The Faces of London: A photography collection by Rory Rae — Jordan Potter
Photography is often seen as a facile art form, especially from the perspective of painters who painstakingly relayer canvases to capture the perfect image or musicians who meticulously study the art of composition. However, like baking, drawing, or music, photography demonstrates that while art doesn’t need to be technically difficult, it certainly can be. Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’, for instance, sits beneath the same banner as John Lydon’s ‘God Save the Queen’, and a scone is just as much a baked good as a wedding cake model of the Burj Khalifa.
The technology available on the modern iPhone or Google Pixel is simply astonishing. The automation allows the general user to take passable photographs without needing aperture and ISO configuration or even knowing what these things mean. However, without hi-spec gear and a barrow-load of knowledge, you’ll never compete with the pros who know how best to take a photo in any situation. This is before we even touch upon the art of subject selection.
(Credit: Rory Rae)
I discovered the hidden intricacies of the photography world last year while covering the 50th anniversary Roxy Music concert at the O2 Arena in London. I was there to soak in the atmosphere and ultimately document the experience in a gig review, but before setting off, the PR agent I had been in contact with asked if I wanted a photo pass. “Why not,” I replied. It would be nice to take a couple of shots from the audience to mark the occasion and potentially post them to Far Out‘s social media pages. At around this point, my father had given me his old film camera from the 1990s, and I thought the Roxy gig would be a great place to give it a test drive.
When I arrived at the O2 Arena, I collected my ticket and photo pass before heading to the auditorium. In a twist of fate that transformed what would be a memorable evening into a breathtakingly unforgettable one, the marshall ushered me through a special side door marked “Stage,” informing me that I would find the other photographers in there. I wasn’t going to protest.
(Credit: Rory Rae)
As it soon transpired, I was to join the pro photographers at the very front of the hall, beyond the barriers, for the first few songs of Roxy Music’s set. I couldn’t believe my luck! I would have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to stand just a few yards from the one and only Bryan Ferry and take some close-up snaps. However, as the other photographers filed in, I couldn’t help feeling out of place. Some of them had a few holdalls worth of gear, and one of the lenses I saw could have put the Hubble telescope to shame.
As I stood there, a little red in the face with my puny little film camera, another kind-looking chap came in with a high-spec camera around his neck. He introduced himself as Rory Rae and tried, in vain, to console me that my camera wasn’t so obsolete and that from where we’d be standing, Mr. Hubble over there would be documenting the mitosis on Ferry’s cheek.
Rory told me that he was an aspiring photographer based in London and that when he’s not taking snaps, he’s a chef. During a short interval, we had a beer and discussed the complexities of photography. I quickly gathered that I would be extremely lucky to capture anything good with my film camera in the darkness of the concert hall. When the show finally began, I found myself mimicking shots with my film camera while sporadically whipping my phone from my pocket for a more earnest attempt.
Sure enough, the few film shots I did take that night were mostly black, with the band showing up as indistinguishable silhouette figures. The few I took on my phone were also disappointing; when I transferred them to my computer to see them at full size, they were pixelated, and across the exposures, the focus was somewhat unbalanced. I took this as my first lesson in photography.
So, while I clue myself up on aperture adjustment, ISO and lighting, I will spare you from my abominable attempts and instead introduce you to this fantastic collection of street photography. As well as a fantastic concert experience and a collection of useless photos, I also left the O2 Arena with a phone number. Rory and I decided it’d be good to collaborate at some point, so he gave me his phone number, and here we are.
Rory’s portfolio boasts a diverse array of styles, but he’s particularly at home in the urban environment. As he traverses the concrete jungle, Rory always has his lens at the ready. “For me, street photography is about documenting life as it is; the people, their behaviour, their environment, and their creations,” he tells me.
“For the last ten years, I have been doing street photography in London, which I believe is the perfect canvas. It is not without its faults, but it is one of the most inclusive cities in the world. A place where people from every nation, race, and gender are represented. I feel a deep need to document this, as the world has so much to learn about inclusivity. If I can show that we can live mostly in harmony, then hopefully, it will change the minds of those who think otherwise.”
“My camera is very much an extension of me; without it, I am just a curious dreamer,” he added. “With it, I feel that anything is possible and I can realise my dreams. I love photographing people, stopping someone on the street, and creating a piece of work with them.”
In the below collection, Rory showcases some of his striking quotidian shots from the streets of London. These are photographs that Rory had no idea he’d be taking when he stepped out of bed in the morning. In London, you will pass thousands of faces every day; some you’ll recognise, some you won’t, some may demand a second glance, while others fade willingly into the background.
“The Queen of Punk has died; what a life and legacy,” Rory wrote as a footnote to the below photograph of the late Vivienne Westwood. “In January this year, I was running through Battersea park when I passed Vivienne Westwood walking along the riverside. I had never met her before, but I said, ‘Hi Vivienne’ and she said ‘Hello’ back and smiled.
“Such a simple gesture but telling of someone who is kind, considerate, and free thinking. When I was warming down, we crossed paths again and had a chat about her brand, and she kindly let me make a portrait of her. I only had an old phone to hand, but I am grateful to have that moment. She was a force of creativity and passion, a relentless beacon of the fashion industry, and an activist whose style and message will live on forever.”
“Bill Nighy. Soho, 2015,” he captions his photograph of the Love Actually actor. “I tend to shoot portraits in colour as I want my photographs to look of their time, but sometimes an image asks for black and white. I had been eyeing up this wall for over a month in Walkers court in Soho, which I referred to as sex alley – a place of sex shops, brothels, and eager cockney salesmen, which was soon to be renovated. I had planned to shoot a retro clothing shop owner there who had a face that told many a story and sported a rat’s tail, but it proved difficult as he would often slip off for orgies in nearby flats.”
“Then one lunchtime, I spotted Bill Nighy, a regular in Soho, and knew that this was the moment I had been planning for all those weeks,” he continues. “He was moving hastily towards Berwick street market, so I followed him, tracking him through the market. He went into Soho dry cleaners, I waited, and then he left and walked back down the way he came and finally settled at a table at Lina Stores on Green’s Court, which to my luck, was 30 metres from where I wanted to shoot him but still some distance to ask someone to walk for a photograph. I told him I was a street photographer and that I had a location nearby that would be good to photograph against, and he agreed, so we went. I had about 10-15 seconds to get the portrait before he walked off, but that was just enough time to compose the shot. The excitement comes from all the time planning and imagining an image being channelled into one finite moment.”
Without further ado, I present Rory Rae’s collection, ‘The Faces of London’. You might recognise Louis Theroux, Skepta, and Munya Chawawa among the faces below, which make up just a small corner of the broad cultural tapestry of England’s bustling capital. You never know; one day, you might pass Rory on the streets of London and get a tap on the shoulder.