It was another beautiful sunny day, a day that was not enjoyed by everyone as pleasant. Cups of water were received as a welcome offering. Someone was looking for a good shady route to cycle, and we discussed the benefits of a pace that allows stopping to chat, rather than hurtling from A to B, perhaps missing the kind of unexpected encounters that the project hopes to kindle.
A companion today helped me to open up conversations, and weave interactions between those who dropped by. When someone is talking to us it allows others to come and investigate and perhaps join the conversation.
Each day returning visitors say hello, or stop to give me an update on a previous topic that we have shared. Friends come to see what we’re up to, and strangers choose whether to engage, or not.
A young man today made a very definite point of coming to express his opinion, that, “Hackney was not friendly, because of things that have happened to friends and other people,” but he chose not to take the conversation further.
After making a connection with someone, and usually after we have shared a verbal interchange, I say that, “I am taking pictures of some of the people I chat to for the blog.” At this point the relationship with self-image, being recorded, the potential use and ownership of their image, their trust in me, and my skills with a camera enter our conversation.
Some people are keen to be my subject and are happy to pose, some are willing, but like to dictate where I should frame them from, or how. Others want to make it more fun, or want to be photographed with me. Some agree but suggest that they are not photogenic, or haven’t done their hair.
Others decline because they “have just been to the gym”, don’t like being photographed, or want to keep their image private. Sometimes I just forget to ask, or it doesn’t seem appropriate. The photos that appear after each post are just a few of those who may have engaged with the project. They are snap shots of a moment rather than considered portraits.
Some small quiet interactions are very moving, and the person may have declined to be photographed, but their participation is just as valued and often has an impact on us. Someone today shared a song, which was very special. An admirer of the project both entertained us and spoke from the heart, “Wear your frown upside down,” he suggested.
I spoke about the marshes and the passage of time with one elder today. She spoke of the “four generations of her family that have grown up in the same house here,” and told me that her mother called the Narrow Way, “Mad Man’s Walk”, a name that described locals walking home at closing time.
The need for “public realm engagement spaces” arose today. Increasingly public space is being privatised, and we need places in our communities to be communities in, to hang out and to socialise. The Hackney is Friendly project aims to do just this, to provide public space where people feel that they have permission to talk to willing strangers.
We also spent time today considering why people may choose not to engage. Someone observed that when you enter into “a relationship, it tempers what you say. If you don’t have a relationship, you can just dump your words, and any consequence is not your concern.” I appreciate those who have chosen to engage in these sometimes fleeting relationships.
Others throw negative remarks from offside, not wishing to engage; but these anti-comments on the project also reflect public opinion. One disparaging remark today described our activities as “village.” (Slang for useless, and perhaps I am the village idiot).
At the suggestion of a returning visitor, we tried out the dance steps stencilled on the pavement. We did a funny jig, but couldn’t make it flow. “Life’s a dance,” someone reminded us. Another person who sees the value in the intentions of the project commented, “I see it as a very generous gesture.” The dance continues, a dance of words, of human connections, or choices made to avoid these here.
These are some of the people we met today: