Lovers in London

March 4, 2015

I fell in love with my now husband on the doorstep of my flat one Sunday afternoon in Notting Hill.


My flat in Notting Hill

We had spent the late summer day sunbathing in Hyde Park watching the ducks and talking about nothing in particular. He had an ease about him that fascinated me.  He balanced my nervous, bouncy energy with a calm and confidence that made me feel anchored and looked after.  In the chaos of a city so transient and foreign being with him felt like home.  Before we said goodbye for the day he walked me home, grabbed my chin and gently kissed the corner of my mouth.  I can still remember the prickle of his stubble on my cheek. It was the moment that did me in.

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Foot portrait of us at a tube station

Memories of our early romance unfold like a map of London.  We wandered for hours along the river Thames, explored galleries and art museums on the weekends, brunched in local neighborhood cafes and traversed the boroughs in packed tube cars on humid summer nights.  On our first date at The Troubador in Earl’s Court we joked about quitting our jobs and traveling to Thailand. We browsed the Portobello Road antique market on Sundays and loitered in book stores when it was too cold to be walking outside.

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Reflection self portrait from Westminster Tube Station

Falling in love in London is no more poetic than falling in love in the middle of the prairies in Manitoba.  Love, after all, is the great beautifier. Everything is shiny and new in the breathtaking heat of “falling”.  But I do believe that the city of London made a big difference in how we came together and ultimately how we define our coupling. The city nurtured our shared curiosity for art, history and travel.  It set a precedence in the way we explore the world and how we define time well spent.  It is the reason we take long leisurely brunches and drink water from fancy cups and consider a day spent wandering as the most luxurious way to explore a place.

It’s amazing to recall now the tableaus of our narrative.  Medieval backstreets, summer street festivals, candlelit cave bars.  The beauty of our early memories make a difference somehow.  They remind me everyday that the world has and can always be wide open to us if we choose for it to be.  In the same way that the language in which you meet your significant other defines the default language by which you communicate, I believe that the city of your early romance defines the geography of your hopes, dreams and expectations.  It’s the plane on which your first shared values take root and makes up the first pages of the scrapbook of your story.  I’m grateful that ours is London.

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Hoxton Square Bar

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Visiting friends in exotic places makes travel that much sweeter but visiting a photography friend in a city as wicked as Tokyo is a whole other level of sweetness that I can’t describe.  While in Tokyo a little over a year ago (yes, this post is embarrassingly late!), I had the chance to hang out with the very talented Dave Powell of Shoot Tokyo.  Brought together by our love of Leica cameras, Dave treated me to a fantastic urban photo tour of one of the craziest cities on the planet.

I’ve never considered myself an official street photographer.  I’m a travel photographer – documenting people, places and things while on the road.  When I started traveling heavily for work while living in Europe, I could think of no better souvenir than capturing the scenes that moved me in a particular place.  With a camera, each city becomes a canvas – lights and shadows, scenes and tableaus, faces and facades. I photographed everything that felt unusual, exotic and inspiring.

Dave takes city photography and pushes the boundaries by capturing people. The man is fearless.  It was amazing to watch him walk up to complete strangers, smile and ask for permission to take their photographs.  When they refuse, he finds a way to gently insist and a few minutes later the once shy subjects are posing and smiling for him as if in a fashion show.  His fearlessness and in-your-face approach are inspiring.  On this particular evening out in Shibuya he assigned me to go and photograph fifteen strangers. Strangers!  It wasn’t an easy task and I didn’t get to fifteen exactly but I had a lot of fun trying!

What I learned:

  • The more awkward you are, the more awkward your subjects will feel.  Chillax and own it!
  • It’s better to be direct and ask for permission to shoot someone than lurk around the corner trying to steal a shot. People can sense when they’re being stalked and most get really annoyed and yell at you don’t like it.
  • Set your ISO and exposure ahead of time so you can shoot at a moment’s notice without having to fiddle with your settings.
  • Don’t let (inevitable) rejection get you down. Shake it off and move on to your next target.
  • Don’t be afraid to deliberately frame your subject. Position him in front of a grungy alley or in the middle of a busy street.  Once someone has agreed to get their photo taken, they usually don’t mind being directed.  Some will even enthusiastically pose themselves!
  • Smile. Always smile!

Here are a few of my favorite shots:


How amazing is her hair?! Photo credit here goes to Dave. He was showing me how to properly expose for evening shots.


Half the fun of taking photos of strangers is showing them what you captured afterwards.


Our friend Scott.


My brother, Danny.


Her hat was amazing. It said: Only God Can Judge Me. Ha! Amen!


This guy really didn’t want to be photographed but eventually conceded probably because he couldn’t find the words in English to tell me to go away.


We ran into this guy on our way home just a few minutes from Shibuya Station. The bar lights next door created a very cool effect.

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Here’s a shot of me framed perfectly in the street, shot by Dave.

A few days later, my brother and I visited the Asakusa district and I tried my hand at a few people photos again.


He was at the shrine on a school trip.


These two weren’t camera shy at all.


I stole this shot. The girls were posing jokingly for their friends in front of two buddha statues just outside the shrine. They were too cute.

Japan was amazing.  I can’t wait to go back.

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On light

February 18, 2015

Photography is nothing more than the manipulation of light. Last week after a day of hiking we came home to a blazing sunset. The light streaming into the west side of our house took my breath away. Filtered, warm and dewey in a way I’d never seen before. So beautiful.

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“The wonder of life is often most easily recognizable through habits and routines.” – Anne Lamott

These days I’m more inspired by everyday moments with friends and loved ones than I am by grandiose landscapes and exotic places. I don’t know if it’s the Leica that I’m shooting with now or because my perspective is changing but I’m discovering visual narratives during routine Sunday dinners and weekly get togethers with friends that feel more personally relevant than faraway tourist destinations. Here are my faves from January.

My little cheetah asleep on my lap during a weekly family dinner. I think this is my favorite photograph of all time.


Our friend Lucila visiting from Argentina, at H&D’s house. ‘Twas an evening of food, whiskey and playstation motion games.


We celebrated dad’s birthday with a night of bowling and pub food. I love the glow of the candlelight on his face.


Birthday brunch for German, pulled off on a Monday (MLK Day)!


Squishy face!


Aftermath of German’s 3rd and last birthday party of the month.


Finished at 4am. Not bad, not bad!

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Asian water buffalo

February 11, 2015

Here’s a piece that was inspired by my Philippine origins.  The “carabao” or  Asian water buffalo is the country’s national animal and has been essential to the rice industry for centuries.  I grew up seeing them in the fields whenever we visited my grandparents in the province each week.  I have a soft spot for bovine animals and enjoyed the process of collecting different tribal patterns from all over the world to put this piece together.  Created with gouache on paper.  More from this series can be found on my art site denisegamboa.com

Original 9x12, gouache on paper. Signed and dated.

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Ciego, the series

February 11, 2015

Here’s a sneak peak at my latest work. The series is called “Ciego”, which means blind in Spanish. Each piece is drawn in one continuous line, without peeking down at the paper! They’re all available for viewing at denisegamboa.com along with my other work.
Original 9x12, gouache and watercolor on paper. Signed and dated.
Original 6x8, gouache and watercolor on paper. Signed and dated.
Original 9x12, gouache and watercolor on paper. Signed and dated.

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Happy home, happy dog

January 29, 2015

I take a certain level of pride in her walking in and claiming the house , and everything in it, for herself. If you’ve ever had a shiba, you’ll understand what I mean.

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One afternoon exactly one year ago in London, I met a man who changed my life. He was on the Millennium Bridge clad in construction clothes tinkering at something on the floor. Like everyone else, I walked past without a second thought in a rush to visit the Tate Modern after a media briefing in the city several blocks away. I was on a mission to sit in awe with Rothko’s Seagram Murals hoping to feel their power and be moved by “pure emotion” like the documentaries proclaim.

The Millennium Bridge is, without a doubt, my favorite spot in all of London. It connects the City to Southwark and Saint Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern – a literal and proverbial bridge between old and new. Perched high above the river as if on wings, it’s one of the few places in the city where you can stand in stillness and feel the expanse of the sky and river around you.

Halfway across the bridge, I noticed a small boy taking a photograph of something on the floor. Curious, I took a closer look and chuckled with surprise. Tiny painted drawings littered the pathway barely noticeable to the hurried pedestrians just passing through. I made a beeline back to the construction worker to confirm my hunch that he’d had something to do with my glee.

His name is Ben Wilson, also known as The Chewing Gum Man.  His was a face glowing with joy – the kind of joy I notice on people with strong faith, with inspired passion or on people having just returned from a marvelous holiday. The look of contentment and peace in his eyes shook me with envy and enamored me to his cause. I wanted to know everything about him.

We sat together awhile as I peppered him with questions. Ben creates chewing gum art and he’d been painting miniature scenes on the Millennium Bridge almost daily for the past five months. More specifically, he painted scenes based on passersby’s stories of love, reunion, family and friendship.  Art, he said, is the great connector.  It enables us to feel connected to something other than ourselves and instantly destroys barriers.  And with chewing gum as a canvas, he feels his art is accessible to everyone.

He said that when people feel disconnected with the world, they hurt others. They don’t realize that they’re hurting people.  When you’re truly connected to something, you love it. You love it for all its imperfections and faults.  He talked about his studio, his humble home, and how he split his time between his art and family.  A man of little means, he seemed completely content with the process of making art just for art’s sake.  His passion, zest for life and openness to connect with me, a complete stranger, for what felt like the whole afternoon planted a seed inside me that has never gone away.

I’ve been thinking about Ben a lot lately.  Our encounter forced me to think hard about purpose, connectedness and the impact we can make on each other and our world. Anything done with love, authenticity and empathy has the power to break barriers and change lives.  I’m being very purposeful about what I spend my time on these days and how I do it. Intention and the desire to touch others has been a driving force in my motivations as of late.  It’s the kind of clarity and motivation that makes me hopeful about the year ahead.

Happy new year!  May 2015 be filled with love, art and bolts of wisdom like Ben Wilson and the Millennium Bridge.

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