Rows of candy-coloured Lambrettas, the chrome grill of a vintage Alfa-Romeo, restored vintage Vespas. It might sound like a description of an Italian road, but no, this is life through the lens of a Londoner.
From his work at a high-end design store selling lines such as B&B Italia and Zanotta to his passion for photography, Paul Hart lives with a strong dose of Italian style. Paul is also a self-taught photographer and the name of his photography service and blog says it all: Vespamore !
After his parents gave him a second-hand Olympus OM10 manual SLR camera for his 15th birthday, Paul experimented with it then packed it away. Aside for a brief photography course taken when he was following a two-year general art and design program, the camera stayed in storage until three years ago. Camera in hand, Paul was then inspired by the dynamic community on Flickr to capture and share the clean lines of a Vespa through a 35mm lens
While he returned to photography thanks to an online community, Paul claims he is “not that ‘techy’ or savvy” when it comes to photography. In fact he uses film, not digital for his work because “I love the permanency of film and capturing a moment in time; it also feels much more creative to me than digital which is very disposable but can appear flat compared to film.”
It’s this atmospheric quality in which the scooter isn’t just a subject, but rather a protagonist with personality that originally drew me to Paul’s Vespa photography and his insight into a scootering culture with Italian roots that has spread worldwide. Just like the timeless quality of Vespa models, which can live on decades after their manufacture, Paul’s photos let us dream of —- even when we’re sitting behind a computer thinking about the smog-heavy commute home (like I am now).
What was the first photo you took that you were truly proud of?
Difficult to say really as you tend to be very self-critical of your own work. Probably this image I took on my wife’s Nikon SLR camera while we were on holiday in Puglia in 2007 taken in Piazza Carducci, San Vito dei Normanni. It was shot with a zoom lens so I was covertly able to shoot this candid scene of everyday life; I like how this turned out & it has a vespa in the frame too!
What was the first scooter you ever owned?
A Vespa T5 Millenium in 1999, it was capodimonte white with a tan brown seat I had it for just over a year & sold it to buy a Vespa ET3 Primavera; my first real ‘classic’ vespa.
How did the “amore” with Vespas start?
I really got into Vespas at the end of the 1990s as that was when I first had the opportunity to buy one and use it for traveling to my workplace at the time. I’d admired scooters and particularly Vespas for a while before then and seen Quadrophenia etc…
I remember my older brother really being into the ‘Mod Revival’ scene in the 1980s here in the UK. He had a Parka, wore black eyeliner briefly & listened to The Who, The Jam, The Kinks, The Small Faces, Nine Below Zero etc. So I was aware of scooters back then too; I liked & still like a lot of the ‘Mod’ music but never liked the ‘Mod’ look scooters with tonnes of mirrors & lights; they ruin the pure & simple Vespa & Lambretta lines for me.
The whole Mod scene is actually a very small chapter in the Vespa’s history; I’m far more interested in how Corradino D’Ascanio’s revolutionary design mobilised Italy in !948 when the country was still getting to its knees after WWII. With its step-through design it gave cheap transport to thousands, including women, who until then hadn’t really ridden motorcycles.
Above all I love the sense of freedom that comes with riding a vespa at a speed where you can take in the sights, sounds and scents of your surroundings. They look really cool too in my opinion.
People associate London with the scooters of the Mods, but is there a scooter lifestyle in the UK today?
There is a huge UK scooter scene; it’s not really my thing though (without wanting to sound dismissive); it often involves a lot of heavy drinking at various venues all over the UK on any given weekend. There is still a big Mod following here & the Scooterboy scene here is still strong. I’m not knocking it though and each to their own as they say, it’s just not my bag.
The two main Scooter magazines which report on the UK scene are Scootering & Classic Scooterist Scene which are sold worldwide. I prefer to go touring on my Vespa and go places, I love cutting through traffic around London too. I also enjoy the VVC events; they take a more relaxed, laid back, social approach which suits me. One of my best experiences was riding to Torino in 2006 for Eurovespa (a huge Vespa rally, held in a different European city each year – since the early 1950s I believe), taking three days to ride there on my then metallic blue Vespa VBB150 from Hertfordshire, England. Going over the Alps was breathtaking Also I loved riding around Turin for the three days I was there for the event before riding back home. One of my dreams would be to tour Italy on my vespa…
Where do you find the vehicles you shoot?
I like to walk the streets in Fitzrovia & Camden in London in my lunch hours on the hunt for classic vehicles to shoot, you’d be surprised how many I see. Selling modern furniture in London for a living, I get to visit client’s residences all over the city and will often spot interesting vehicles on my travels. I take my camera with me wherever I go just in case.
I also go to Vespa rallies with the VVC (Veteran Vespa Club) www.veteranvespaclub.com and I like to visit my scooter dealer in North London where there’s usually always something decent worth shooting.
Retrospective Scooters is based in a really cool, grimy workshop which is great for taking atmospheric photos www.retrospectivescooters.com they’ve also used some of my work on their website which is nice. I’ve bought nearly all my classic vespas from them over the past eleven years though!
How are Italian scooters and motorcycles (Vespa, Lambretta, Moto Guzzi, Ducati, Benelli etc…) perceived in comparison to Japanese scooters and motorcycles?
I think Italian design is often the benchmark that many others aspire too; the Italians seem to be born with good style! Japanese scooters and motorcycles may be faster or more reliable but in my opinion they lack the style, design and flair of their Italian contemporaries.
You can find a whole range of Paul’s photography, including his portraits, online: