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34 candid photos of London life from Chris JL

Chris has been photographing Londoners at play for decades. Below, he shares the moments he's captured and what he's learned

By Guy Parsons
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An urban cowboy queues up for a beigel on Brick Lane, London.
An urban cowboy queues up for a beigel on Brick Lane, London.
© Chris JL

Urban cowboy

‘I grew up in many places, mostly "old Europe,” and spent a big part of my adult life on the other side of the pond. I’m a foreigner, and I’ve been one always and everywhere, but London is the place that I’ve chosen to call home. I live in the centre of town, where social strata, ethnicities, and nationalities mix.’

A woman with several bouquets of flowers is captured in this London street portrait.
A woman with several bouquets of flowers is captured in this London street portrait.
© Chris JL

Flower glower

‘I walk a lot. I shoot people. I shoot unposed – candid – images. Simple things. For the ones that like labels, a big part of what I shoot is street photography. For me, it is just photography, and photography is just a part of my life – like eating, drinking, and sleeping.’

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Three friends on a bus.
Three friends on a bus.
© Chris JL

Lads lads lads

‘The truth is that I'm a compulsive photographer. Some people keep a journal, other write stories or draw sketches – the camera is simply my sketchbook, personal journal, and way of telling stories.’

Two girls in matching attire
Two girls in matching attire
© Chris JL

Seeing double

‘I used to do quite a bit of commercial photography, but nowadays I do something else for a living (that I love), hence I only shoot for myself or for a good cause.’

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A woman struggles to carry a mattress down the street.
A woman struggles to carry a mattress down the street.
© Chris JL

Nothing really mattress

’At the age of five, I was very disappointed to discover that I would not be allowed to bring my inseparable camera with me on my first day of school. But I was stubborn, so the following compromise was reached: I would bring my camera up to the school gate, where I would be allowed to take a snap of myself in front of the school (that was a day worth remembering, I thought), and I would then willingly relinquish my camera for the rest of the school day.’

A woman takes one last drag on a cigarette.
A woman takes one last drag on a cigarette.
© Chris JL

One last drag

‘Thirty seven years after, only two things haven’t changed in my life: I’m still in school (I’m a scientist), and I still carry a camera everywhere.’

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A man sleeps on a bench in a Shoreditch park.
A man sleeps on a bench in a Shoreditch park.
© Chris JL

Dreams of a crowd

’I let a lot of time pass between shooting and editing. When shooting I’m typically in the image, often both physically and emotionally. There is very little detachment at that stage, and often even an emotional link, and that tends to blur the editing (aka mostly ditching) judgement. Time alleviates that: if I still like a picture that I forgot taking, there might be something worth in it.’

A man planking in some plants.
A man planking in some plants.
© Chris JL

Faceplant

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An elegant woman drinking wine in Shoreditch
An elegant woman drinking wine in Shoreditch
© Chris JL

Light and shade

‘Shoreditch is home, by choice, and I love it. The familiarity - living there - is an important element to be able to shoot in the streets the type of images I’m after.’

Three legs are seen beneath an awning outside a London shop
Three legs are seen beneath an awning outside a London shop
© Chris JL

Six legs

‘For me, a successful photo is a good story well told. Or even better, the right hints to let the viewer imagine a good story well told.’

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A man plays chess while wearing an umbrella hat.
A man plays chess while wearing an umbrella hat.
© Chris JL

Thinking caps on

‘The rest is just maniacal control of the image (frame, exposure, balance etc. - even of its 'randomness’), and typically a truckload of luck — if there are two shots that I “kind of” like in a year, I call that plenty.’

Women in London.
Women in London.
© Chris JL

Walk on by

‘The capture of a street image is for me an almost automatic process. It happens in a split second, the outcome of an almost involuntary physical reaction – that’s how I’ve seen the world (but not how the world was) in that moment, raw and unfiltered.’

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Two men play with a football in Shoreditch.
Two men play with a football in Shoreditch.
© Chris JL

I'll pass

‘A photographer that I deeply respect once told me that my street work typically depicts some sort of “public intimacy,” in the sense that the pictures tend to capture intimate moments that happen to occur in public. I think he’s right, but on a different level: these pictures are probably my very own public intimacy.’

A man helps his friend on a night out.
A man helps his friend on a night out.
© Chris JL

Lean on me

‘The camera is a mean to an end. I mingle with the flow, so ideally the gear should be sufficiently unobtrusive for both me and the others. But at the same time, I won’t hide in the bushes and shoot from afar, hence I tend to shoot with very short lenses.’

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Clubgoers hanging out in the smoking area.
Clubgoers hanging out in the smoking area.
© Chris JL

Smoking area

‘If you shoot with a long focal lens on the street, there are tons of visual elements that will immediately give away that the picture was taken from afar. There is only one way to depict closeness in a street shot: get close.’

A couple enjoy a sandwich at an east London café.
A couple enjoy a sandwich at an east London café.
© Chris JL

Tuck in

Most of the representations of the world we live in — of ourselves as a “species" — are just a product, and respond to strict product requirements. It's disturbing, and, actually, dangerous.

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A girl runs for the last tube of the day at Old Street station, east London.
A girl runs for the last tube of the day at Old Street station, east London.
© Chris JL

Last tube

‘Street photography is instead, by its own nature, un-normalised and anarchic – or at least, that’s how I like it to be. In a sense, it’s the world in your face.’

A red haired woman walks past a bus stop in London, England.
A red haired woman walks past a bus stop in London, England.
© Chris JL

All red everything

‘Like any other form of representation, a street photograph is a lie by default – a four dimensional world projected into a confined 2D space cannot be otherwise. Nevertheless, a street photo is one of the most sincere lies that can be told.’

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Spectators at the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
Spectators at the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
© Chris JL

Watching the royals

‘For the last decade, in a typical year I spend time (mostly for work) in between one or two dozen major cities of the world, but only in a handful I can really take pictures - in the other ones, sometimes after years, I still have too much the eye of a tourist.’

A woman on her own on Hampstead Heath.
A woman on her own on Hampstead Heath.
© Chris JL

Dancing on my own

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Friends embrace outside a club.
Friends embrace outside a club.
© Chris JL

Hold on, we're going home

A man texts while sat near a giant squid.
A man texts while sat near a giant squid.
© Chris JL

Texting, squid

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A man in a fur hat walks past a Hitchcock poster in a blizzard. London.
A man in a fur hat walks past a Hitchcock poster in a blizzard. London.
© Chris JL

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Dolls on the streets of London.
Dolls on the streets of London.
© Chris JL

Dead Dolls Club

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A man walks past police at the Notting Hill Carnival.
A man walks past police at the Notting Hill Carnival.
© Chris JL

The Metropolitan Police

A woman in a red coat with a blue umbrella on a bench.
A woman in a red coat with a blue umbrella on a bench.
© Chris JL

Brolly break

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Revellers congregate in east London.
Revellers congregate in east London.
© Chris JL

Squad goals

A mother and child in the fountains at the Southbank Centre.
A mother and child in the fountains at the Southbank Centre.
© Chris JL

Stuck in the middle with you

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A woman sticks her tongue out at the photographer.
A woman sticks her tongue out at the photographer.
© Chris JL

Windowlicker

A man squints in the summer sun, London.
A man squints in the summer sun, London.
© Chris JL

Blinding

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Partygoers react to having their picture taken.
Partygoers react to having their picture taken.
© Chris JL

Please, no pictures

Two men on the tube.
Two men on the tube.
© Chris JL

Homeward bound

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Dinner for one
Dinner for one
© Chris JL

Window seat

A man gives a thumbs up through the window of a bus.
A man gives a thumbs up through the window of a bus.
© Chris JL

Keep on keeping on

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