An interview with Love London author, Barbara Chandler

Love London book cover by Barbara Chandler When did the idea of Love London develop?

Well, my first exhibition of photographs was around 25 years ago, a collection of general work called “Moments”. Then I did four big shows on Poland, including one in Warsaw, as I had been visiting a friend there regularly. But London of course was on my doorstep, so I was often out photographing, with no particular agenda. Then I got the chance to exhibit in the Crush Bar of the old Covent Garden Opera House, and I themed the 1995 show around Street Music (I had been photographing a lot of street musicians, often from my stall on Portobello Road). By then I had a sizeable body of London work. The big breakthrough came in 2008, when Habitat on Regent Street put on an exhibition of my London work for a British Day festival, and I suddenly thought: “I could call it Love London.” Though it was a bit risky then (and now!) because actually a lot of people strongly dislike London...

Describe what Love London is about

Love London is a compact hardback book with 180 photographs, in colour and black and white, of all aspects London life – from streets, parks and transport to people – and lots more. It’s very affordable, at £9.99. I didn’t do a coffee table book, as I have always wanted my work to be affordable and accessible. The earliest picture was taken in 1986, of a rag-and-bone-man where I lived in Acton, and the latest at the end of last year in Greenwich Park, just before the snow set it. The pictures are matched with over 100 quotes about London, from a 15th century poem to modern newspaper snippets and a blog. Around the pictures, I am developing a range of merchandise. Working with DigetexHome, images are printed onto fabrics (for example tea towels), and onto paper for wall coverings and murals. Working with The New English, images are being put onto bone china for plates.

But nothing goes forward unless I am truly thrilled to see my work in a new medium.

Describe London as a city in your own words

London is vast in size, history, architecture, art, literature and public spaces such the parks and the river - as we have all discovered. At least two writers have called London illimitable. But you have to not let that worry you, to just relax and let it flow over you, to be receptive, passive even. Then the joys of London come crowding in. You stop feeling worried by what you haven’t seen/done, and glory in a present which is glittering with the past.

How many years have you lived in London?

Around 40! You have to remember I am a granny now, with ten grandchildren – and a camera in her handbag.

How would you describe British design?

Ah, design – my day job, so to speak. I’ve been a specialist writer for over 35 years, on all aspects of the home, decorating, furnishing and the like.. So I have seen a lot of trends come and go. At the moment, I feel we are on a high. We are reaping the rewards of our excellent colleges for training, and avant garde centres for design development, like the Digital Manufacturing Centre in East London. British design at present, just one decade into a new century, has a distinctive look, quiet, well-mannered and well-made, often in blonde woods. At the same time, British design is not afraid to show wit and humour, or radical new methods of production. We are particular strong at present in pattern with impressive designers who use a mix of techniques with great sophistication. Our designer-makers have matured into a potent force, often making work in small batches (though still original and personal), or even small machine runs, so that products are better-priced and more easily available.

Tell me a little bit about yourself, how long have you been a journalist?

Well I touched on that above – I’ve been a journalist I suppose for nearly 40 years, as I trained originally on a local paper, and then a trade journal. I have written for a huge range of national and international papers and magazines, been consultant to a majour TV home design programme, and won several awards, including Service ot Design, and National Home Improvement Journalist of the Year.

What does photography mean to you?

Everything. I cannot look anywhere without seeing a picture, whether inside or out. I feel frustrated if I have not taken a picture that day.

How long have you been a photographer?

Around 30 years – I initially taught myself so that I could illustrate my own section on Ideal Home magazine. It was the London shopping digest, a completely new idea at that time. We didn’t have any money for photography (then as now!) so I decided to take my own pictures. Once I had a decent camera and basic skills, I started to take “my” pictures – in the street, tube, subways, hotel lobbies, on the beach and so forth. Many of those early pictures are selling very well now – I have framed prints in the art galleries of the Conran Shops, and they also stock my hand-made cards. Each of these is made with a real photo, stuck down by me on white card, with a stamp on the back and on the envelope. I’ve made thousands and thousands over the years, and some single images have now sold into thousands. I reckon that genuinely makes me a best-selling photographer, and I am very proud of that. I sold my work at Portobello Road for three or four years at the beginning, and that gave me a wonderful background to what people appreciate and indentify with.

How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

Impulsive, extravagant, disorganised, tenacious, loving

What inspires you?

Visually, everything inspires me. But you have to be open to it. You cannot be inspired if you are constantly talking, on a mobile phone or exchanging messages. Of course, interaction is stimulating and productive. But you have to have time on your own to read, to think. Then let the world wash over you, and thus come the ideas. You cannot legislate for them or make them happen. But believe me, they will come, and you just have to make space for them.

To see a selection of images from Love London, go to follow me on