I’m delighted to report that my new book, The Palaces of Memory, Tales from the Indian Coffee House will be published in September by Dewi Lewis. See here for details.
Over the last five years or so I must have photographed Delhi street food a dozen times for different magazines. I would always however try and steer the piece towards the Ghantewala sweet shop on Chandni Chowk – as much because that gave me a good excuse to try the ladoos and the sohan halwa which was always offered.
I was deeply saddened this morning after reading the excellent Delhi Walla blog that the Ghantewala sweetshop had suddenly closed. According to a piece in today’s Hindu, the current owner, Sushant Jain, said unavoidable personal circumstances – and a drop in profits – had led to the closure. Ghantewala had been around in one form or another since 1790 and legend has it that the Emporer’s favourite elephant used to ring the bell hanging outside the shop to be fed sweets. As so often, the truth behind the legends matter less than the legends themselves: so cities ebb and flow. In recent years it seems that India has rediscovered its food heritage and realised that its culture is wrapped up in more than bricks and mortar. There are numerous Delhi food walks around now and my friend Pamela Timms, (although now recently relocated back to the UK) is the author of the definitive Korma, Kheer and Kismet – a wonderful and detailed tour of many unsung street eating joints. The globalisation of food means that I can eat at any number of Japanese or Italian restaurants in Delhi but I should be hard pressed now to taste sweets that link the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam to the present day. What a shame.
My agency, Panos Pictures just sent through a recent tearsheet from the magazine of Le Monde – M that featured five stock images of mine on a piece about the Cafe Riche in Cairo. Sadly however, I just learned that the café is currently closed – perhaps permanently – because the manager and co-owner Magdy Abdel-Malak passed away on 2 May.
I made my original story – about the Cairo Ahwas a couple of years ago (the original tearsheet from the German Effilee Magazine is here) writing about the changing political significance of these cafés during the recent uprisings.
Always nice to have something like this re-used, especially in the context of somewhere as historically significant as the Riche – but that is tempered by the uncertainty of its future.
In 1996 I was assigned by the Independent on Sunday Magazine to photograph and write a story about Chandigarh, a city in India’s Punjab that had been entirely designed and planned along Modernist lines by the architect and planner, Le Corbusier. I first wrote about that assignment on this blog in 2010 – see here.
During that assignment, my driver recommended that I go and visit a rather dubious sounding rock garden that had been created. Bored and irritable under the blazing sun I turned up asking for a chap called Nick – responsible for what I believed was a inconvenience between me and my hotel room. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nek Chand, the charming elderly man that met me had, in his spare time – in secret – over the last two decades, built the most extraordinary statue kingdom out of waste materials. By the time the authorities had discovered it, it had grown into a 13-acre complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. It was extraordinary. The garden had been embroiled in a fantastic tale of urban corruption, vandalism and official obfuscation but like all good Indian fables, right had triumphed and the forces of destruction had been defeated. The garden would become one of the most iconic sights in that city and Chandigarh would become proud of its amateur artist and his bizarre dream. This morning I learned that Nek Chand, one of the world’s dreamers had passed away at the grand old age of 90. What a sad loss.
I’m delighted that my writing about London’s eel and pie tradition is included in the new UnCommon London book.
UnCommon is a compendium of guide and travel writing “and is more of a ‘companion’ for the traveller before, during and after the journey.” UnCommon London joins editions on Malta, Stockholm and Dubai.
Commissioned by my old friend Mike Fordham, my words are illustrated by May Van Millingen.
Here are a couple of pages to give you an idea…
It’s not every day that I get a ‘phone call asking me to photograph a dinosaur, let alone one being cut up … but there’s a first time for everything.
A couple of month’s ago, National Geographic Channels called and asked if I could do just that. The job, in two parts, was to photograph dinosaur ‘bits’ for the poster for the show and secondly, to photograph the unit stills. The ‘organs’ were crafted by the extraordinary Crawley Creatures company in Buckingham (responsible for models in Star Wars and a host of other screen productions) and photographed in their workshop which we (my assistant Tristan Fennel and I) converted into a makeshift studio. The client wanted a ring-flash to simulate a real forensic photography look to the images. Here’s the final poster and a set of various set-ups (with and without models and props) and one of me checking exposures and trying not to fall off a ladder.
And a gory one from the three days at Pinewood Studios with everyone knee-deep in (fake) blood.
As a long time reader and follower of Mayank Austen Soofi, the Delhi flâneur, writer and photographer I was delighted, if rather daunted, when he chose me to write my own obituary as part of an occasional series on the city. It was, I must say a rather strange and sobering assignment but you can read all about it by clicking on the photograph below…