I used to live and run pubs in Soho in my mid to late 20's, exact location being on the corner of Brewer Street, almost like the gatekeeper to the soho village, because it is a village. A lot of people live and have grown up here, townhouses and flats hiding behind the scenes and alleyways, markets, launderettes and little local hole in the wall cafes and minimarts.
At night lit up by colourful neon lights, ambient dimmed glow from the eateries and bars plus the forever glowing ends of cigarettes. The pub was frequented by tourists, stag and hen parties but also locals, office workers and performers from the different venues dotted round close by. It wasn't unusual to have one of the ladies from madam Jo Jo's sitting at the bar doing her nails or Chris Evans having a pint with the virgin radio lot as the studio was then just around the corner. A motley cru of peopled matching this area of London.
These days I occasionally pass through Soho either due to work so it would be an early morning or at night catching up with a friend being out for a bite to eat and a glass of wine.
It was on one of those evenings recently and I had my camera in my bag as usual (oh I probably forgot to mention that I also had just upgraded my Fujifilm X-T10 to a X-T1, found a great deal on a used body from Camera Jungle) and I couldn't help but be drawn out on the streets by all the lights, characters, noise and smell. Like a magpie chasing gold I chased the light and colours reflecting in the wet streets from the earlier rain that evening.
Before I knew it time had passed ultra fast, it was half past midnight and I was in Leicester Square overwhelmed by the chocolate smell from M&M world and surrounded by drunk people, it was time to jump on the tube.
I wanted more, but at the same time wanted to explore and capture the streets with like minded people, challenge myself and better my images so I joined a Soho/Chinatown street workshop run by @joshjack & @sixstreetunder AKA @streetsacademy.
So there we were, our little group of 6 plus 2 (one of them had even flown in from Boston for this) at 11am on a Saturday morning meeting by the thumb in Trafalgar Suare, glorious sunshine and cameras at the ready heading up to Chinatown to face some fears and learn and share some new techniques. I had a new Fujinon 23mm f2 WR lens that had just arrived from Amazon and my trusty 35mm f2 WR. I looked around and apart from two it was Fujifilm all around but most of the guys were wielding a 56mm f1.2 and the Bokeh achieved from that was just out of this world, gear envy.
We moved up and down and around Chinatown for a few hours collecting some lovely portraits of people and scenes. At the end of it feeling rather confident and capturing images just a mere foot away from people and they didn't even know or care that they had been papped.
Then, after a very short break for hydration and fuel (arms and legs shaking by now) we headed deeper into Soho for shop windows, reflections, layering, bars and cafes....
......beautifully original, funky people on the move or in and outside eateries but also finding spots for photographing in the dark later.
We were spoilt for choice really, more and more people descending on Soho. Shoppers, pre-theatre goers trying to get a quick bite, afternoon tipples being consumed and the atmosphere literally singing on every street corner.
On our way to sit down for another break to rest those legs and wait for the sun to set we diverted via Trafalgar Square to capture some portraits of people enjoying the nice weather using our newfound bravery and skills.An amazing place to just float around, observe and people watch.
Darkness had finally descended on Soho, bright neon lights sparkling in the night, gritty, crazy, loud - I was in heaven.
We had to really concentrate to not lose each other and end up alone down an alleyway with the non desirables and drug pushers etc.
...at one point myself and a guy called TJ had to promptly jump out of the way as a door from a massage parlour flew open with a bang and a guy with his trousers around his ankles came running out with a big burly man behind chasing him with an umbrella down the street bellowing obscenities. I didn't manage to focus quickly enough to get a sharp image but managed to get a lot of other fun stuff along the way.
We walked and we kept shooting, at one point we looped back to Chinatown to see what the night had to give over there.
Impossible to stop as the night just kept giving but in the end arms, legs and brain gave in and over 10hrs later we headed towards cabs, buses and tubes to get home to see what the SD cards would divulge.
I have to confess that after that weekend I kept looking daily at all the secondhand camera sites and I finally found a second hand Fujinon 56mm f1.2 on mbp which I got by part exchanging an old Nikon lens I haven't used for over a year. It is marvelous, a bit slow on the focus, hunts a bit, noisy and quite large compared to he others but boy when you get it right the images and bokeh are just outstanding. So of course I had to go back to Soho and test drive it, would be silly not to!