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Two of the most characteristic subjects in Victorian paintings are the large crowd scene - a station platform heaving with people, a city street filled with carriages and shoppers, a park full of people promenading in their finery on a Sunday afternoon - and moonlit streets illuminated by gas lights with the odd figure hurrying home, a "bobby" patrolling his night-time beat, or a street-trader selling roast chestnuts to the passers-by.
The other day, as I looked down from the top of a double decker bus at the crowds thronging the streets around Borough Market, Southwark, in London, I was reminded of those crowd scenes. Sometimes directors of historical dramas try to capture something of the hectic bustle of the Victorian street, and I've often thought that they get carried away and have just too many people milling about. But, as I surveyed London's streets from my elevated vantage point, and mentally re-cast it into the 1870s, I thought perhaps those directors that I'd accused of adding more colour than was warranted to their films had actually got it right. "Seething humanity" was the phrase that came to mind.
Then, later that day, as we walked along Bankside after enjoying a family meal at a riverside restaurant, we negotiated the cobble and brick tunnels under the road and railway bridges by the Thames. Illuminated not by the glow of gaslight, but by neon and sodium, I remarked to my son that this location, at this time of early evening, was perhaps the nearest London gets to the atmosphere of the nineteenth century. Maybe the Victorian frisson of danger wasn't there amongst the tourists, theatre-goers and workers heading home, but the half-light, echoes, dark corners and engineering and architecture that was built to last, offered a feel of the period that I decided to try and capture.
I took a couple of straightforward shots that didn't seem to do the trick, so I thought I'd go for a long, hand-held exposure where I deliberately moved the camera. I set the ISO back to 100 to slow the camera down and panned slightly as the shutter opened. The blurred effect, and slight ghosting seemed to capture the atmosphere better, and I included my three companions on the right of the frame to turn it into a family snapshot with a difference.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off