City Slickers

March 3, 2014

London, Britain

By Eddie Keogh

The beast that is Canary Wharf underground station spits out its batch of workers every morning and swallows them up again every evening, Monday to Friday.

The relentless cycle never seems to change for the financial markets’ suited workers, who return every day, smartphone in hand. They are concentrating on their emails – the oxygen of business.

It’s no easy thing to focus on a phone in your left hand, carry a cappuccino in your right, and maneuver through crowds, ticket machines and escalators without missing a word. Presumably they’re even better with numbers.

I enjoyed watching and photographing the people of London’s financial districts. Ninety percent of the work I do for Reuters is photographing sport, so this project was a case of entering another world – watching and waiting to get my shots.

As a man with a camera, I normally get an inquisitive glance or a spontaneous smile as I go about my job. But here the importance of the smartphone and the destination are paramount and people barely look up.

The sheer volume of people employed in these areas is daunting. According to the City of London Corporation, some 400,000 people work in the City of London business district, while another 130,000 or so work in Canary Wharf – the city’s other big financial center. That makes a total of over half a million people hurrying back and forth.

The fast-paced world of finance has a long history in London. Back in the late 1600’s traders were already doing business in the coffee houses of the city, and in 1801 London’s first formalized modern Stock Exchange opened up its doors.

In days gone by, the City had a very distinctive feel, with traders in colored jackets working in ‘open outcry’ exchanges, where they shouted at one another across the floor. It is a very different place these days; most business is done on screens, both desktop and pocket sized.

No more bowler hats, oak-handled umbrellas or old boys networks. But the history of the city, and the hustle and bustle of its workers, remains.

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