photographing a slice of london life

Nina Manandhar’s street portraits capture the celebratory moments of living in London town.

by Stuart Brumfitt
Nov 9 2015, 1:49pm

Self-declared "photographer, artist and modern day pop-ethnographer" Nina Manandhar is London through-and-through and a typical tale of the movements happening all across the city. Having spent her entire childhood and teens kicking round Portobello, Ladbroke Grove and Oxford Street, she's since gravitated to East London, which drew her in with its different population, promises and potential eight years ago. Even a born-and-bred West Londoner can find new pastures if they just head to a different part of the city. Wherever she lives, Nina roams the capital to capture the style, celebration and great characters across London's mind-blowingly different boroughs with her camera as her tool.

Which part of West London are you from? Can you describe your area growing up?
I grew up in West London in Shepherds Bush. My favorite place as a kid was the market. Me and my friends used to spend a lot of time hanging around Portobello Road and Ladbroke Grove. I used to get the number 7 bus, which was an old Routemaster, and hang around Oxford Street at Micky D's and HMV, sneaking into underage nights at the Astoria when Soho was a still a place to go out if you were young and broke.

Where do you live now and what's vibe of the area?
I live in Lower Clapton now. I've lived in the different parts of the borough of Hackney for the last eight years and seen it change loads from when I moved to Dalston. Clapton still has a good mix of people that have lived there for years and young "creative", for want of a better word. There are lot of independent businesses and places going strong. When I first moved from West to East I felt like a bit of a traitor but I think it's too late to go back West now.

Being from West, do you think there's a West London thing, or do you see more similarities in different pockets across the whole city?
I don't think its so much about being a distinct vibe of difference between N, S, E, W but more about how the communities from different ethnicities that have settled in different pockets to affect the character of an area, this combined with the history of the specific place. Although it tends to happen, the worst thing is communities living in enclaves. Cities should be the opposite of that.

You describe yourself as a "pop-ethnographer" - can you describe that term a bit more?
I made it up so not sure it makes sense! But Ethnography comes from the Greek ethnos "folk, people, nation" - the systematic study of people and cultures. I'm interested in popular culture as opposed to "folk", but it seemed to summarize my approach, which is about observing people from being around them.

Do you have any favorite parts of London to photograph in? Lots of your shots here are in Hackney and surrounding areas.
I mostly photograph where I inhabit especially with the street stuff. I like to use the camera as a tool to get to know my local area. It's a good way to settle into a place. There are always new places to discover in London - I couldn't walk every street if I tried. I went to Edgware Road to the Church Street market for the first time since I was a kid and that had a really nice energy. I'd like to shoot more there.

Can you talk about London style? What differences or similarities do you see between all the different boroughs?
It's not so borough specific, butI love to see way style can reveal things about the different communities people might belong to. From British - Muslim boys who wear Thobes with their Nike Air Max for Friday prayer in Whitechapel, to Peckham aunties dressed in Sunday best on their way to church, to Knightsbridge London ladies outside Harrods draped in pearls, to the kids all over London using their school uniforms to express their allegiances.

There are a lot of duos in these shots -- is there something particularly appealing about the two people together?
You get a nice energy shooting people together, sometimes they are less nervous that being shot on their own, especially if they're strangers I've just met on the street. I also think it's because I focus on style and how what people wear signifies what communities and groups they may be part of, and duos reveal this well.

What is the biggest thing you hope your photos achieve?
With the documentary stuff pictured here I want to show a tiny slice of London life that might otherwise go unseen. At best, I hope the energy of the people and a feeling of those "moments in life" comes through.

Your photos show how different people and cultures get pleasure and spread love. Do you see more that unites different communities than divides them?
Personally as a photographer I'm drawn towards the celebratory moments as opposed to the darker sides of human behavior. I choose to surround myself with positive things rather than seek out the seedy and gritty. However, this isn't to say I don't see lots of division in the city too. The city dweller is the most hard-headed of creatures, and London is a tough city. Financially it's tougher to live in at the moment, which is a recipe for more division. As has been much-debated recently, the biggest and most pressing problem is the situation with unaffordable housing and rising rents which is pushing people further and further out of the city. On a positive note, I guess London is just growing. It's still the place for me. I just hope I can carry on affording to live here.

What do you love most about London right now?
The London Fog.

FIND out how London's changing with our series exploring the shifting city.

Nina Manandhar is a London based photographer and author of What We Wore- A People's History of British Style.


Text Stuart Brumfitt
Photography Nina Manandhar

Nina Manandhar
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