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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Shop til you Drop? An Alternative to Black Friday

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Head to Spitalfields Market to avoid High Street mania

Fashion in London is unavoidable. Between the Fashion Weeks, Oxford Street offers a beacon of trend inspiration and even taking a tube journey, the sheer variety of clothes is amazing. London is the ultimate melting pot of styles and looks, creating a sense that you really can wear anything (although the leopard-print unitard clad woman in Stratford caused me doubt this slightly, I must admit).

With Black Friday mania from America gradually becoming a similar mad shopping day full of deals and steals, high streets are cottoning in to the fact that this is the time to persuade shoppers they NEED that dress. (I am still fairly convinced it’s only called Black Friday from the sheer amount of black eyes acquired from wrestling fellow shoppers to the floor to get half price TVs: shopping is dangerous, people)

This week, BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour has been running a series of broadcasts on the theme of appearance. Whilst some may shun this focus as ‘shallow’, it cannot be denied that how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we judge others is influenced by what we look like. The pressure to look a certain way, to follow the newest trends and buy the latest pieces is an everyday occurrence, arguably intensified by the growing role of social media and its increasing influence on our fashion choices .

In the city, style tribes are inevitable; it’s fairly easy to tell a Shoreditch hipster from a Kings Road fashionista, but there is a great deal of looks that are unique mish-mashes of trends and pieces:  London is arguably the most diverse fashion cities  in the world.

Not only is there a wealth of high street shops and chains, but London also plays host to a good few markets and independent boutiques where you can find something a little different. I say, avoid Black Friday, shin the crowds and head to my pick of some of the city’s more unique shopping destinations to find some Christmas presents: (Note: I am not in any way pretending to be any kind of style blogger, so take my suggestions with a pinch of salt/glitter)

 

For an arts and crafts market with a bit of vintage: Spitalfields

Artisan jewellers and up-and-coming designers collide daily in Spitalfields Market, near Liverpool Street. Find vintage furs amongst one-off dresses, hand embroidered scarves mingling with leather boots, and all of the accessories. Daily, with special markets on certain days.

 

 For a fashion pop-up: Favotell 

The huge number of art students and creatives in one place is bound to create some innovate mixes and merges. One such merge which has so far been little explored is the link between Shanghai and London, which is where Favotell comes in. Favotell is the brainchild of Central St Martin’s graduate Kong Jialin who saw a gap in the market for a cultural bridge between the two cities. From December 1st until the 4th, Favotell are running a pop-up store near Oxford Street at Gallery Different (14 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DR) which could be the perfect opportunity to get your hands on some Shanghai-inspired outfits.

 

For shops with a bit of an edge: Carnaby Street

Just off Oxford Street sits this legendary fashion haven, with shops such as Monki and Muji that offer a welcome break from the madness and size of the stores on the main drag. Kingly Court is also a fab place to stop for a bite between shopping, and there’s some great coffee spots around there too.

 

For hit and miss bargains and a few rummaged gems: TK Maxx

This well-known chain is a favourite amongst bargain hunters for quality and designer items often at half the price. There is no guarantee of size availability, or that the same thing will be there next time, so it’s a case of grab it while you can. Shoppers must be willing to do a bit of digging!

 

For Vintage heaven: Brick Lane

Just by Spitalfields you’ll find Brick Lane, hipster central and THE place for vintage pieces. As well as the Sunday market, there are a fair few vintage shops such as Rokit and Blitz which have rails and rails of everything from sequinned dresses to lumberjack shirts and retro Christmas jumpers. At the stalls, it is always worth haggling – start low in the hope they will meet you in the middle.

 

P.S. I wish you luck on your present buying/fashion finding/Black Friday avoiding mission.

London in a Day

Only got one day in the big bad city? Don’t waste it getting mowed down by school trips and tourists, seeing the obvious attractions (that you’ve probably seen before) or being disappointed by mediocre meals. Check out my suggestions for when time is tight…

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24 Hours in London

London is about far more than Big Ben, the London Eye, M+M world and Piccadilly Circus. Away from the black cabs and tourist traps, avoiding the Steakhouses and Starbucks that litter the streets, there is a London with quirky cafes, hidden museums, historical pubs and scintillating stories. But is it possible to get a taste of this underground-London in only 24 hours?

A sensible starting place would be Liverpool Street; a perfect doorway to the city. Begin with a hearty breakfast at the Bishopsgate Kitchen (if chorizo hash or eggs Benedict appeals), people-watch by way of the café’s glass front , and pick from a selection of teas to set you up for the day ahead. Old Spitalfields, which is right outside, is a haven of crafts and creatives; depending on the day, this could be the home of a rotating flea market, vintage record sale, or art stalls. For a peek at Hipster Central, take a nose up Brick Lane, and try on a couple of 70’s outfits in Rokit if you’re feeling brave.

A tube journey to Charing Cross will site you in the perfect location for a free lunchtime concert at St Martins in the Fields, where a spot of classical tunage will add some cultural scope to your day. Heading up to Covent Garden from here is a short walk, and allows you to take in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the ever-changing Fourth Plinth. The BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is a chance to absorb a variety artwork without trekking around the entire place if time is tight. By this time, I imagine a nibble might be in order: sample an array of salads, divine cakes and bakes (ginger and salted caramel loaf, anyone?) proper coffee and friendly staff at Black Penny Café to fuel you up for further exploring.

Explorers keen on bizarre Korean and Japanese nik-naks should have a deco in Artbox, a crazy stationary shop off Neal’s Yard where you can buy a notebook unlike any other to jot down your memories of the day. At Holborn, step back in time with a trip to Sir John Soane’s Museum (free), where worldly treasures and an insanely cool picture room (authentic Hogarths, and opening walls) is enough to make you feel as if you are in a novel. The first Tuesday of each month offers an evening candlelit tour of the place, which, trust me, is definitely worth a half hour queue (and surely queueing is part of the London initiation?)

A swift pint in The Princess Louise, a pub with nooks and crannies that are ever appearing provides the ideal precursor to an imaginative cocktail at Merchant House, where jazz music and a speakeasy feel accompany concoctions featuring everything from chamomile tea to chocolate bitters. Sit back in the vintage Chesterfield sofas, soak up the Mad Men vibe: exhausted, satisfied, enlightened and enthused, you’ll wish you had more than a day to spend in the Capital of Capitals.

Just Espresso Yourself: The Rise of Coffee as an Art Form

You can’t walk down any street in the city without it becoming clear that coffee has become a ‘cult’ of sorts: there’s even a yearly London Coffee Festival  (in Brick Lane, naturally – could it be any more hipster?). The coffee snobs, who won’t set foot inside a Costa, avoid Starbucks like the plague, and even deem Nero’s beverages as inauthentic, are growing, and the amount of independent, home roasted, artisan coffee shops are increasing with them. But should we mere mortals be so dismissive of these coffee-aficionados? Are they as rightly superior about their coffee as a fashionista would be about Primark or an art-freak about Manga? Because, arguably, coffee is an art form.

Coffee has become a day to day convenience and our taste buds have become all too familiar with the chain’s conveyer belt ‘coffee’. But it is not until you get a taste of a proper flat white, an independent’s cappuccino or a perfect latte that you start to doubt your regular mocha. Many cafes and coffee shops in London are appealing to these hardened coffee-addicts and offering on-site roast and ground coffees, different weekly blends, and options to tailor your coffee exactly as you want it.

If you think that swirly leaf thing on top of your flat white at Costa is impressive, take a look at some real coffee art and you will brush it off as a child’s stick man drawing. From words to animals; even celebrities have been known to grace a latte’s foam when trained baristas construct a coffee. Of course these masterpieces are hardly long lasting – no doubt minutes later the work of art will dissolve or get drunk. But then just as a chocolatier or baker can be classed as an artist, despite their masterpiece being temporary and consumable, so is the Great Barista.

One of my most treasured Christmas presents last year was ‘The London Coffee Guide’ – a book dedicated to reviewing and rating a huge number of independent cafes and coffee shops in London. Though I have yet to work my way through it (I think I may have tried 5-6 of the establishments now), the very fact that it exists and is in demand proves that people are taking coffee very seriously these days, myself included.

From the temperature of the milk to the depth of the coffee, the thickness of the foam and the roasting time of the beans, making a decent cup of coffee is no mean feat. Perhaps next time you put in your order, you may want to consider the barista as Van Gogh of the coffee world. But, if for you coffee is coffee just as wine is wine (sommeliers cover your ears), just think of the barista as a saviour: hangover + essays = need caffeine fast.

*originally published in CUB magazine (http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2014/05/just-espresso-rise-coffee-art-form/)