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A Masterclass in Street Portraiture

This week’s guest speaker at the Dawlish & Teignmouth Camera Club was the embodiment of juxtaposition – a term used in photography to convey the placing of two objects together to show contrast. Here was David Cantor, a gentle, quietly spoken and unassuming gentleman whose portrait images were of an eclectic mix of people from the edgy streets of London’s East End. But what was particularly impressive about David’s talk was that he introduced each of his images with the name of the person and their particular story. One of the more touching ones was David ‘Royal Star’ King, who after being shot in the face at a nightclub, is now a fervent anti-gun campaigner who gives talks to local schools. Other images included the exotic-looking Sami Chabani, Mick the homeless man who he became friends with for many years until his death and Dillan the Singer Man, intersperced with authentic portraits of the characters he met, such as the Australian tourist, Jenna, who just loved to jump.

Jenna Jumps © David Cantor
Jenna Jumps © David Cantor

David explained that Street Portraiture is his passion and described how this wonderful genre comes with endless opportunities to interact with people from all walks of life, ethnicity and backgrounds. Much of his photography happens around the Brick Lane area in the heart of London’s East End, where Whitechapel, Aldgate, and Spitalfields intersect. Once associated with the poorest slums of East London, Brick Lane is now a vibrant, cultural, ethnic and artistic hub full of cool shops, vintage clothing markets and curry houses. It is awash with colourful graffiti making Brick Lane the epicentre of street art in East London.

It is a location that holds a special place in his affections as several branches of his family have passed this way in the last 160 years. He regularly returns to the same streets and meets the same people and has therefore built-up strong relationships giving him a sort of street-cred with other members of the community, whilst the constantly evolving street art gives an ever-changing backdrop to his photos.

David King Anti-Gun Camaigner © David Cantor
David King Anti-Gun Camaigner © David Cantor

David was keen to make the distinction between Street Photography and Street Portraiture. The former is candid photography using a long lens and where there is not usually any interaction with the subject as it is done without the person’s knowledge or permission. Whereas Street Portraiture is completely the opposite, with the photographer approaching the person to introduce themselves and getting permission to take their photograph using a close-up lens (David uses an Olympus camera with 12-35mm lens). David said 50% of a successful portrait is in the encounter itself because you get to know the person and the story behind the image – sometimes these encounters can be life-enhancing and have certainly expanded his knowledge of people from all walks of life, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds. His own style means he builds up a rapport with people to gain their trust, and he always treats them with respect and empathy.

With these incredible images have come successes. In 2016 his portrait of Abdel Tavares was one of the 57 photographs chosen to be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the prestigious ​​​Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize and was then used for the exhibition catalogue cover, postcards and an extensive poster campaign on the London Underground network.

In 2019, his portrait of Samy Chabani was one of the 50 winners declared for the Portrait of Humanity photo competition chosen from over 28,000 entries. As would be expected, David enjoyed a successful Solo Exhibition called 'Brick Lane Life' held on Brick Lane in October 2019. He has also been short-listed for the Portraits category for the 2021 British Photography Awards.

As a parting shot, he challenged the members to ‘stay outside of their comfort zone’ and rounded off his talk by encouraging a sing-along to Bob Marley’s Don’t Worry About a Thing!

If you would like to see David’s work, including details of his self-published books Brick Lane Life and Conversations, visit his website

And if you have an interest in photography and would like to hear from other guest speakers, visit our page: find out more about joining the club.

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