This week we've interviewed Shilpa Bhatnagar of Flaneurbanite, a twenty-something Indian bringing her keen eye and love of street-writing and photography to London - 'capturing fragments and rewriting the City'.
Image licensed to Shilpa under the Creative Commons All Rights Reserved License
If you had to describe your blog in less than 15 words how would you do it?
Photographic narratives of London by an urban planner, writer, walker and obsessive photographer.
What’s a Flaneurbanite?
Oh, that’s a compound word made of the French word “flâneur” and “urbanite” that I invented when I was trying to think of a catchy nickname to call myself by on the blog. A Flâneur is one who indulges in flânerie- the act of walking the city in order to experience it without intervening in it, while recording and later retelling it - which is more or less what I do on the blog. Urbanite, because I am essentially one. I know "flaneurbanite" is more tongue-twisty than catchy, but it's unusual, so people remember it. And I like that.
Why did you start blogging?
I love writing. I love photography. I love telling stories. And I have an intrinsic relationship with Cities - not just as a dweller but as a professional. Towards the end of 2008 I was feeling a major creative void in life, and that is when, prodded on by a couple of friends and family, I finally brought all of these together in Urban Legends. It has just been a little over two months since it started but it's fun, it partly satisfies my creative craving, and the feedback has been amazing. It's hard work to walk miles, click, sort through hundreds of pictures, edit and upload them to Flickr, compose the stories, link the pictures - all to make up one post. But I absolutely love it.
That said, Urban Legends is not my first blog - I’ve had another photography blog, a creative writing blog, a personal anecdote blog and have been a contributor to a few literary blogs. Urban Legends is the youngest - just two months old - and my personal favourite!
What about London inspires your blog?
Gosh, where do I start? I probably say this a lot around the blog, but I love the fact that you will find something of interest wherever you look in London. I love the fact that not just the big landmarks, every little nook and cranny in London is steeped in history, or at least curious legends. I love how the old and new co-exist and co-relate. Sometimes one can find conflict beneath the apparently calm surface - like the time I did that post on Rivington Street and it led to long debates about the tussle between street art as the subversive and the sponsored. I love the architecture, the river, the artsy and bohemian East End, the posh West, the markets, the diversity of people. I love that there is always something going on around town - you just need to have the time to go and attend. And all this together makes up such a dynamic subject for hundreds of photo-stories - I'm very often imagining the next story while working on one.
What’s your favourite post you’ve ever written - your favourite find in London to date?
Given that the blog is only two months old, I'm sure I'll discover a lot more interesting stuff in times to come. Not sure of my favourite post (I like a few better than others, for various reasons), but my favourite 'find' so far has been Rivington Street, for sure. I literally stumbled upon it as I was clicking Shoreditch High Street, went back to have a second look and was delighted to see what I found. I was thrilled with the discussions it led to on and off-blog - I thrive on feedback and discussion - and this was the post that made me think it was really worthwhile to have started this blog.
What’s the most underrated thing about London?
The transport system. This is your cue to run after me with a hatchet. But seriously - for a city the size and population of London, I think the transport system is fantastic. And you need to have lived elsewhere to be able to really appreciate it. Yeah, there are delays and yeah, it wasn't fun to be stranded without transport in the snow, but hey, at most other times, you don't necessarily need a car in this city. I don't think I can say that of many other cities I've been to.
Would you feel more or less connected to London, or missed out on things without your blog?
It's been just two months but I've already come across a whole bunch of interesting bloggers, photographers, artists and writers because of the blog - people I might not have met otherwise. Through the blogs and websites of these people, as well as while researching my own posts I often come across parts of the city or events that I might not otherwise have heard about. And of course, Londonist!
Tell us about another up-and coming London blogger you like
I keep discovering great blogs every other day and try to keep my absolute favourites on the Links section of my blog. I really like Jane's London for her eye for detail. Another blog I'd like to mention is Simon Kimber's Photography and Politics. He's got an impressive knack for capturing the protests, parades and events that happen around Westminster and the City with the occasional commentary thrown in. Worth a look.
And for some general London chat Where do you live and why do you love it?
I live in Chiswick and I love it for its urban-villagey feel, while still being just a short hop away from Central London. It's also close to the nicer parts of south west London - Richmond and Kew Gardens. The high street with its pubs, bookshops, cafes, bakeries and boutiques is perfect for a weekend browse or for meeting friends. And the riverside is just next door with the beautiful Chiswick Mall. It's like living in the countryside and the city at the same time - the best of both worlds.
What's your favourite place in London?
In London, it's hard to choose, but at the moment I'm madly in love with the Chiswick riverside and Duke's Meadows. Southbank also sits near the top, but I don’t like crowds and it’s almost always crowded. Pity.
What do you know about London that no one else does?
Ooh, I wish there was something I could call My Personal London Secret. But I don't think there's anything in London that someone else doesn't know about! Seriously though, I sometimes think I get a vantage view on the city because I look at it through my 'foreign' eyes and conditioning. That point of view is perhaps only mine, then? Wishful thinking?
Have you ever been sick on the tube?
Thankfully, no. I'm not a big drinker, so that's the reason I don't get sick, unless, well, I'm really truly sick.
Anything else we should know?
1. I've been toying with the idea of setting up an online shop of my prints for charity, but I'm not sure anyone wants to buy my prints at all. If you do, please do let me know.
2. I am very eager to go commercial with my writing and photography - so anyone out there interested in my work, hello!
3. And I don't think there's anything like too much feedback on the blog. So whatever you think of it, I'd really love to know!