South London photographer’s stunning Mitcham Common series
A photographer from south London is changing people’s perspectives on Mitcham Common through a series of beautiful images taken in the green space.
Foxes, fish and an incredible variety of birds populate Stephen Noulton’s often breathtaking images taken in south London (largely on Mitcham Common) where he frequently walks.
The Wimbledon Times spoke to Stephen about his work and how he was as surprised as anyone to rediscover Mitcham Common during the Covid-19 pandemic.
How did your interest in Mitcham Common photography come about?
I’ve always been in the cameras but not seriously before. Before the lockdown I was commuting when it was dark and didn’t really have much time. I have children and grandchildren who have all moved now, so I find I have a little more time now. At the start of confinement, my scooter was stolen. I just thought I wasn’t going to replace it, so I went and got myself a new camera instead. During the entire period of confinement, I often went out to Mitcham Common, I walked with the dog, and ended up rediscovering him. I hadn’t been there for years.
I just thought I was going to do something different. And I just started to notice the wildlife there and fell in love with the place. Every day when I was out for a walk I would take my camera with me and started noticing birds, herons, kingfishers, all kinds of things you wouldn’t always see if you just took a walk fast with your dog and your mind is on the ground. I think having the dog kept me from doing things like more landscape photography. You can’t just sit around making things up when you have a dog that’s impatient and wants you to throw the ball at him. I found the wildlife around the pond at Mitcham Common, and the pond in particular, alongside that.
I think it’s the lockdown, I found the common to be almost deserted strangely enough. I started going earlier and earlier, and the light was beautiful. Especially around the pond you start to get the light filtering through the trees, it was almost like a painting, like my favorite artist Sorrolla. There were just some magical moments there, with the mist or the beautiful sunrises in the pink sky. It was perfect for me.
How often did you go out on set during lockdown and since?
Every day more or less. It actually encouraged me to exercise more, so it was a plus on every level. It was something I could do under the foreclosure rules. I get lost up there, lost in my thoughts, and I found it very therapeutic. Lockdown has been kind of a nightmare for so many people, but for me it has brought this experience which has been truly wonderful.
Were you surprised to discover this side of Mitcham?
Exactly yeah. Most people ask me if I’m afraid to walk to Mitcham Common. I have lived in the Streatham area since I was 13. I am now 56 years old. Mitcham was like a no-go zone when I was young. There were a lot of problems there, a lot of pollution, a lot of spills. You still get elements of it … but it was (considered) a nasty place and it had that stigma for so many years. When you drive near Mitcham Common, you hardly see it. It’s a bit in the middle of several fairly main roads. It doesn’t sound inviting. But once you get there, it’s a beautiful place.
In some ways, it may have helped preserve it. But you have a lot of good groups helping out. You have the friends of Mitcham Common, who do a lot of good work like picking up litter, having fun days, raising awareness about the Common and trying to keep it going. In addition, you have the Mitcham curators who actively manage the common and encourage wildlife. There’s a lot going on there that people don’t know.
When I started posting these photos on a Whatsapp group, people would tell me, âThis is wonderful. I lived here for 15 to 20 years and didn’t know these birds were there â. I think I made these groups aware of the nature of the wildlife there. More and more people are taking an interest in it and it’s nice to think that I could do something that could contribute to the well-being of these birds.
How do you feel when you are capturing one of these images?
At first I was just happy to have the bird in the frame and get something. The more I observe them, the more I can anticipate what they are about to do. I was walking around with my wife recently and heard them honking their horns and I said, âOh, they’re about to leave! And she said ‘How do you know that?’ “Well I can hear their noises and how they talk to each other” … And they took off this time. There have been a few times this has happened. It’s about getting to know them a little. When I sat there recently, a white dove is still flying towards me. I don’t feed them because I don’t want to interfere. Sometimes a heron will really approach me without my approach. There have been some wonderful experiences and I kind of build on that. If I can show people what these animals look like, then the world will be a better place and people will be more respectful and kind to these animals.
You mentioned the conservation work going on at the Common. How concerned are you about issues such as biodiversity loss and the climate crisis?
I am very concerned about this. I don’t think it will have an impact on my personal life, but we are starting to see it. I have children and grandchildren and I would like to think they have a safe place to grow up and not have to worry about these things. It is very important and essential for me, it is one of my main concerns. I believe we should protect this and do what we can to maintain it. My charities now are things like RSPB, Wetlands Trust … I do all I can for them. May my images help people love and care for these places.
To see more of Stephen’s work, head to his Instagram page here, or find him on Twitter. here.
To learn more about conservation efforts at Mitcham Common, find the Friends of Mitcham Common, Mitcham Wombles, or the Common website.