Carla Borel’s StillSoho by Barry Miles


Carla Borel lives and works in the West End. Her pictures are of Soho people but are not necessarily taken in Soho. She usually has a camera with her, waiting for that happy juxtaposition of light and shadow, shapes and gestures that distinguish a fine photograph from an ordinary snap, when everyday life arranges itself into a composition.

She works in an honourable tradition, beginning with Kurt Hutton’s famous photo essay on the French House in 1941, through John Deakin’s revealing portraiture of Francis Bacon and his circle, Charles ‘Slim’ Hewitt’s fifties Soho clubs and Ida Kar’s London painter series.

On her shelves are much consulted volumes of Lisette Model, Brassai and David Bailey’s sixties photographs – all masters of the monochrome. Like Bailey, she uses unfocused backgrounds to form abstract organic shapes and her pictures owe a lot to the photographers of that decade.


Sometimes the images fall into place easily: In ‘Even a Stopped Clock Tells the Right Time Twice a Day’, Simon Crabb on the bed, preparing to light one cigarette from another, just needed the raised arm, the angle of the fresh cigarette to make the composition.

At other times it is the recognition of patterns and textures: ‘Bourchier Street’ sees French House manager, Hilary Penn walking down ‘Piss Alley’, her polka dot dress echoed by the tie worn by Paul Lawford from the Rubbish Men and contrasting with the security grilles and blank concrete wall.

Paul Lawford appears again, caught in characteristic pose, his dark hair, beard and hat perfect for framing his eyes. In another picture, artist Stephen Fowler poses nervously in Beak Street with his bicycle, nicely chopping the window into the golden section.


My favourite is of Michael Smith, author of The Giro Playboy, and Mandana Ruane, manager of the Academy Club, sprawling on the pavement outside the club on Lexington Street at 2am on a hot summer night. It is a classic Soho image, combining misbehaviour and the familiar Soho setting of the faded grandeur of Georgian townhouses and recycling bins. This was a carefully composed shot, Borel had to wait until a passing car illuminated the couple with its headlights in order to shoot the scene. It’s like a movie still, it suggests a story, a series of images continuing before and after this moment in time.

Borel sometimes explores photographic clichés and makes them new: here the shot of lovers in the mirror becomes a tangle of curves and shapes, and the lovers outside the Soho House must have been just irresistible.

©Barry Miles 2009

About the author:

In 1966 Barry Miles co-founded Indica Books and Gallery, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met, and the Internaional Times (IT), Europe’s first underground newspaper, as a fund raiser for which hee co-organised the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in 1967. A prolific author, his books include biographies of Paul McCartney, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski, and The Beat Hotel, In the Sixties,  Hippie, and Peace: 50 Years of Protest, 1958-2008.

StillSoho Photographs by Carla Borel runs until 31st May 2009 at The French House, 49 Dean Street, Soho, London W1

Carla Borel: www.myspace/carlaborel

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