London-based self taught Emmanuel Cole has been attending the infamous Notting Hill Carnival since he was a teenager but for last the five years (not including the years that it wasn't on due to Covid) he has been an integral part to its documentation.
Notting Hill is one of the world's largest street festivals, attracting roughly 2.5 million visitors to the two-day event. It started in 1966 in the Notting Hill area of Kensington over the bank holiday weekend, and to this day, it includes a vibrant parade, multiple stages with traditional dub sound systems and food stalls.
Having missed two years of carnival due to the pandemic, this year's event promised to be one of the biggest events yet, and Emmanuel was back in the centre of it all, ready to capture the moment with his camera. We caught up with him to discuss the buzz of carnival, his journey into photography and how social media has helped and hindered.
What does Notting Hill represent for you?
NHC is one of the few events in London that celebrates African and Caribbean culture, so as a Nigerian, it has always meant a lot to me to be a part of it. It also gives Londoners from all corners of the city a unique opportunity to come together and celebrate in the streets of West London.
Before taking photos, did you attend Notting Hill as a punter?
My first carnival experience that I can remember was in my early teens. My uncle who lived in Shepherds Bush took me, my brother and sister. We saw the parade, ate great food and listened to a lot of music that I was into at the time. In my early 20s I attended a few times before bringing my camera along. Also, my mum told me recently that went to NHC in 1990 when she was pregnant with me, so I’ve been attending the carnival for longer than I even knew.
Do you ever feel like you missed out because you didn't study photography?
I felt like that was the case early on. I went to college and was supposed to graduate and study photography at university, however some things were happening in my life at home that destabilized me and I never made it to university. Looking back now, I wouldn’t change a thing and I am just thankful for how my career panned out.
What benefits do you think there are to being a self-taught photographer?
I’m glad I’m self taught. Photographers that stand out to me are ones who have found their unique viewpoint of the world. I’m not sure if I would have found mine as soon as I did if I'd gone to university. Coming from a council estate in East London I loved my neighborhood and now I gravitate towards photographing working class and black communities.
Which photographers do you admire?
The photographer I admire the most is my close friend Shane Vincent (@vincentchapters). We met through instagram in 2013 and since then I’ve learnt a lot from him and his way of looking at life. As far as the old school shooters, I’d say Vivian Maier (opens in new tab), Trent Parke, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks, Jeff Mermelstein and Alex Webb are my favorites. There’s something special about all of these individuals and flicking through their work always inspires me.
Can you remember the moment you realized that photography is the path you wanted to take?
Funny enough I do. I’d say it was when I started purchasing photography magazines in 2010 from WHSmith. One of those magazines being Digital Camera. Reading the magazine would normally shine a light on someone I had never heard of and show me amazing photos I’d never seen. Some of the images blew my mind and often had me wondering how on earth it was shot. It gave me this adrenaline and way of dreaming that I never knew I would get through imagery and from then on I knew photography was the career I wanted to pursue.
Do you have a favorite photo from the last 5 years shooting Notting Hill?
There’s a shot I took of three young people on top of a bus stop that I love the most. Mainly because of the anticipation that was required. I had a 35mm prime on my camera and had turned the corner onto Kensal rise and all of a sudden I saw them climbing the bus stop. I quickly bent down, changed to my 85mm prime and waited for the moment. I shot a whole series from the bus stop moment but chose to share the one I felt was the best.
Has Instagram helped to launch your career?
I feel like the art industry is not easily accessible, especially for someone with my background. Instagram gave me a platform and allowed me to reach people all over the world. All I needed to do was to create good images and the app did the rest.
Do you think Instagram is still a good platform for photographers or do you think it needs to revert to "the old Instagram?"
I think Instagram is terrible for photographers nowadays (opens in new tab). It's a shame but the app is more focused on trying to replicate TikTok (opens in new tab) and also flooding people with content they didn’t ask to see. It’s long left its original way of working. There used to be numerous photography communities which is how I met a lot of talented photographers in London and all over the world, but that time is long gone now.