Amongst the crushing rush that is my morning commute through Oxford Circus Station, I saw this crazy beautiful image. I saw it amongst hundreds of other images that line the tube, and I saw it at a time of day when I don’t typically notice much of anything, really. But I noticed this.
The picture was taken by fashion photographer Baud Postma, and is currently on display at London’s National Portrait Gallery until February 8th as part of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. How can I describe the reaction it caused? It struck me. I can’t recall being genuinely struck by an image in this way in a really, really long time.
The National Portrait Gallery is one of those things that London is constantly holding out to me. It is a mere ten minute walk from my office, and yet it’s always been one of those things ‘I’ll get around to.’
When I arrived in London some three years ago, I was overwhelmed by this city’s constant offerings. The museums, the galleries, the shops, the parks, the historical sites, the royal residencies, the constant cycle of West End plays, the pop-up events, the cultural pockets to discover, the novelty bars and restaurants, the festivals, the niche markets, the famous landmarks... It’s almost too much to take in. I can’t imagine the stress and panic I would feel visiting this city as a tourist. It’s a city that will always have more to do than is ever physically possible, so you just have to chip away at it, which I’ve been doing. Yet somehow, the NPG just hadn’t been ticked off yet.
Seeing this photo was like London shouting at me, ‘get a bloody move on!’ So, with no Friday night plans, I took myself on a date after work. The below photo is the winning image of the prize exhibition, and one I find equally as arresting, making me stop in my tracks on first sight. It was taken by photographer César Dezfuli of Amadou, a young man on board a rescue boat operating in the Mediterranean in 2016. Read more about this incredible image here.
Even putting this most powerful exhibition aside, my evening at the National Portrait Gallery was one of the most enjoyable things I have done in a long while... And I do a lot of enjoyable things.
Open until 9pm on Thursdays and Fridays, Friday evening was a fantastic time to go, the majority of people being in pubs or out to dinner at this hour. There was something pretty bloody magical about walking these massive rooms when they’re virtually empty, having the time and space to do things at exactly the pace you want, minus the crowds to contend with. Not having a map or guide made it really special too; coming around the corner to a larger-than-life image in the flesh (or canvas?) that I’ve seen imitations of a thousand times was a singular kind of surprise.
Stumbling on the below painting of Charles Darwin in the Victorian rooms was a memorable moment, and I was almost floored when I unexpectedly came face to face with Elizabeth I’s coronation portrait. There was one particularly beautiful experience I had, wandering through the Tudor Stewart rooms as a woman drifted along nearby me practising her flute. In theory, this would irritate me, but in practice, it had quite the opposite effect. It was such an striking combination; walking through this big, empty space, faced with such majestic images and having this music echoing around with me, creating sounds of an era long gone, that somehow captured and mirrored the amazing feeling of it all. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
I wanted to share it because it kind of blows my mind that such a wonderful experience has been right there waiting to be had all this time, and I had never taken the simple step to have it. I could have easily let this Friday become another in a long line of occasions when I just didn’t ‘get round to it,’ but I finally did, and it was everything.
There is something especially lovely about doing something out of the ordinary on your own for the simple reason of enjoying yourself. I think it is wonderful to be able to enjoy your own company and sometimes it’s worth making an active effort to do just this. Take yourself out on a date, if you will. Hey I like that... I think that might be the title of this post.