Looking to dabble in street photography? Want to try your hand at some cool double exposures? Simply want to hang out, soak in the atmosphere, and enjoy London life as it’s meant to be; live, loud, and laid bare on the street? Columbia Road Flower Market every Sunday is just the spot.
Deep in the bosom of London’s edgy East End – with Shoreditch to the west and Brick Lane close by, sits a rather inconspicuous (in the week at least) street that first grew to prominence during the 1860s to service the nearby Jesus Hospital Estate. With those days over, and Jesus Hospital long gone, the Columbia Road of today is anything but a nostalgic glimpse into the past.
With a long and complex history (it went through a big period of decline in the 1970s only to come back booming in the mid 80s), Columbia Road market is now famous the world over. Every Sunday the crowds congregate amid chanting barrow bows, two-metre high sunflowers clambering for the heavens and a glorious tapestry of colours, sounds and smells. A true Lomography paradise if ever there was one! And one just waiting for you to burn a few good rolls film.
With the market kicking off early at 8am, take advantage of the lovely winter and autumn light by grabbing some shots of vendors unpacking lorry loads and setting up for the day. Grab a quick coffee and a bit of breakfast in one of the many lovely cafes on the road and wait for the throngs to amass. By midday you’ll barely be able to move, so lock and load your camera for the fun ahead.
Walk from the top of the market at the intersection with Ravenscroft Road and make your way down, jostling for elbow space between the many buyers, banana trees, and bedding plants. Look out for episodes of careful bartering, get snap happy over buyers struggling under the weight of their own loot and be sure not to tread on the curious-looking dogs that get mesmerized by all the fuss.
Try some double exposures by getting up close to calla lilies, an avalanche of roses and bamboo trees. Slide film works well for this, just remember to take your darker shots first! Ask the vendors to pose for some classic black-and-white portrait shots, if you can slip in a request amid their patter of “Everythin’ for a Fiver” that is! They’re usually only too happy to chat and are used to being asked!
The secret to Columbia Road really is that there is no secret. While as a flower market it’s full of visual treats, it’s the general vibe that will draw your camera out. Just be willing to experiment, don’t be too shy to ask people for photos and pack plenty of film. Hopefully in following some of this advice you’ll have a bursting garden of Lomographs all of your own.
Columbia Road, Shoreditch, London, E2
Sunday Market 8am – 3pm
Nearest Tube: Old Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch Highstreet
Bus: Route 149, 8, 25, 26, 135, 277, 394, 55