Picturing London

31 March 2016

Tom Simpson is City Hall’s in-house photographer. He tells us what it’s like and why the job is sometimes tough, but never dull…

London is an amazing place. We all know that – very few people in the grand scheme of things are lucky to call one of the most diverse cities in the world home. Before starting as City Hall’s photographer and photo editor, I had been living here for eight years. Just long enough to develop that fabled thousand-yard stare of a hardened Londoner.

Since I moved to London in 2006, I have always explored the city by bicycle. It’s the best way of connecting the dots on the Tube map – so I always thought I knew London pretty well. This changed as soon as I started working here. I soon realised I’d merely scratched the surface. The job has sent me all over the city, seeing places, people and things I would have just cycled past. In one day I found myself in six separate boroughs!

I’m in quite a privileged position as City Hall’s photographer. There are very few roles here which allow people to see and experience first hand every facet of the work we do to improve London. A photographer has to be quite a people person. People need to be comfortable with you - whether you’re shooting a portrait, or trying your best to blend into the background while they get on with whatever they do. I’ve had conversations ranging from managing an urban market to how to heat and cool a vast office building (neither of which I can claim to be an expert in, though I’d like to think I held my own!)

It’s not like I just turn up with a camera, have a nice chat, then swan off back to the office however. The job can be very hard work physically. If I’m shooting a portrait, for example, the equipment weighs around 25 kilos (55lbs in old money). On a day shooting reportage photography, I can easily cover between 5 to 10 miles on foot with a heavy camera bag on my back. I often return home completely exhausted at the end of a long day.

This is all worth it however. I’m lucky enough to be paid to photograph one of the most interesting places in the world, meeting people and finding myself in a host of situations. Indeed, no day is ever the same. I’ve stood on top of a famous London landmark, looking down on Holborn Circus, without a guardrail in sight. I’ve peered through holes in the top floor of Millennium Mills all the way to the ground floor, nearly 150ft below. I’ve even experienced the security you’d have to go through every day if you happen to work in a precious metals testing facility. It’s fair to say my job is never dull.

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