27 Sep 2018

Instax Memories: London

I only lived in London for about 4 months in total, June through September 2015. That’s the shortest time of anywhere I would say I’ve lived. But it was a meaning-heavy summer - I was between university and the real world, between two long-term relationships, and between two continents. It was a place where I grappled with my life changing, so it takes up space in my heart disproportional to the amount of time I spent there.

These photos were taken the summer after, when I visited Filip (the subject of the second of those relationships) in the flat he still lived in. I had impulse-bought my Instax Mini 8 a few weeks before I went, which remains to date one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

London isn’t easy to capture in a few Instax snapshots, taken sporadically over the course of two weeks. I wasn’t trying to document it in any comprehensive way. I don’t know the city well enough to think I could even try to do that. Instead, what came out of my Instax photos is a very light map of some of the usual routes I would take through London when I lived there, the routes I wanted to retrace when I visited again. There are places I missed out on (both going to and photographing), but there are always going to be places like that when you’re trying to capture somewhere close to you.

Blackstock Road near Finsbury Park
Filip lived near Finsbury Park in (kind of) north London. (I'm not sure where people draw these kinds of distinctions.) The yellow door you can see here is probably the physical thing I associate most with London nostalgia.

Pedestrian street in Angel
Camden Passage in The Angel, Islington. Home to many lovely shops and cafes. Angel is a quick bus ride away from Finsbury Park, and I've spent a good deal of time here, seeing shows, eating food... Just before I took this, I had caught up with an old university friend (hi, Wrik!) over cake in an Austrian cafe/bakery called Kipferl. Highly recommended.

Screen on the Green in Angel
Screen on the Green (also Angel) is lovely, old-timey, plush (a bit pricey), with couches! Fond memories here. This day, The Tale of Princess Kaguya was on, and I took these pictures between having cake and seeing it.

London buildings from a flat near Old Street
Filip's sister used to live here, a little further south and east, near Old Street. Not a bad view, right?

View of the Thames from the top of the Tate Modern's tower
The river is all-encompassing in London, or so it feels to me. These were taken from the viewing level of the Tate Modern's Blavatnik Building, which had opened somewhat recently back in 2016. It was a bright day, and I discovered that the Mini 8 couldn't quite handle that level of sun. Though now I've had more time with the camera and with film in general, I think a contributing factor may have been packing the film in my checked luggage, where it probably got seriously zapped with some x-rays... pack your film in your carry-ons, pals. (Unless you want it to be a little messed up occasionally. And hey, why else would you use film?)

A double-decker bus neat St. Paul's Cathedral
Across the river from the Tate, I thought it might be nice to catch something iconic like a red double-decker bus in an Instax. Didn't take long for an appropriately timed one to pass by.

A platform on the London Overground
The London Underground is more iconic than the Overground, but it's too dark underground to take a good instant photo. Yes, yes, I could have gotten a nice picture of one of the entrances, I'm sure... really though, one of my favorite memories in London the summer I lived there involved taking the Overground to ELCAF (the East London Comic Arts Festival) on a bright, sunny day in June. So I think it's appropriate to have an Overground platform memorialized in these London-reunion photos. And English train platforms, which I have an affinity for, all look like this, too... so actually, I think this is completely fitting.

Shops near the end of Berwick Street
Speaking of comics... the one place I will always go when I visit London is near where this picture was taken, in the cluster of shopping streets between Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses. A small, bright comics shop near the end of Berwick St, Gosh Comics is where I learned to love indie, small press comics. I can't thank them enough.

Further Reading

I’m not the only one who has strong feelings about London. My two favorite blogger-documenters of London are Brenna of This Battered Suitcase and Victoria of Bridges and Balloons.

Victoria is from the UK, and her home was London for 15 years, so of course she has written plenty about it. Both what it feels like to be there, and guides for things to do if you’re visiting!

Brenna is originally (and currently) from Canada, but she lived in London for a number of years, by turns in love with and struggling with it. She’s one of the realest writers on the emotion of places I can think of, and reading about her struggles surrounding that sense of place feels like looking in a mirror sometimes.

This certainly isn’t the last you’ll hear from me about London, either!