Crowd control: street photographer Shane Taylor’s images of London

They could be snapshots of an earlier time. In Shane Taylor’s street photographs of London, we see gentlemen in trilbys stalking around Mayfair and women with powdered faces and rouged cheeks staring imperiously out the windows of grand Piccadilly cafes. A cursory glance might date these images to the 1950s. Take a closer look, however, and you begin to spot telltale details: the white earbuds, the smartphones, the New Routemaster buses in the background. Taylor, whose work pays homage to such greats as Robert Frank and Sergio Larrain, says he was “trying to get the classic look I love from those older photographers by shooting with a certain type of film and camera, in areas of London where you still see people in suits and hats”.

Woman and a man in a car at Green Park.

Woman and a man in a car at Green Park. Photograph: Shane Taylor undefined

Raised in the midlands of Ireland, Taylor started taking photography seriously in his late 20s while studying visual communications in Dublin. Nearly a decade later, in 2016, he launched an Instagram account, @heroesforsale, posting new work on a near-daily basis (he now has nearly 60,000 followers, impressive for an amateur street photographer). When he moved to London the following summer to work as a user experience designer for an e-commerce company, the project helped familiarise him with the city, where he enjoys blending into busy West End crowds. “I love being in the thick of it,” he says, “because people don’t notice you as much, so you can get a lot closer, especially if you’re carrying a big old vintage camera.”

Unlike some photographers who treat human subjects as mere elements in a composition, Taylor is very interested in people. “Usually what grabs me is a particular expression, or the way someone is holding their head, or how the light has caught them.” The important thing, he emphasises, is “the emotion you get from that scene”.

A man with a broken umbrella in Green Park.

A man with a broken umbrella in Green Park.

Curiously, for someone whose passion involves seeking moments of connection in crowded places, Taylor has suffered from acute social anxiety since his teens and for a long time found it difficult to leave his parents’ house. “It basically ruined my 20s,” he says. The communications course, undertaken as he neared 30, was an attempt to fight back. On his first photography assignment for college, documenting a busy Dublin street market, it took him a couple of visits to build up the courage to take a single photo. “But once you’ve been doing it for a while, it gets easier,” he says. “I found it was a good way to face the anxiety head on.”

Taylor still prefers to fade into the background with his camera, but when he does get noticed, the responses from subjects tend to be friendly, though one man did threaten to take him to court for taking his photograph without permission, while another, mistaking him for a policeman, aimed a kick at him.

A pedestrian with an ice-cream at Piccadilly Circus.

A pedestrian with an ice-cream at Piccadilly Circus.

Mostly, though, the project has led to happy encounters. One woman pursued Taylor after he photographed her embracing someone in a cafe. “I thought I was going to be in trouble, but it turned out she was a street photographer and wanted to see what kind of photo it was. I showed her and she loved it.” Sometimes people spot themselves, or friends, on Instagram and get in touch, and often Taylor will send them a print in return. “As a stranger over here, it’s been a great way to meet people in London,” he says. “I’ve met so many nice people through doing this.”

Crossed With Care, a London street photography zine by Shane Taylor, is available now


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