then immediately we got into conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed our chat. It’s only after, I thought I must make a photograph of him. He is a homeless guy, living on the streets of East London. The best thing of it all, it was not about a beggar asking for money, or me giving. As a matter of fact, he asked for nothing. We just enjoyed each other’s company and said at the end “goodbye, take care”. I think he was more than grateful for just the chat. It’s not very often homeless people have encounters or engage socially but sometimes it’s these little things that matter. Or can impact.
“I am a writer, transcendental entity, and nuisance as opposed to a criminal,” Julien said. “I’m originally from the North of England. I travelled to and lived a bit in Amsterdam, India and Mexico but now I reside on the streets.”