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The eerily empty shopping streets of London on Christmas Day

18 December 2018

In the run-up to Christmas, when the shoppers are out in force, it can be hard to imagine that central London is ever a peaceful place to be. But if you visit on 25 December, as Justin Bramwell does each year with his camera, you can discover a spookily quiet side of the capital...

Piccadilly Circus | All photos © Justin Bramwell

As a retail designer based on London's Oxford Street, Justin is used to seeing the capital mobbed with people. He explains: "As it's Europe's busiest shopping street, it can get extremely uncomfortable during the commute and around Christmas.

It was an amazing feeling zooming through all of the streets that would usually have taken me ages to cross
Justin Bramwell

"It's a shame because you miss so much detail around you when you're caught in a crowd.

"Particularly in London, where we have so much beautiful architecture - you're missing out on it because you're constantly ducking and diving.

"But I'd heard rumours it was quiet in central London on Christmas morning, so in 2016 I decided to take off on my bike just to check it out.

"It was an amazing feeling zooming through all of the streets that would usually have taken me ages to cross.

"It doesn't feel like the Apocalypse, as some people think. It's imposing having architecture weighing in on just you.

"I stopped a few times, took a few snaps and really liked the results. When I'm on the street like this I just use my smartphone for my photography. It's small, quick and discreet. I do a bit of editing on an app called VSCO to see if I've caught the details I want before I move on."

Carnaby Street
Oxford Circus

While Justin enjoyed his 2016 trip, he felt he could capture better shots if he took another crack at it. He admits: "I didn't plan the first trip in 2016 very well: I didn't work on a route or get up early enough to miss the joggers and confused tourists. I also misjudged how cold it would be so I had to head home early!

I really wanted my 28 Days Later photo of Westminster Bridge
Justin Bramwell

"You can see from these shots that Christmas 2017 was grey and wet and I almost stayed in. However, it created this incredibly rich atmosphere - the lights of Piccadilly Circus just bled into the streets. And I really wanted my 28 Days Later photo of Westminster Bridge, so it was the first place I went to on the second trip."

Despite getting that shot, Justin is still not satisfied he's captured everything.

He says: "I'll be out there again this year - I've been scoping out a few locations already. I'd love to do another city – maybe Hong Kong or Tokyo – but I think this would be difficult to pull off.

"In terms of interior spaces, an airport departure lounge would be a great space to do. I'd also love to photograph the room housing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris - you always see that place completely mobbed."

Justin's work in the retail sector means he usually spends a lot of time people-watching. He adds: "I'm constantly observing crowds, understanding the flow and patterns and designing journeys for the customer.

"But the only way to really understand the space I'm working with is to take people out of the picture. My aim is to focus in on the details of the space, free of clutter, noise and general chaos.

"Also, with my store installations always take place overnight, I've sometimes had entire department stores and shopping malls all to myself. At night it can get pretty spooky."

Westminster Bridge

Find out more about Justin Bramwell and his work at justinbramwell.com

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