The Year of the Tiger

Post length: 1,135 words, just over 5 minutes.

The following weekend saw the annual Chinese New Year celebrations in London and another day out with my camera.  This one proved to be much more successful and significantly less painful.

Events on the main stage in Trafalgar Square were due to kick off at 12noon, so I headed into London in the morning. I had spoken to Tiffany the day before and she’d talked about meeting up in the afternoon – she was babysitting for her sister the night before, and so would be passing through London.  I’d agreed to lend her and Stuart one of my old cameras, so this was an ideal chance to hand it over – so I wanted to get plenty of time in before I met her. When I arrived at the square, at about quarter to 12, there were already a lot of people waiting and so I went to find myself good vantage point at the top of the stairs leading up to the National Gallery where I settled down for things to get going.

12 o’clock came and went.  As did half past, as did 1pm.  And still we stood waiting.  Finally, about quarter past 1 our two hosts appeared on stage.  They were two young ladies (Not young young I don’t suppose.  Not what I might have referred to as young before, but from the view of my advancing age, young enough.) dressed in traditional Chinese outfits. It took me a little by surprise when they introduced themselves as Yvonne and [something equally non-Chinese].  Anyhow, they proceeded to introduce a whole load of dignitaries ranging from someone from the Chinese embassy who couldn’t speak English, through to some senior policeman, via Boris Johnson who couldn’t be bothered to turn up but sent us a video message (which we ended up seeing twice, apparently because of technical problems), all of whom made speeches about how great the occasion was and how proud they were to be associated with it.  After around 45 minutes, the painting of the dragons’ eyes and a photo call on the stage, the entertainment started.

The first, and by far the best, act was a dragon dance.  We were told that it was telling the story of a dragon who was sent into the mountains to collect some kind of special tea.  He had to overcome a whole load of problems on his journey and, apparently, was scared for a long period around the middle.  The dance was impressive.  The dragon was made up of two people and the whole dance took place on top of a set of 7 and 8 foot poles.  There were lots of acrobatic jumps from pole to pole accompanied by traditional Chinese drums and thing which no one but the front row of the crowd right by them could hear because it wasn’t amplified.  Following that there was some singing and something else (probably: I can’t actually remember, it made such an impression).

By this time I was losing interest and wanted to wander up to Chinatown, but was a little bit trapped.  Even when they moved the barriers back to make more room on the ground the steps were pretty crowded and I was struggling to escape.  I found my way down the side of the steps in the end, knocking out as few people as possible on the way down. I took some general shots around Trafalgar Square and then my phone rang. It was Tiffany.  She was just setting off from her sister’s house and, after a little discussion, we arranged to meet outside of Leicester Square tube.  This was on the right line for her, and was a good reason for me to head that way.

So I did.  I walked up around Trafalgar Square stopping to take some shots of the stalls and people around the edge (as well as taking a picture for some foreign visitors. It seems if you have professional kit on your shoulders people expect you to be able to take good photos on their little instant digital cameras.  This is, of course, the opposite of the truth.), and headed up the (closed) road to Leicester Square.  There was more going on there, and I spent some time taking pictures around there.  The plan was to then go into Chinatown itself, but a little exploration revealed that wasn’t going to work because of the crowds and time.  So I just went to meet Tiffany.

Once she arrived we headed off for a break at a lovely little cafe in Covent Garden.  On the way there we spotted a whole load of TV OB trucks parked outside the Royal Opera House so went to investigate. Of course neither of us had realised it was the night of the BAFTA awards; why would we? It’s not like we both work in the entertainment industry or anything. We sat for an hour or so in the cafe, Tiffany had soup while I had a very large slice of Chocolate Bombe and surprisingly nice Apple juice.  We chatted and I got to take the weight off my feet for a while.

One thing Tiffany wanted to do was get photographs of some graffiti which had appeared on some building site hoardings near London Bridge.  We decided we should head there before the light faded too far.  With those photos in the bag, we walked back along the south bank of the river toward Waterloo, snapping away as we went.

As a theatre and events photographer it’s been a long time since I took landscape pictures so it was a bit of a change for me, but still remarkably enjoyable.  It’s also been a long time since I went on a shoot with another photographer, and it’s always very interesting to see what they spot that you missed, especially when out of the confines of a performance space.

Tiffany and I parted company once we reached Waterloo station.  It was pretty late by this stage and we both needed to get off home.  We sorted out who was taking what camera kit (I was still carrying some of the things she wanted to borrow in my kit bag), said our goodbyes, she headed off underground and I went and got my train.

On the train home I sat opposite a photographer who had clearly been on the BAFTAs red carpet.  He was editing and tagging his photos with the help of a celebrity cheat sheet issued by BAFTA.  It crossed my mind that it would be very helpful if something like that could be provided by producers when I’m working with particularly large casts.

I beat Tiffany back home for once, although unusually we did start off from my main station rather than hers.

Posted on Friday 19th March, 2010 at 2:43 pm in Obiter dicta, People, Photography.
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