Thursday, 11 September 2014

A photographic treasure hunt in Shoreditch with Foto Ruta

It is rare to meet a blogger these days who is not also a photographer, or in the very least someone who takes photographs. If you blog about things that you see and places you visit - as I do - people often want to see for themselves what they look like. I'm not sure what that says about my descriptive ability or a reader's desire for visual verification, but these are the ways of the modern blogging world. And while many of us struggle along without a great deal of artistic talent, documenting rather than creating great art, plenty of bloggers, journalists and Londoners take stunning photos to accompany their written work. 

Despite being a girl who is really all about the words, I would love to do a better job of taking photos. And, after being given a rather nice camera for Christmas last year, I have finally started to learn about how to take photos, embracing exposure and aperture, and eschewing the basic point-and-clicking that has served me for the past 20 years or so. I now travel with a camera on me at all times, usually my decent manual camera as well as my trusty iPhone's little lens. And I certainly take more pictures, even if not perfect ones. So when Foto Ruta recently invited me along to one of their photography events, with the promise of a crash course in street photography, I was there with bells on.
Foto Ruta was started in Argentina, and is the brainchild of two photographers who were exasperated at the lack of creative ways through which tourists could see the city of Buenos Aires. They wanted to help visitors better explore BA, without the sterile tours or standard 'must-see' attractions. Clearly the tourists in Argentina agreed with them, and from their Latin American beginnings Foto Ruta are now running photography tours in four countries: Argentina, Chile, Spain and the UK. Oh, and they are eyeing world domination, with plans to be operating in twelve countries round the world very shortly. 

I was invited along to join a Foto Ruta Clue event in Shoreditch a couple of weekends ago, and so, with camera in-hand, off I went one sunny Sunday. As our group assembled in a very East London co-working space on Shoreditch High Street (think lots of exposed brick and large industrial windows), it became apparent that there was quite a variety of cameras between us. Some of us carried smartphones, some fancy SLRs. No problem, we were told. We were here to take photographs and explore the city, not produce a technical masterpiece.

Jess, from Foto Ruta London, whizzed us through an introduction to the afternoon's event, then showed us a selection of photos produced by earlier Foto Ruta events, carefully explaining why each was such a great photograph. She also gave us a number of classic rules of photography to bear in mind whilst creating our own images. Each of us was presented with a lanyard and set of notecards, containing a potted history of Foto Ruta, a reminder of many of the presentation's tips for good street photography, a map of the area, and, most crucially, our list of 'clues'. We all had the same eight clues - prompts or themes to inspire us - and in small groups we would shortly be sent off to create a set of photographs that responded to each prompt. Clues ranged from 'Pockets of light' to 'Sunday blues', and included the particularly tricky 'Dads are the original hipsters'; this one presented a creative dilemma or two for many of us - how do you set up or capture something as specific as that?!
Our submission for the clue 'Beyond retro'
Out we all went onto the streets, and out came our cameras. I headed around Shoreditch with the lovely Nishan, a film student who was in town on holiday from Singapore. We happily nattered and snapped photos, and wandered merrily off the map, and agonised over finding subjects to correspond to our eight clues. Shoreditch was the perfect pocket of the city for our clue hunt, filled as it is with ancient and modern urban elements, windy streets full of peculiarities, and a hugely rich street art culture. We even finally tracked down a 'hipster dad' (Although he later admitted he had no children. But then made a generous offer to, er, contribute to some hipster babies if we wanted some. We politely turned him down.)
'Food hunt'
Before we knew it, we were zooming back to Forge & Co., our HQ for the afternoon, with two hours of street photography behind us. Next came the process of scrolling through our many, many new photos, and selecting our final shots for our clues. Once each group had selected their photos, out came the wine, and, over a glass or two, Jess talked us through our images, giving us a (kindly positive) critique of each one. With six or seven different groups taking part, it was fascinating to see how each had interpreted the same set of clues so differently. (You can check out all the photos taken by our group on our afternoon exploring Shoreditch here.) And, Jess was right: it truly didn't matter what camera had been used, as the fun of the images was as much in the interpretation of clues and spotting of weird urban life, as it was in the light levels and framing. I certainly finished the day with a clutch of new photos of which I was rather proud! And I will try to remember my newfound tips and tricks...and to just keep snapping away at this city.

As a blogger, Foto Ruta offered me a complimentary ticket to their Foto Ruta Clue event. (Usually tickets to this event cost £24.00.) Any opinions expressed in the above post however are those of The Accidental Londoner alone. I do not endorse products or organisations that I don't or wouldn't use myself or recommend to a friend.


  1. I love how specific and yet vague the clues for this were. Sounds like a great event.

    1. Oh yes, we had a lot of room for artistic interpretation! It made for some fascinatingly varied photos when we all compared them in the wrap-up session, Lisa.

  2. Sounds fun. I'm currently on the hunt for a semi decent camera...for I am one of the few bloggers who is *cough* a bit rubbish at photography. iPhone and little else most of the time.

    1. Even though I do have a great little camera I still rely on my iPhone a lot too. I've actually wondered about getting one of those fancy little lens kits for my iPhone - maybe that would be a good half-way house for those of us a bit intimidated by SLRs!

  3. Gorgeous pics. Flora, you just never stop. I am feeling v ld right now. How do you do it? BTW, gorgeous pics!

    1. Thank you, Muriel! I'll drag you with me next time I go photo snapping...


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