I said in my first column, “Once you start living somewhere, the extravagant things aren’t what make it great.”
As much as I had it down in the first week, I made my first mistake as a traveler. Overstatement doesn’t reveal the soul of a city, and neither does a quickly-accumulated pool of glimpses.
Last week, I visited London’s Camden High Street and the surrounding markets. The bustling area is a mix of maze-like flea market vendors, the Ocean City boardwalk and South Street. Vendors sell mostly ironic clothing and punk accessories, which mix in among the bolted-down Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Italian food vendors.
There were loitering middle-aged punks decked out in leather vests and studs tucked away near a bridge. A Rastafarian woman was bopping to reggae while laying out T-shirts. Record stores, roadside DJs and a mix of hip-hop inspired Indian music, trancey house and punk sounds came from every direction. This whole place was bewilderingly humorous, incomprehensible in a single passing-by and a continuous shot of excitement.
I’m not a terrible photographer, but in retrospect, my pictures from that day looked awful. The reason – I fear looking like a tourist, and in attempts to keep up with other Temple travelers, I just couldn’t stop to take it all in. My pictures were timid and revealed haste. After taking one look at what should have been fine pictures, I set about changing how I saw the city.
The next day, instead of setting out to conquer locations in portions, I set out with the idea to…go. I just wanted to put on my headphones and walk and walk for hours. Because ever more real than a Tube ride and bewildered gawk at what lies above the stairwell, I could see my direction, the kids being let out of school and people outside of their tight-lipped chilling-on-the-Tube mode. Soon enough, I found the Victoria and Albert Museum of fashion and art. Added bonus: museums are free.
I’m not building my conclusions to be life shaking or impressive, but in the midst of things preserved and deemed of social value, I saw where I was in London.
If the picture is always moving, the artifact is trivialized. This is not to be confused with petrifaction or waiting. It is more like arriving and looking at life as your teacher. If your goal is to run through a museum and not understand the art that invites your eyes, then you are waiting for a beautiful awareness that will never arrive.
That’s not even in the sense of historical facts or ethnography, but what does it mean to you? What is your context? Here and now, I am looking for mine.
Relocated Reporting is a new column in which Chris Zakorchemny recounts the differences, fears and excitement of his new life upon moving to London to study for a semester. He can be reached at