“A love letter to Hackney”: Sarah Burton Fielding documents the character and community of London

In turn Sarah purposefully headed out on days where the light was brightest, avoiding grey days in favour of “warm evenings and the spicy energy they evoke”. On her walks the photographer would look out for bold colour, or subjects and scenes that caught her breath, although usually just “commonplace things I could elevate by photographing them.”
In doing so Sarah’s created Walking Distance, a document of the warmth London can provide; its own distinct communities, dialects and individual characters, collected photographically over the past five years. “I loved London and especially Hackney, the borough I settled in, straight away,” she continues. “I love the multiculturalism, the friendly banter and weather chat, the overwhelming amount of offies and pubs, the Victorian architecture, the well-tended parks.” Walking Distance therefore features all of these attributes, but in a more abstract photographic style than just a straight-up documentary series. “It’s about emotion and memory,” as Sarah puts it. “I wanted it to be a kaleidoscope of people and place. A love letter to Hackney.”
Settling in Hackney, the environment around Sarah is one she describes as a world away – quite literally when you consider the distance – from her home. “For someone from such a small and newly colonised country it is wild coming to a comparatively ancient city like London for the first time,” she tells It’s Nice That. “It’s a place that I’d read about, or seen in films and TV, my whole life.” And so Sarah took in the city the way she knew best as a photographer, setting out on walks to document her new neighbourhood.
Tying the series together thematically is Sarah’s use of capturing light as it sweeps over the city. It was a new quality of everyday life the photographer immediately noticed in Hackney, explaining how it has “a different quality of light than the other places I’ve lived, softer, more fleeting,” she says. “When it does come out it is so beautiful, because the buildings are all so close together it makes for more interesting slants and shadows.”
When Sarah Burton Fielding and her husband Ryan first arrived in London from New Zealand, a taxi driver proudly gave them a guided tour from his front seat. As they trundled down the roads from Heathrow and drove past Harrods, Buckingham Palace and over Tower Bridge, “it felt like a grand entrance,” Sarah reflects now, five years on from when she first arrived in the city.

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