Settling in by photographing ‘Around the Block’
When you've spent the last 26 years of your life living away from your home country and bouncing around from continent to continent, how do you ease into your new life in unfamiliar settings?
The advice Barrioboy (or Bb) gives is to “invest time with locals in the four streets around the block where you live - the newspaper kiosk owner, the shoe shine, the café-waiters, the ironmonger assistants, restaurant owners, the key-cutter man, the flower sellers, the ladies or gents in the clothes shop where your spouse or partner buy their things, and every taxi driver you sit beside!”
A native of Scotland, Barrioboy and his wife (blipper Digitaldaze) have their main home in Barcelona, with long stints living in Sao Paulo, Rio, Paris, London, Budapest and Cairo. He smiles when he states “I once blipped on three consecutive days from the top of tall buildings in Cairo, Barcelona and Rio de Janeiro, which gave me a kick. “
A lawyer by training, he worked for a multi-national company before his current career as an independent business coach. His interest in photography first emerged while studying law in Edinburgh. He attributes this to “a creative side which I'd never recognized forcing its way through the forensic rigor of learning the law. My big escape was to cross the street from Old College to James Thin's bookshop where I spent hours browsing the photography manuals.”
A sense of Adventure
Barrioboy’s journal Around the Block encapsulates that philosophy. His eclectic style of photography has him involved in - “plugged into” - a very grounded street-level interaction with the different places he lives. His journal often features street scenes from the pavement or from high vantage points, details of facades, informal portraits of people who work in the area, distinctive cultural events, and plates of local food when he gets really desperate.
For him, the key is to have enough sockets to plug your life cables into during the 24 hours after you land so that the local power starts to charge your batteries. He adds that “this banishes the immediate and inevitable sense of dislocation that comes when you jump continents and hemispheres and cultures, always present as you drive in from the airport late at night through poorly-lit backstreets and glimpse life scenes down alley ways that are a million miles removed for your norm.”
He says: “As a person, I've come to realize that I'm all about adventure, freedom and possibilities and consciously or subconsciously find different ways to express and enjoy these fundamentals - Blip fits perfectly!”
He adds that his adventures around his Cairo block in blipland were the genesis of his recently published book on Egypt, which covers the period after the revolution. “It's another example of my sense of adventure coming through, my championing of freedom - in this case societal - and highlighting the possibilities that exist for the country's young people. The book simply would never have existed without blip.”
There are challenges
In Cairo, carrying his big camera (a Nikon D3x) on the street and taking the shots he used to take is almost a complete no-no given the suspicions it arouses in overly-vigilant locals, especially those with connections to the police or security services. He has switched to his mini-iPad and exercises a high level of discretion.
Elsewhere, his other challenges are the very usual ones about approaching strangers for portraits. His solution was the Blip Stranger Project, which acted as a great icebreaker. He recalls “my subject who was a stranger that day is now a friend and may well be coming to stay with us before long.”
The other challenge is time and workflow. He finds uploading from his mini-iPad as he hoofs it around the block to be just so convenient compared with the download/upload routine involving a laptop when he uses the big camera. He quickly adds “this is driven by the fact we spend a lot of our time outside in the evenings - literally around the block - which is a personal lifestyle choice.”
Without hesitation, he says it’s about the friends that you meet - both virtually and in person: “It's quite amazing to develop these kind of friendships with like and un-likeminded people and they all inspire me. I've thought and done things that I would never have thought or done before and had a fantastic fun-filled time into the bargain.”
The other big thing for him is building up a body of work that he would never have had without the discipline and encouragement of this place – referring to both the creative development involved (photography and writing) and the life-record perspective: “Both are equally important to me. The creative piece has its ups and downs but even the emergency blips add something to the collage of thumbnails on my profile page which so vividly and memorably captures the color of our lives.”
His parting advice for blippers: “Go for it! Don't hold back! This place will bring the best out of you. You'll find a way and a rhythm to suit you, which will evolve over time - there's a PhD to be written about the life cycle of a typical blipper from the first 100-blip period to the 7-year mark or more. Goodness knows what it'll be like or how I'll be doing it when I'm a 25-year blipper! I've no doubt that will happen, health and blip-funding permitting!''
Remarks collected by Michele (aka Alsacienne)
Cover photo by Barrioboy: The Barcelona Block With Sagrada Familia