German documentary photographer Jan Enkelmann swapped Stugart for London at the turn of the millennium. Since then he’s trained his lens on all sorts, from the poly-vocal perversities of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park to the big hats and broiled burgers that come with a day at the races. His latest book, Smoking Chefs does what it says on the tin. Taken in London’s Chinatown, the photos show the enclave’s kitchen workers enjoying that guiltiest of modern pleasures; the five-minute ciggy break.
Jan contrasts the series, with its sense of calm, contemplation, and quietude, to his work at the notoriously noisey Speaker’s Corner. “That one is all about a very public display of passion for a particular subject or religious persuasion and about people being very extroverted,” he tells us. On the other hand, “The Smoking Chefs series is, in many ways, a juxtaposition, in that it captures moments of introversion.”
It isn’t the first time Jan’s turned his attention to Chinatown. All his ducks in a row – and isn’t it good to meet a photographer who keeps his titles on the literal side? – is, as you’d imagine, an examination of the preparation that goes into producing one of the capital’s favourite dishes; uber-crispy Peking duck.
While the photographer says he’s “not 100% sure about what keeps drawing me back to Chinatown,” there’s a sense that he’s keen to show that even the most tourist-friendly spots in one of the world’s great cities plays home to real people and genuine communities.
Quietly intimate, the photos that make up Smoking Chefs hum with a sense of behind the scenes stillness that keeps us going back to them time and time again.