For the love of ‘Soup’

Above all else, I love spending time with people. Family. Friends. And work subjects.

Yes, you can probably get what you ‘need’ from a quick interview and a couple of snaps (by need, we the media usually mean enough material to make it appear informed and complete). But deep down we know there’s more to be had, more listening to be done.

Proper immersion is a beautiful thing to be cherished.

before the pitches are delivered at Colchestersoup

before the pitches are delivered at Colchestersoup

Decisions, decisions: which of the three causes will win?

Decisions, decisions: which of the three causes will win?

Dishing out the soup

Dishing out the soup

It can happen in an evening, such as my night with Colchestersoup.

‘Soup’ is a socially-focused crowdfunding project, in which members of the community pay a small entry fee in return for a bowl of soup – and the right to vote on one of a few local causes pitching to win the prize fund, which is the sum of the entry money. It is based on an idea that comes from Detroit.

At this Colchester event, the voters decided to buy a new kiln for a daycare centre for disabled people using the £191.52 prize fund (the combined £5 entry fees plus someone’s £1.52 donation) from the second ever Colchestersoup.

My three hours at Colchestersoup allowed me to meet the people, see the entire process unfold from beginning to end and – here’s the important bit – become part of the scenery.

Photographically, it is extremely difficult to get down by people’s knees to take pictures or plop a camera at their table while talking unless a sense of ease at your presence has been established already.

Blending into the subject is pretty much the street photographer’s mantra. And it allows great movement around your scene without artificially distorting your subject or (if everybody is looking at the chap with the camera) making oneself part of the subject.

Here’s the radio package about Colchester soup done for local and national BBC radio.

Sandy French, winner on the night

Sandy French, winner on the night

The audience

The audience

Sandy French during her pitch

Sandy French during her pitch

Lining up the bowls at Colchester Soup

Lining up the bowls at Colchestersoup


The Jedi and the Bishop of Chelmsford

It started as an idea for a television programme about ‘new religions’ – what are they and why do they come into being?

Why people believe what they do is something that has long fascinated by me. My grandfather – also called Laurence Cawley (though with a Dr at the front of it) – was a devout Catholic. He initially trained to be a priest and won a scholarship to the University of Rome. Then the Second World War started, and he decided instead to become a doctor. Given the celibacy requirement of catholic priests, I owe my very existence to that swap of career paths.

Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford

Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

I was always fascinated by how such a clever, rational man could believe in something seemingly – to me – as irrational as God. And over the years I’ve met many others – far brighter than I – who also believe in God. Now, I don’t have a faith as such, but I’m far from convinced (as I once was) that I am right in not believing in God.

This sense has only been exacerbated by producing the Jedi and the Bishop – which airs tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1 – because, although they express it in very different ways, both the Bishop of Chelmsford and Jedi Michael Kitchen share the conviction that there is something more. For the Bishop, of course, this means God, who acted through Jesus Christ. For the Jedi, it is a force that brings everyone and everything together.

One of the great luxuries of my job is in meeting people who shake up my preconceptions of the world. In this programme, it was the Bishop who did this. He said: “I think increasingly I came to understand that most of the problems of the world begin in the human heart. How does the heart change? Only then (when we can answer that) can we change the world.”

These words continue to resonate deeply.

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

Michael Kitchen, Jedi

People, Places

Looking down in Lisbon

By which I mean ‘down’ in the physical rather than spiritual sense.

Never before have I spent time in a city where the tiltation of one’s head is so evenly spread between pointing upwards, downwards and on the level (each position claiming about a third of your time).

I was very much aware of this peculiarity – a symptom of Lisbon’s innate hilliness – at the time. But the exactitude of my theory was only compounded on return to the UK, as I browsed through the images I’d captured. About a third of them were shot upwards, a third downwards and a third roughly level.


Here are some of the ‘down’ pictures.

Lisbon street scene

sea's edge Lisbon


Wilko Johnson

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson earlier today for a brief photo session.

It’s the first time I’ve used the Fuji X-Pro for work shots and had to apologise for my fumbling.

Wilko was impressed by the X-Pro’s shutter silence. “You can’t even hear it,” he said.

In 2012, Wilko was diagnosed with what was thought to be terminal pancreatic cancer.

In October, he told the audience at the Q Awards he’d been cured.

Long Exposures, Places

Industrial mono, Salford

My work with the BBC last week took me to Salford, not a million miles from my home town, Halifax.

Media City, home to the BBC, ITV and others involved in the media production industry, has risen from the decayed remains of the old docks.

There’s something of the Nairobi Jockey Club about Media City.

The jockey club is a little bit of colonial white turf, with its white picket fence, beyond which is black Kenya. The picket fence – captured by Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin – is more than a barrier between inside and out, its a barrier between two separate worlds, two different times.

Broadway is Salford’s white picket fence, dividing the granite, glass and concrete of media land and the red-brick realism of earthy old Salford.

I thought the old folk of Salford would hold Media City in disdain. But at least one – a guy called Derek who likes rugby league – says that’s not quite the case.

Salford didn’t like the snootiness some in the BBC showed at the move up north. But it does seem that for a good number of people, Media City – and the hotel industry that has sprung up around it – has brought decent wages and job opportunities which, in turn, has led to an increase in home ownership and a sense of security and stature to old Salford.

“Do you and your mates drink at Media City then?” I asked Derek.

He smiles. “F**k no, lad.”

Some way to go then, until Salford loses its white picket fence.

Here’s my take on Media City:

Lowry Museum, Salford Lowry Museum, Salford Media City Salford Quays Bridge Bridge


Graffiti in Ljubljana, Slovenia

I love urban art, whether it be the sanctioned squiggles of the road contractors or clever (preferably witty) subversiveness in the form of graffiti. Travelling a few months ago to Slovenia, I was struck by the graffiti donned by the walls of its capital city Ljubljana.

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