Photos of the People, Buildings and Found Objects We Barely Notice in Cities

When Carlos Alba moved from Madrid to London, he ended up making sense of the area using found objects and a little hand-drawn map.

Sep 17 2016, 7:00am

Dalston Lane, Hackney. London 2014

It all started with a hand-drawn map. Photographer Carlos Alba, now 31, had just moved to east London from Madrid in March of 2013 and his landlady handed him a rough sketch of the neighbourhood, to help him get around. "On it, she'd marked the usual places – bus and Tube stops, shops, the bank, a gym – so I used it to go out and get to know the area," he says. "During these walks I found a lot of objects on the street such as photographs, love letters, sketches. I started to collect them, at first randomly, then more methodically. When I had a good amount of interesting objects I researched the meaning of them and their owners. They were like a signal to follow for taking pictures."

And so he did, picking up his camera and documenting not only the found objects but the residents of the area to whose contours he was still tracing in his mind. In September, the project Carlos has called The Observation of Trifles started in earnest, and has since turned into a photo book out this autumn. It's been quite the journey from working as a fashion and magazine photographer in Spain to starting afresh in a city Carlos deems "one of the most competitive in the world" but open-minded and multicultural.

As you'd expect, approaching strangers in the street required a bit of tact. "I used to bring the objects and a notebook with sketches and photographs with me," Carlos says. "They helped me to explain my project to the locals. I'd spend around 15 to 30 minutes talking with the people and if I found a particular person interesting, I'd finish the conversation by asking: 'Can I take your picture?' If so, I pulled the camera out from my backpack and I shot the photograph."

Three years later, there are still chats and objects that stick out in his mind. He remembers speaking to local man Robert Adams (pictured below), who was born "within earshot of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow Church, and worked as a switchboard operator connecting callers to Spanish-speaking countries. His interest in Spain began after his grandfather fought in the Spanish Civil War as part of the International Brigades." Most importantly, for Carlos, Robert said he was "very proud to be in a poetic photo book of his neighbourhood. For me, that's the best review that I've received about this photographic work."

He won't soon forget the strip of negative film he found lying on the pavement – possibly his funniest little treasure – "in which you can see a naked dwarf", or the note that just reads "Please don't leave extra milk. We have too much stock. They all going out of date. Thank you." With everything from playing cards to single personal photos that may have slipped out of a jacket pocket or been intentionally cast aside, Carlos built a picture of his own understanding of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets areas.

Ultimately, the whole project came down to chance – there wasn't a master plan at any stage. "I researched about east London's local history, art galleries the kind of people living there, and I found it interesting and appealing. Also, it was the cheapest area in Zone 2."

@tnm___ / @carlosalbaphoto

The Observation of Trifles is available now, via The Photographers' Gallery and La Fábrica. See more photos from the book below.

Slide film found in Punderson's Gardens. Tower Hamlets, London. 2013

Robert Adams. Mile End Rd, Tower Hamlets, London. 2013

Wallis Rd, Hackney, 2013

Advertisement found on Bethnal Green Rd. Tower Hamlets, London. 2014

Bethnal Green Rd, Tower Hamlets, London, 2014

Sarah. Essex Rd, Hackney, London. 2015

A playing card found in Pritchard's Rd. Hackney, London. 2014

Haggerston Park. Hackney, London. 2014

Jo. Regent´s Canal, Tower Hamlets, London. 2014

Film. Florida St, Tower Hamlets, London. 2015

Cecilia Rd, Hackney, London. 2014

Ligenier St, Tower Hamlets, London. 2014

Note. Old Bethnal Green Rd, Tower Hamlets, London. 2013

Coot. Regent´s Canal, Hackney, London. 2014

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