Fairy-tale Photography: Dennis Valdez at the Talented Art Fair

DV 03

Right in the heart of London’s hipster centre, the Truman Brewery has to be the ultimate venue for markets, events and pop-ups that are on the cutting-edge of what’s new. From 17-19 March, the Talented Art Fair set up shop in this warehouse-style space, showcasing some of the globe’s most innovative and exciting emerging talent. Amongst ceramicists, painters and sculptors, creative genius Dennis Valdez was one of only four photographers exhibiting at the Truman Brewery, presenting his breath-taking other-worldly photographs amongst the world’s best talent.

DV 04

The atmosphere for any show or exhibition is arguably as important as what is being exhibited. The Friday night private view of the Talented Art Fair certainly did well on this front, with chilled tunes courtesy of a cracking DJ, a fizz-filled bar, and a host of inspiring creatives wherever you looked. The relaxed yet exciting vibe was the perfect setting for the photographs of Dennis Valdez, a London-based photographer whose images immediately transport you to a fairy-tale world.

DV 01

Think Marie Antoinette and Narnia’s White Witch and you get a feel for what Valdez achieves. With locations including Epping Forest and former sanatoriums, the outfits, models and the impeccable composition of each image combine to create an intensely magical aura – some could say over the top, but this is extravagance done very well.

DV 02

With fairy-tale-like outfits embellished with all manner of sequins, pearls and feathers, the models in Dennis’ images could quite easily have just stepped out of a film. Headwear, in the form of elaborate and opulent crowns, coupled with lace and ruffled dresses created an ethereal vibe, and the setting of Epping Forest certainly added to the fantastical theme.

Styling of the models ranged from dreamlike 1920’s-esque feathers and lace to sultrier red-lipped, and fiery-haired looks: a palate of blacks, whites, silvers and creams enabled striking designs to really stand out. 

DV 05

The beauty of Valdez’s images, aside from the utter beauty of the models he used, is the ability to completely remove you from the greying fog of London, and take you to a fantastical place right out of a storybook. Snow Queens, fairies and historical heroines immediately spring to mind when looking at Dennis’ work, each photograph complimenting the next. Both ethereal, yet completely grounded, there is a definite weight and substance to his work. 

Surrounded by Valdez’s epic fantastical work, I am convinced that if his photography exhibition were a fairy-tale, it would be one which you just have to keep reading.

Photographs by David Meehan. Check out Dennis’ work here.

A German Author in London: Barbara Honigmann at Senate House

Recently the Institute of Modern Languages Research, based at Senate House Library,  hosted an evening with one of Germany’s best contemporary women’s writers titled ‘A Conversation with Barbara Honigmann’.

Barbara Honigmann, 2014

To define Barbara Honigmann is a difficult task: she is, yes, a woman writer. She is also a German writer, and at the same time a Jewish writer. But rather than see her as a Woman German-Jewish writer, we should simply see her as a writer. Fitting into multiple ‘boxes’ means that to certain interested parties, she has several identities: but giving a voice to Jews, Germans or women, in whatever part she is required to be at the time, can leave her feeling that she has – rather than a rich and multifaceted identity -an utter lack of concrete identity.

Born in east Germany in 1949 to parents who spent many years exiled in London, Barbara Honigmann left the GDR for Strasbourg in 1983, where she still lives. Honigmann is best known for her largely autobiographical fiction, and is currently the writer in residence at Queen Mary University of London.

Senate House Library is a rather imposing looking building smack bang in between Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road. This 1920s-feel white brick structure may look bleak from the outside, but as the University of London library, and home to the School of Advanced Study, this is one knowledge-filled place; the perfect location, then for a discussion with one of Germany’s most prominent authors.

Despite her multiple identities, one March evening in the welcoming space of Senate House, it was Barbara Honigmann the writer who held the steadfast attention of the room. Facilitated by Robert Gillett, Honigmann discussed her life as well as her latest novel, Chronik meine Strasse to a gripped audience.

Interspersed throughout the talk of biography and language, the author read passages from her new book in German, followed by a translation read by Dr. Gillett. Essentially her latest book is, hence the title, the story of Barbara’s street. A novel dedicated to a single road has the potential to sound like a dull and overly simplistic affair, but in what we hear from Chronik meine Strasse, Honigmann’s street exists as a deep and detailed character.

Her street has a past, it has a personality, and it has people that each have their own stories living along it. Barbara’s atmospheric, and at times simplistic, writing creates an image of a street you eagerly want to explore, yet at the same time feel you already know. There are long, meandering sentences (that had to be split for the English version) amongst brisk statements and repeated sequences. Despite these instances of wanderings and explorations, the destination of the text is never far from sight.

We hear about the people she sees from her balcony. and how the street is changing. Neighbours and relationships, as well as the history of the road are discussed in detail: Barbara Honigmann’s street feels like a microcosm of today’s multicultural and varied cities. In fact, her text could have been transposed to right here in London, and the sights, feelings and people may not have been altogether that different.

For such an accomplished writer, Honigmann’s humble personality may have seemed at this event unequal to the lofty standards of her words. Her softness and approachability, however, meant Barbara could have gone beyond meine Strasse, further than meine Stadt and outside mein Land, and the audience would have still been hungry for more.  Barbara Honigmann’s discussion with Robert Gillett did not only instigate applause, but also those rare moments of silent thought; a sign, always, of a successful conversation

 

London Start-Ups Making Use of the City’s Food Waste

There’s an awful lot of food that goes to waste in a non-stop capital like London. Some people, however, are making use of the bits that no one wants: meet the sustainable eating initiatives that are being creative with the ‘rubbish’.

love

As with any city, London produces a shedload of waste – think of the amount of coffee cups, sandwich wrappers, newspapers or beer cans in a pavement bin and multiply by hundreds of thousands.

As well as this recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish that is constantly piling up, much of what gets thrown away is food waste. Most of the time, what restaurants, supermarkets and suppliers class as ‘waste’ is entirely edible, yet for one reason or another, it gets put in a bin and sent off to landfill.

The Evening Standard recently launched a campaign in order to tackle London’s growing waste problem, highlighting the fabulous Felix Project. This is an initiative using up surplus and waste food to transform into meals for the homeless. Others are also catching on to the fact that there is huge potential for culinary creation with the food that is getting thrown away.

Meet five geniuses making delicious things out of rubbish:

  1. Snact

snact

Set up in 2013, Snact are the people making ‘jerky’ out of waste and surplus fruit. Blending up knobbly, discarded produce from London markets to create chewy dried fruit snacks in all kinds of flavours, Snact even uses compostable packaging, making it a wholly sustainable snack. The Apple and Mango flavour is a tropically taste-bomb that counts towards your five a day.

 2. ChicP

chicp

Houmous, once a dip reserved for the middle classes, is now a supermarket staple and as standard in the fridge as milk and butter. ChicP’s versions of the tasty chickpea mush are not only more colourful and adventurous than your usual pot, but have the added bonus of tackling food waste. Hannah McCollum is the brains behind ChicP, creating raw houmous with surplus and wonky vegetables from supermarkets – think a vibrant beetroot, horseradish and sage, or a sunny looking carrot, ginger and turmeric. There are even sweet options for the truly adventurous – the banana, avocado and cacoa would be the perfect toast topper.

3. Rubies in the Rubble

rubies.png

If you’re more of a cheese-and-chutney-rather-than-houmous sort of person, you’ll be pleased to know that you can now satisfy your cravings whilst championing sustainability. Rubies in the Rubble makes delicious ketchups and relishes from London’s discarded market produce, which would be wasted because of looks, or due to insufficient storage. After collecting bin-destined fruit and vegetables from wholesalers such as New Covent Garden Market, Rubies in the Rubble transforms them into creative condiments – a fig, pear and port relish would be a perfect partner to a block of cheddar, and the ‘Top Banana’ ketchup could really jazz up you bacon sarnie.

4. Toast Ale

toast

If the lack of alcohol in this article has been worrying you, keep calm. BAsed in Hackney, Toast Ale brews beer from surplus bread (aha, you say, the name makes sense now) in Yorkshire. From unsold artisan loaves from bakeries to crusts from supermarket sandwiches, the bread is combined with malted barley, hops and yeast to create something quite different. Not only are you reducing waste by drinking this beer, you are also championing sustainability –  all profits go to the charity Feedback, a charity fighting food waste. This is ale with a conscience – try their pale ale, craft lager or session IPA.

5. Urban Orchard

urban

Although we live in a big big city, there is a surprising amount of green space. In this space, as well as back gardens, allotments and community gardens, there are fair few fruit trees – many of which are not used. This is where Urban Orchard come in. These guys make cider from your donated apples – simply exchange a minimum of 5kg of your produce for some of their fruity cider, at donor stations all over the city. The best thing? Someone in London is probably drinking your apples.

Show 7: The London Fashion Week Underdog

What happens when a bunch of (insanely) talented London students put on a show to kick off the much anticipated A/W 17 Fashion Week? This.

show-7-1

Let’s face it: fashion can be insanely elitist. High prices, privileged circles, and unspoken ‘connections’ are key to the maintaining of a world that many of us will never get a taste of. London Fashion Week is proof: you only need to look at what the guests got in their goody bags, or hear a few of the Front Row names to realise that this is fashion with a capital F and a requisite to be a Somebody.

Sometimes, though, something or someone comes along to make you realise once again that this tiny bit of the fashion world is in no way representative of the whole industry. In this instance, it was Show 7, the brainchild of a group of creative fashion students from renowned Central Saint Martins (CSM) and London College of Fashion (LCF), that proved fashion, and Fashion Week, is something that is open to all.

The show was put on by seven students, all keen to make a name for themselves in the fashion world.Ciara Di Salle, Rhiannon Davies, James Walsh, Johannes Warnke, Sophia Donald, Paul Parnell and Ben Mak are all studying some variation on Fashion Design, whether it be with knitwear, tailoring, marketing or womenswear.  Mix these eclectic students together with a bunch of innovation, creativity and drive, and you have Show 7.

Forget grand halls and exotic venues, Cannon Street Jersey Fabrics, a fully functioning fabric warehouse in Tottenham, was the site of the venture. Among rolls of patterned materials and stacks of fabrics, fellow students, fashion magazines and beaming parents lined the makeshift but oh so cool catwalk.

show-7-2

From Ciara Di Salle’s arctic inspired coats to Ben Mak’s leopard print gowns, Show 7 was a totally varied affair. Intricate laser-cut garments designed by Johannes Warnke appeared alongside fur and knit combos courtesy of Rhiannon Davies.

James Walsh’s bold colours and classic designs were modelled on the 60’s housewife, a fair few decades before the 90s vibe of Sophia Donald’s collection. Paul Parnell’s clothes were a tongue in cheek and completely barmy yet brilliant concoction based on the concept of Baked & Glazed, although more naughty-but-nice than their donut counterparts.

Lighting, filming and photography was done by other UAL students, meaning the whole evening was a thoroughly student-led affair. Despite this,  not one of the looks that went down the catwalk could be called anything less than highly professional and completely LFW worthy.

This was the part of Fashion Week that shunned the usual elitist model, and opened it out to pretty much everyone and anyone. What Show 7 ultimately achieved though, was to show just what can be done on a limited budget, with tons of enthusiasm, a few willing helpers, and bags and bags of potential. These kids have talent – and I have no doubt that they will be fashion’s future.

10 Awesome Coffee Spots Around Covent Garden

Give the Starbucks a miss and head to these fantastic places for a caffeine hit in central London.

black-penny

 

1: For books and brunch: Drury 188-189

A newbie on the Covent Garden scene, Drury 188-189 offers coffee, cake, lunch and brunch with a side of vintage books. Drop in for a freshly pressed juice and a selection of their salads for lunch or check them out at the weekend where they serve a cracking brunch menu until 2:30pm.

Tip: Get your omegas with their avocado toast 

 

2: For insane cake: Peyton and Byrne

Just around from Matilda is a vintage style, small but perfectly formed café which makes the perfect pit-stop for tea and cake. From carrot cake to muffins, cookies to giant Jaffa cakes, there is a sweet treat for every palate – head downstairs for more seats.

Tip: Their salted caramel tart is out of this world

 

3: For a colourful lunch: The Black Penny

With a selection of indie magazines to flick through, and a daily changing menu of warming soups, wholesome salads and inventive bakes to tempt your taste-buds, The Black Penny on Great Queen Street is not to be missed. Their brunch is also something special – choose from options such as ‘The Gatherer’ – eggs, halloumi, toast, mushrooms, spinach and baked beans- for a veggie feast, or Crispy Confit Duck Hash for a serious morning-after cure.

Tip: A top spot for fussy friends with almond and soy milk options and gluten free toast

 

4: For travel inspiration: Stanfords Coffee House

For those of you that don’t know, Stanfords is pretty much a London institution when it comes to book shops. Dedicated to travel writing since 1853, this Covent Garden beauty has maps and guide books galore for your upcoming trips as well as tons of ideas of where to venture next. Tucked at the back is a café; a rare oasis of calm amid Covent Garden’s bustle where you can refuel and peruse your purchases.

Tip: Try their Venetian Rose loose-leaf tea with a slice of carrot cake for the ultimate book-reading accompaniment

 

5: For remote working: Hubbard and Bell at The Hoxton Holborn

It’s true that this hip all day café/eatery/bar and restaurant seems to sometimes have more Macs than people staring back at you, but that is partly why it makes a good spot to settle down with your laptop and get working. Super-fast wifi, plenty of plugs and attentive staff that won’t shift you even after hours of furious typing, you can stay here from morning coffee, through scrummy lunch to much-needed cocktail.

Tip: Balance out a crazily chocolatey brownie with a rejuvenating juice to aid your work

 

6: For a quiet haven: Fleet River Bakery

Tucked just behind Holborn Station and a mere five minute walk from Covent Garden, Fleet River Bakery could easily pass you by: this would be a huge mistake. Fleet River’s lunch options change every day, but if you think along the lines of roasted carrot salad with tahini, chorizo, cream cheese and potato frittata, and cake combos such as chocolate and Guiness or almond and polenta, you’ll have a good idea of what a treat you’re in for. Make a beeline for downstairs, where a quiet atmosphere reminiscent of your auntie’s living room awaits.

Tip: Their hearty daily soups are always a winner

 

7: For hipster vibes: Covent Garden Grind

The popular GRIND chain has moved west, so you can get the Shoreditch experience right here in central (beards optional). Their cafes have a reputation for awesome coffee, and I can attest that it is indeed pretty impressive – what also stands out is their cracking music choice and various lunches and brunches on offer. Smoothie bowls and avocado toast most definitely feature for full-on East London feels.

Tip: Espresso Martinis here are magic

 

8: For award winning blends: Monmouth Coffee

Don’t be put off by the limited seating in this Seven Dials’ café – the coffee is more than worth squashing up to a stranger for. Over 35 years old, Monmouth Coffee has branches dotted around the city that are answering our calls for incredible coffee amidst the avalanche of Starbucks’. The baristas at the Covent Garden original are award-winning coffee experts and worth talking too- they really know their beans.

Tip: A classic flat white here is unbeatable

 

9: For catch ups and meet ups: Timberyard

Timberyard Seven Dials is the perfect place to network and host meetings if you are living the freelancer life. There are rooms to hire, decent wifi, and also a fabulous selection of cakes and bakes. Their Covent Garden café is also a relaxing place to settle down with a book and a sarnie – roast salmon, romesco and watercress toastie anyone?

Tip: Head here for breakfast and try the coconut, orange, date and chocolate overnight oats

 

10: For rawsomely healthy treats: Wild Food Café

Neal’s Yard, the most colourful corner of London, is hope to the famous Wild Food Café for when you want a perhaps more wholesome treat to accompany your coffee. This plant-based eatery creates culinary magic so you won’t even be able to guess that your dessert is a nutrient bomb. From vegan banana bread to completely cheese-free Smoked Apple Cheezcake and even Salted Caramel Mylkshake made with coconut, cacoa and almonds, these creations have to be tasted to be believed.

Tip: Chocolate-lovers will love the Forgotton Ecstasy smoothie (literally indescribable)

Drury 188-189: The New Covent Garden Coffee Gem

drury-1

To say that Covent Garden is chocca-block with cafes and places to stop for coffee is an understatement. As well as the usual Starbucks and Prets, there are the slightly fancier, usually tourist-filled, ones in the Piazza and a plethora of pubs and restaurants where you can also get your caffeine fix.

When a new café opens, therefore, I always greet it with trepidation, wondering if it will manage to compete with the 10 other establishments within the surrounding five square metres. A little out of the manic hubbub of the actual market, a new opening on Drury Lane, aptly named Drury 188-189 (just to make locating it that bit easier), may indeed survive the competition.

With a stunning spread of cakes, bakes and salads on offer, and a rather rustic-styled interior, Drury 188-189 is immediately welcoming. Another bonus is the fact that their coffee is actually pretty darn good – smooth and not too strong, and unlike a lot of the chi chi hip cafes, a decent size.

The lack of wifi is remedied by the selection of vintage books on each table, crying out to be read – maybe the bubble of disconnection may encourage Londoners to interact and take their eyes of their screens? Perhaps that is too much to ask…

If you want somewhere to switch off in Covent Garden, this beautiful value for money coffee haven is a gem.

Behind the Scenes: A Look Inside London Artist Vanessa Jackson’s Studio

 

studio

Royal AcademyVanessa Jackson Credit: Vanessa Jackson

 

It’s a funny thing, stepping into an artist’s studio. Perhaps it’s like tiptoeing around someone’s bedroom, or opening up a private diary – there’s a feeling that you are entering a sacred space, one in which ideas are formed, decisions are made, creativity is initiated and yet one which also feels strangely out of bounds.

When, therefore, I was lucky enough to attend a studio tour of artist Vanessa Jackson’s creative space in Bermondsey, I felt a strange sense of intrusion. That, however, was quickly dissolved: over a glass of wine, a handful of people and the artist herself began to talk art and inspiration, teaching and techniques, and were all made to feel thoroughly welcome in this paint-splattered room.

Despite Jackson’s formal art education at the Royal College of Art, her pieces are anything but traditional. Geometric ideas crossed with modernist lines, all in vibrant hues and clashing colours, line the walls of her studio (you can also see them on display at the Royal Academy). Although intended to be independent pieces, a lot of Vanessa Jackson’s art works incredibly well in sequence and alongside each other.

vanessa-1

Credit: Royal Academy

 

Her personal sketchbook was not for our eyes, but bar that, Vanessa was open with how she created certain pieces, the fact that a lot of what she did she threw away, and her annoyance when critics brand her work as ‘cubist’.

To glimpse the ‘behind the scenes’ activity and space was enlightening, not least to get the artist’s perspective on her own work, but also to talk frankly about the art world in general. I don’t quite know if I expected a beret-wearing, overalled individual painting at an easel, but my insight into the world of an artist was one which inspired, fascinated and excited me.

What the experience confirmed is that everyone works in a completely different way, whatever they are doing, and that however we decide to be creative, none of it is wrong.