Go east, young man…

In a week’s time, over six hundred picture professionals will descend on East London for this year’s Cepic Congress. Stock agencies will rub shoulders with heritage libraries, RM will square up to RF, and this year, more than ever, footage will sit next to still photography. Rather than events like fotofringe and Visual Connections, which attract picture buyers, the Cepic Congress is speed dating for picture archives. We rekindle relationships with existing suppliers and agents, strike up some new friendships and flirt with the competition.

It’s also usually an excuse to travel to somewhere within Europe and see some sights in the little free time that the Congress affords us. This will be my fourth Cepic. The first one I attended was Dresden and a visit from President Obama at the same time as Congress meant that the city was on lock down, with streets, manhole covers (and hotel room windows) sealed shut. Nevertheless we still managed a visit to the Frauenkirche and I got caught in a downpour so torrential I arrived back at the hotel drenched and with the face of my (supposedly waterproof) watch swimming in water.

My second year was Dublin (football and more rain). My third year was Istanbul (traffic jams, the incredible Hagia Sophia, and – thankfully – some sunshine). This year will be the curry houses of Brick Lane and an extremely easy commute by bus to the venue. In a way, it’s a shame that I’m not getting to see a new European city this year; however, it does mean I don’t have to get an 8am flight from Heathrow, which is a relief, and I get to sleep in my own bed at night. London is also doing its utmost to look its best, ready for the Jubilee (read: extra-long) weekend and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer.

When I first moved to London, I stayed briefly in North London, just past Finsbury Park, before heading east to Bethnal Green where I lived for a while in a very typical London terraced house with a Canadian housemate and a cat that was afraid of butterflies. The house was a street away from Columbia Road’s flower market. That whole area has become even more gentrified since I moved on ten years ago… maybe they were just waiting for me to leave before putting house prices up.

Brick Lane (and the Old Truman Brewery, venue for this year’s Congress) was a stone’s throw away, as was the original Spitalfield’s Market, which has since been developed and which, although it seems to me to have lost a lot of its original charm, pulls in a lot more punters now than it did the weekends I used to go to trawl through the bric-a-brac. Shoreditch and Hoxton are unrecongisable to me now and it takes me a while to get my bearings when wandering streets I used to know incredibly well. Fingers crossed I won’t lose my way when I am shepherding around Cepic out-of-towners next week.

It will be fascinating to see East London through the eyes of my Cepic colleagues next week. I find it hard not to be astonished by how upmarket it has become. Will my friends and colleagues see the same, or will they – especially those who live outside of large cities like London – see only the urban grime? It’s a fascinating area, ever-changing, filled with centuries of history. Just look at these images of East London and the City, all from our partner archive VIEW Pictures. Hard to think that all these views are within easy walking distance of one another!

So, bon voyage to all the Cepic delegates making their way to the UK. I can’t promise the sunshine we enjoyed in Istanbul, but I can promise a visit to one of the most diverse and exciting parts of our capital.