In the noisy bustle of London’s West End, Jan Enkelmann has been looking for sanctuaries of quietness and contemplation. He found them in the back alleys and doorways of Chinatown.

Smoking Chefs are kindred souls with whom Jan is sharing the few minutes it takes to smoke a cigarette, condensing the timespan into a single image. Just like they have established a ritual of seeking out the same locations, following the same routine to escape the relentless demands of the kitchen, Jan has created his own. Trailing the same route along the streets and back alleys of Chinatown, he is capturing intimate moments we can all relate to.

At night, when the countless restaurants compete for tourists and theatregoers, throngs of tourists and outside visitors collide with Chinatown’s tight-knit ethnic community. Many of the chefs, waitresses and waiters are recent immigrants. Most of them work long hours and often speak little more than a few words of English, leaving them excluded and disenfranchised from public life outside the Chinese community.

When the restaurants open to the public, some of the kitchen staff have already been working since early morning. Sweating over steaming stoves, rushing around confined spaces, preparing meal after meal, some of the chefs will have clocked more than 60 hours when the week is over.

Jan has been an observer of the chefs’ working life, both inside the kitchen and behind the scenes for several years. He is drawn to the moments of introspection and non-communication and considers this work a juxtaposition to some of his other projects: with Serious Conviction he captured the passion and emotion of the people gathering at Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.

And similarly, with his project To the Races, which is about racegoers in transit to the major English horse racing events, he has been photographing extroverted people that are almost searching for the camera.

Smoking Chefs is also a book that’s available through Jan Enkelmann’s website.

About the author of this project:
Jan Enkelmann is a London-based documentary photographer.
He is dividing his time between commercial commissions and personal work. Most of his projects are observations of people in public spaces.

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