Observer Collection in London
Autumn 2020. Saville Row. A small crowd mostly wearing some frequent combination of vintage white Levi's and old military jackets clustered around the end of the street, several spilling out into the quiet road. Despite the obvious nature of the situation I for whatever reason momentarily questioned if I was in the right place, and stood a little apart. I gave it a moment and decided that this, the only collection of folks on the entire street, all dressed very clearly not unlike myself, was the obvious destination I'd been looking for. I crossed over the road. A Negroni-influenced tailored tweed jacket, albeit under another green coat, and a pair of broad three-quarter lengths in a distinctive North African-inspired pattern interrupted a wash of khaki with some reddish hues. I had a pair of blue jeans, but I had paired it with a sage French F2. I clearly wasn't immune. A little later and the man we were all here to meet, an American in a humorous reverse palette swap wandered up, Robert Spangle. White over green. An impressive alpine Acronym shell jacket atop camouflage Rhodesian field trousers.
Over his shoulder, the handful of items that had in some way brought this little society together.
He walked us inside the Row's rejuvenation project. The Service. A coffee shop and mixed-use space unabashedly 'servicing' the types of needs the increasingly ghost-town like tailoring quarter required. Masks on.
Downstairs, a space graciously provided for the group along with coffee from the front bar. I felt wildly out of place, but the folks were kind. With a heavy clink I still remember a year later, the former marine and now constantly-travelling and frequently venturing photographer placed down his camera. It was the lens hood, an old heavy beast with scars peaking through near the front lip that made the noise against the table. Afterwards, the Indy, Spangle's most recently developed and field tested project. A tan, suede-lined camera bag in a leather I was extremely familiar with. If I put my hand in my pocket I'd feel the same. My precious little Papa passport wallet.
This is the Observer Collection. Well-lived, well-worked, and excruciatingly well-developed travel supplies for those that travel often and earnestly.
That day, Robert would be running a mentorship session, first through a short presentation and then soon after through a live demonstration and shooting day. Leaving the Service in matching khaki I believe the word "cult" was used.
For the next couple of hours we walked through central London, some with cameras they'd brought from home, I believe a couple with phones. We were a mix, a small handful of us already being photographers of varying sorts, some others being amateurs. A couple borrowed cameras off from Robert, one in particular with slicked back hair, glasses, and an M51 jacket borrowed the photographer's Leica MD. This camera, or at least one of Robert's Leicas, had taken a great, disproportionate deal of some of my favourite photos. I'd fallen in love with it years prior. It suited the man, Mattia. It was good to photograph it. Robert lent out his two other cameras, his Nikons. Weighty and complex. One went to the man in Negroni tweed, Baptiste Rosset. Later I found him in the credits of The Rake.
Robert walks with a usual, easy pace. He provided commentary along the way. He'd explained shooting styles, photographing people in the street. It's mostly confidence and charisma. Later, over the years, I've found face masks make it much harder when folks can't read your expression. I also found that its best to act with speed for certain types of shots, particularly the types of photos you'd see on covers. The bold, isolated poses you'd get up close. When Robert retrieved his camera from Baptiste I saw it first hand. We were crossing St Martin's Lane, where it intersects various other streets, just around the corner from Covent Garden. Waiting at the lights, Rob spotted something. A person, 40 meters away, and at least four angled lanes of traffic. I can't remember who, or what they looked like. I never saw the photo that came from it. Lights, now green. The crowd moved forward, not just on our street but the adjoining as well. The bundle of people shifted, separated in areas, became thicker in others as folks clumped up. The target budged. Crowd parted. A split second later and Robert was in a deep lunge forward onto one knee, presumably feet from where he started. I couldn't hear the shutter from the drone of waiting buses. By the time I'd noticed he was already finished. I managed to get a couple of shots off, somehow, in the middle of it.
We made it back. Some departed. A few of us stayed. Pizza in Soho. Stories about Naples from the last American under the shade of Vesuvius. Then, we all went our separate ways. Rob first, darting into a bookshop to pick something up for his next flight. While writing this I realised that said next flight would result in him being shortly locked up in an Athenian jail, the countries of Europe uncertain what their own rules were regarding foreign travel. I hope whatever he picked up served him well on the flight back to Los Angeles.
Thank you again to Rob for the experience, I still look back on it fondly. Not only was it my first 'true' shoot day, but it was alongside some great folks, and with a man who I have an immense amount of respect for. Always hopeful to do it again some time.