Not Notting Hill

Today I’m missing Notting Hill. Not just that I’m not going to London’s biggest annual event, but missing the noise, the dancing, the sheer enjoyment on the streets, the crowds, the costumes, the display, the heady atmosphere often thick with the smell of grass, the alcohol, the energy and everything.

If I went I know I’d enjoy it for a while. Sounds at a level that makes the tarmac throb and your internal organs dance with the beat. So much to attract the eye both in the masqueraders and the crowds. Its perhaps the only truly large event in the capital that retains a lively chaos and anarchy, with large parts of the carnival route full of people rather than sheep herded behind barriers. And while it has become much more commercialised and circumscribed there is just too much energy for it to have been contained.

But I know that before long I’d be wanting to find somewher quiet, to get away from the noise and the crowds. Perhaps half an hour of carnival would be fine, but a day there would wear me out, leave me shattered for days after. I used to enjoy dancing along with the second line with a camera, part of a noisy jostling crowd all having fun, but there are some things you grow out of.

And of course those crowds can be a little frightening, and could set off a panic attack. At times they can be dengerous, though probably your chances of getting robbed or stabbed aren’t a great deal higher than on most other days in London, one of the safer cities in the world. Just that every incident at carnival makes the headlines, while everyday muggings seldom even get a mention in the local.

For years those headlines kept me away from London’s greatest festival, but then I went and saw for myself and for years nothing could keep me away from it, not even the several days of headache and partial deafness that were the inevitable consequence.

If I lived closer, I’d probably drop in for that half hour, join in the crowds at the north end of Ladbroke Grove, and then make my way out. But the trains are in what is now their normal Bank Holiday meltdown, and what would normally be a less than an hour’s journey would today take me twice as long to get there and also to get back.

So this year I took my Notting Hill early, sitting quietly with a can of Red Stripe and thinking about those times I enjoyed in the past. THe pictures here come from a show I was part of in 2008, English Carnival, where you can see a few more of my black and white images from Notting Hill Carnival 1990-2001, along with work by three colleagues from more typically English events.

Of course it is a very colourful event, and it may seem perverse to photograph it in black and white, but doing so enabled me to concentrate more on what interested me most, the people rather than the costumes and razzmattazz, though they are still often there. And I did photograph it in colour too – most years until 2012, and there are colour pictures from most years from 2002 for each August on My London Diary.


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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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