Borne out of a love for photography, Roman Road local Zoë Gower-Jones’ Can I Take Your Picture? project began on 1 January 2017. Pausing each day to chat to a stranger and take their portrait, Gower-Jones embarked upon a mighty year-long mission to document the faces she passed in the street. Here Zoe curates some of her favourite Roman Road portraits with accompanying captions in her own words.
Gavin, Bethnal Green, London, Friday 15th September 2017⠀
Gavin runs the butchers on Roman Road. I’d popped in for a chicken and the service was so great I decided I’d ask one of the butchers for a picture. Gavin’s skill as a butcher was obvious. As soon as I asked for a picture a few customers came in so as I waited, I got to listen to him talking to his customers. How would they be cooking the meat? How many people was the meal for? Gavin would ask and then offer advice on cuts and preparation accordingly. It was cool to observe his expertise and knowledge of the trade. ⠀⠀
We stepped out onto the street for better light and got to chat a little more. “Are you Welsh?” he asked me. Yes I am. Gavin is Welsh too and I said I had noticed his red dragon mascot inside the shop. He had arrived in the East End because of a business opportunity. “My partner is from Bethnal Green,” he explained “And her Mum always used to shop at this butchers. One day she noticed it was for sale, told me and it just seemed like a perfect opportunity.” I had also noticed the nice black and white pictures of the shop inside the premises and whilst the butchers was not always run by Gavin’s family, there still was a lovely connection to business via his Bethnal Green- based-mother-in-law. Tidy.
Gina, Bow, London, Tuesday 28th March 2017
Another Bow local with superb style is Gina. She runs a cool second hand / vintage shop on Roman Road. Gina posed for a portrait by the shop (Gina’s closet). Two of her friends who were nearby thought it was hilarious and they kept striking poses themselves. This tickled Gina, “Sorry I can’t stop laughing” she said. But this worked out brilliant as she has a cracking smile.
Hassan, Roman Road, London, Wednesday 20th December 2017
It was fun photographing Hassan on Roman Road. I’d met him in a café when he’d brought a coffee over to me, although it turns out he doesn’t actually work at the café but has a fruit and vegetable shop down the road. He’d just popped into the café for a coffee himself and was pitching in whilst it was being made. ⠀⠀
He seemed like a popular person on the road as when I was taking his picture we drew a little bit of a crowd of people who knew him and thought it was funny he was posing for a picture. “I’m doing some modelling!” he joked to them. “What for?” said one of his mates, “Crimewatch?”
Jack, Bow, London, Monday 27th March 2017
I’ve seen Jack around my neighbourhood a few times and have thought to myself how stylish he looks. Jack is from Liverpool originally but has lived in London for ages and he seemed to know every single person on Roman Road!
Lily, Roman Road, London, Saturday 2nd December 2017
A bit of drama had just occurred when I met Lily on the Roman Road market. Lily’s daughter has a clothing stall on the market and had stepped away to get some change leaving Lily at the helm. The daughter’s jacket was draped over the back of a chair and a passing customer had taken a shine to it. Lily had only sold her daughter’s coat to the customer! Lily’s daughter had returned and asked her mum for her coat. There was a bit of a panic until the whereabouts of her car keys were established but as soon as it was clear they weren’t in the pocket of the sold coat everyone started to see the funny side of it. ⠀⠀
Lily and I stepped away to get a portrait and I asked her what had happened. Lily started to crack up laughing “I’m sorry…” she said trying but failing to suppress the giggles. Lily loves chihuahuas and in the pink sling she has on here contained two mini chihuahua puppies snug and sound asleep.
Massimo, Bethnal Green, London, Wednesday 15th November 2017⠀⠀
I first saw Massimo when I was walking down Roman Road and then when I went for a hot chocolate, late one afternoon, he was working in the café. Excellent. When I asked to take his picture he said that he was quite shy about having his picture taken but had been involved in a few photography projects in his time so he wanted to support mine. Due to crap lighting I photographed him inside but the cool wallpaper made a great backdrop. The leaves are coffee leaves as it goes. ⠀⠀
I asked Massimo more about the photography projects he had been involved with. He proceeded to climb up onto a table and get a book down from the shelf. He and a friend had bought a banged up VW Beetle and had set off from Italy to travel around the Balkans. “I drove the car and my friend did the photography,” he told me. Massimo had further contributed to the project by then selecting the best images and editing them to create the book. Which was lush. I was really glad he had a copy to show me. He told me more of their adventures saying how the car had been a talking point, people were incredulous they were travelling around in such an old banger. “It ended up being quite a conversation starter!” said Massimo.⠀
Mickey, Roman Road, London, Friday 22nd December 2017
Mickey has worked selling fruit and veg on Roman Road for 47 years! “Right here, at this spot. Rain or shine and I love it! Even in the bad weather!” He was really friendly when he served me giving me 10p off some bananas. It wasn’t a big money saving but that wasn’t the point – it was a kind and friendly gesture so I decided to go back and ask Mickey if he would be part of my project. Customer service and a bit of friendly chat is obviously something that’s important to Mickey. He touched on loneliness, not his, but how some people won’t have anyone at home to talk to and how a trip to the shops, to the Post Office or wherever could be the only social interaction of a week. “We take the time to talk to people. Sometimes there’s a queue but people don’t mind because they know we’ll stop to chat and take time with people.” What a dude.
Nordania, Bow, London, Saturday 22nd April 2017
Nordania was leaving the florist’s on Roman Road. Her lovely bright jacket was accessorised perfectly by the pretty plant she just purchased. So I stopped her and asked for a portrait. Nordania and her buddy were really friendly and happily crossed the road to a better location for the shot. The pavement was quite busy and I kept blocking it, not ideal but Nordania took it in her stride and I got some fab photos of her and her potted plant.
Tom, Bethnal Green, London, Thursday 20th July 2017
Tom the bike mechanic hails from the North East. Tom said he would be happy to pose for a picture if I could email him a copy of his picture. “So you can send it to your Mam?” said his colleague, Louis, also from the North East. ⠀
The gents joked about being a sort of North East mafia. “Oh and Liverpudlian mafia too,” said Tom. How come Liverpool too? They went on to explain how Louis had mistaken someone from Liverpool for someone from Newcastle even though they had had quite a lengthy conversation. And in spite of Louis being from the North East himself. I said that I had, on occasions, thought that people form the North East were Welsh, perhaps there’s a similar intonation? Plus in a crowded room with lots of noise, it’s easy to be mistaken. “Yes but it wasn’t a crowded room though,” said Tom, “It was right here with no one else talking!” Whoops. ⠀
I really liked them both, they were amiable and funny and Tom helpfully suggested another photographer’s work that he thought I might like to check out too.
Yvonne, Bow, London, Friday 17th November 2017⠀⠀
I met Yvonne in Bow as she was walking down the street with her fella. We were close to Mile End park so rounded the corner to look for a photo location. The couple were out to make the most of the afternoon sun before the light faded. I’d caught the light this afternoon, which was great. After photo-ing we all had a chat. Yvonne is an illustrator; she does fashion but also likes to produce work of a spookier flavour. I said I’d like to see her work and asked if any of her work was on her Insta account page? She said there was but “It’s a bit freaky though, some people are a bit freaked out by it.” Partner Mirko also had a cool job as a musician and he also writes the scores and designs the sound for independent films. It was cool to hear about the process. Both of them were so interesting, you honestly don’t know who you are going to meet on a street corner in Bow!⠀
Angie, Bow, London, Saturday 1st April 2017
Cruising Roman Road on a Saturday afternoon I wandered into Barüch boutique. Barüch is cool and owned by the very affable Angie, another super well stuled Roman Road local. It’s good vibes in Barüch, both Angie and customers all expressed horror and sympathy for another customer who had just arrived in East London for a party only to discover a suitcase filled with party outfits was still in the Midlands! Eeek! Angie was great to shoot. I had three fav shots of her but chose this one as it’s nice to see her within the context of the boutique. I also left Barüch with some awesome new daps!
Leanne, Pie and Mash Shop, Roman Road, 30th January 2017
Leanne works at Kelly’s which I am missing so much at the moment! Hurry up and get re-furbed Kelly’s so I can get me some Pie Mash!