The big picture: out and about in carefree times

When Francesco Gioia took this photograph halfway up Shaftesbury Avenue in central London, he wasn’t thinking about the privilege of being able to move freely around the city without fear of infection, or the luxury of popping into a cinema on a whim to catch a movie. The time was September 2019, six months before the UK went into lockdown, and he was more interested in shapes and colours and how people’s clothes might interact with their surroundings in striking ways.

He saw a man walking along the street wearing an eye-catching hat. “So, as I often do, I discreetly went after him and took a couple of shots,”Onthou hy. “Only later did I realise that, in addition to the complementary colours that you see in the picture – the blues, the whites, and the red of the cinema logo – there was also a small, heart-shaped sweat stain on the back of his shirt, which made the shot more interesting to me, because he looks very elegant otherwise.” (He never glimpsed the man’s face.)

Op daardie stadium, Gioia, who moved to London from Florence in 2015, was spending six or seven days a week trawling the city’s streets for such details – dedication that has earned him a slew of awards over the past year, as well as praise from renowned American street photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Nou, he might go out just one day out of seven. “I started to shoot inside my house in the first month of lockdown, and I think it made me a different photographer. Before the pandemic, I used to call myself a street photographer. Now I just call myself a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the street, or at home with your parents, as long as you get a picture.”

Looking back at this image a year and nine months later, as the country emerges from lockdown, Gioia sees in it a reflection of the freedoms we barely thought about at the time. The Curzon cinema sign is less an abstraction now, a colour to offset other colours, and more a reminder of joyful moments we no longer take for granted.

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