Hi Gerald. Thanks for collaborating with us to share some of your work today. Why don’t you tell us a little about your background as a photographer?
I am Mister Geez, also known as Gerald Marie-Nelly, a visual artist originating from Martinique and based in London for the past 15 years. Through my photography and mixed media techniques, I strive to push the boundaries of creative expression.
Photography found its way into my life unexpectedly when my mother passed away 12 years ago. In the midst of preparing for her funeral, a series of autopsies on her body necessitated keeping the coffin closed during the wake. Determined to honour her memory, I embarked on a mission to find a photograph that would encapsulate her beauty and personality, to be displayed on the closed coffin, allowing people to show their respect. What I thought would be a brief search turned into a six-hour journey, revealing to me the profound power of photography and transforming it into a conscious and meaningful pursuit. From that day forward, photography became my way of seizing light and capturing moments, guiding me from a dark place to a newfound appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.
Street photography is the epitome of authenticity and rawness to me. It teaches me patience and keen observationas I wait for the perfect moment. I’ve explored the art form of photography through a documentary project in Haiti in 2016, running a studio in East London in 2017, and assisting a photography teacher between 2018 and 2020. It’s not just a creative outlet for me; it’s a powerful medium for capturing untold stories and fleeting moments that shape our human experience. Currently, I am engrossed in a street photography series titled “London Street Chronicles,” spanning four volumes. The initial volume, “Inner Child Playground,” celebrates my playful nature through captivating juxtapositions and humour.
Beyond street photography, I immerse myself in mixed media endeavours, blending photography with graphic elements like data visualizations generated through programming, particularly for subjects demanding extensive upfront research. Across all my ongoing projects, I wholeheartedly embrace alternative printing techniques, utilising analog methods like platinum palladium and cyanotype to impart a distinctive touch to the artwork when it needs to be exhibited.
Do your roots as someone coming from a Caribbean island with a totally different way of life affect the way you see the bustling city of London?
My origins undoubtedly influence my overall perspective and approach to photography.
I grew accustomed to bustling urban environments after living in Paris for four years and spending eight years in London before picking up photography. However, my Caribbean upbringing instilled in me a strong sense of curiosity and a passion for exploration.
I fondly recall my childhood in Martinique, where I would occasionally skip secondary school to venture into different neighbourhoods, driven by a desire to see the world with my own eyes. I even tried mapping out dirt roads amidst sugar cane fields when I first got my bicycle. This innate need for exploration has always remained with me.
In my London street photography, I adopt the approach of a documentary photographer, aiming to explore various facets of the city. In this regard, my inner child, which represents the Caribbean boy with an enduring thirst for exploration, continues to guide my actions as an adult.
Tell me more about your documentary project in Haiti. Was that a very different project from your humorous take on London?
My 2016 documentary project in Haiti served as a personal challenge and a sort of rite of passage. It provided the opportunity to put myself to the test and determine whether I had what it takes to truly call myself a photographer. While I had experimented with various styles of photography, I found that the format of photo essays, inspired by the work of W. Eugene Smith and Sebastião Salgado, deeply resonated with me.
The real goal was to create a high-quality photo documentary for a London-based charity, intending to sell the photographs and a booklet to raise funds for a new school. These images aimed to not only depict the living conditions in the community but also generate something valuable, rather than just filling out grant applications with no guarantee of success.
My primary motivation was to ensure that the photographs would be a testament to the children who deserved more than their current circumstances offered.
Following the project in Haiti, life and perhaps a shortage of opportunities nudged me toward capturing my surroundings in London, my second home.
You said you ran a studio in 2017. Do you use any studio-style techniques when you’re out on the streets?
My background running a studio has significantly enhanced my technical comprehension of lighting. Working with strobes, reflectors, and various tools has deepened my appreciation for the range of lighting options at my disposal.
Noticing the differences between natural and artificial light, understanding the nuances of harshness versus softness. Furthermore, understanding how light works can help making the most of available light in low-light situations.
When taking portraits or shooting up close, I place a high emphasis on the angle and viewpoint, acknowledging their pivotal role in composition. The ability to shoot from far below or high above, facilitated by my camera’s tilt screen, is a skill I’ve brought from my studio background.
What lessons did you learn while working with the photography teacher? Anything that helps you with street photography in particular?
Between 2018 and 2020, I volunteered weekly as a photography assistant at the Crisis charity sky centre in Shoreditch, East London. Here, we offered art and photography classes to members experiencing homelessness to support their well-being.
Working alongside the photography teacher, I gained two valuable insights. Firstly, I learned just as much from the students as I did from the teacher. The charity’s members came from diverse backgrounds, some quite knowledgeable about photography. They brought different life experiences and offered profound perspectives on life in general.
Secondly, I realized the importance of consistency and routine. Our weekly lessons followed a structured format with four steps:
- technical foundation, including exposure and camera operation reminders
- street photography sessions while assisting the members
- post-production in Lightroom and Photoshop back in the lab
- selection of the best shots and printing if any were worthy
This lesson has stuck with me, and to this day, I maintain that routine and consistency in building my body of work. It forms the foundation of my practice and has significantly boosted my output in street photography.
Wow. You’ve definitely had a wide range of experiences with photography over the years. Let’s get back to your current series, “Inner Child Playground.” Tell us a little more about it.
I worked on “Inner Child Playground” from 2015 – 2022 and I like to describe the project as an extraordinary visual journey through the heart of London. I’ve tried to capture the dynamic spirit of the city’s streets, portraying moments of drama, joy, and just everyday life. Seeing the streets with fresh and uninhibited eyes was really a way of reconnecting with my own inner child – and it was so fun. We all have a spirit of wonder within us and sometimes it just needs to be rekindled.
For me, the resulting book serves as an invitation to explore the world with a renewed sense of curiosity, reminding me (and hopefully others) that amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, there lies a world of hidden treasures waiting to be unveiled.
You’re right. This project is really a fun one. What do you think helps you “see” those kind of humorous moments on the street?
It’s challenging to pinpoint exactly what helps me spot humorous moments in the street, but I believe my personality plays a part. I have a penchant for a good laugh and a cheeky side. Additionally, I tend to see the brighter side of things and aim to spread positivity.
Street photography involves documenting everyday life, which isn’t as straightforward as covering a special event. Here, you must craft something out of seemingly nothing.
Photographing a protest is more straightforward than capturing the ordinary moments of people’s daily lives. To make it engaging, I search for intriguing scenes, construct narratives with characters and their surroundings; objects and backgrounds become props and stages as I direct a play with no rehearsal.
What goes into turning your photos into a photobook and getting it published? It must be pretty labor intensive. What did your process look like? Were there any unexpected challenges along the way you were able to overcome?
The body of work I’ve gathered since 2015 inspired me to embark on a series of books centred around London’s streets. The initial book’s editing process was monumental; it took considerable time to go through all the images and identify emerging patterns.
Initially, my street photography felt like freestyling, with no specific goal, making it challenging to create a book narrative. I usually hit the streets without a predefined agenda, capturing whatever catches my eye. Organizing these seemingly random shots proved to be quite a challenge.
The solution, interestingly, emerged from the images themselves. After repeatedly reviewing them, I started noticing patterns and discovered my style. I observed numerous juxtapositions between foregrounds and backgrounds, along with many lighthearted scenes captured in a playful manner. This formed the foundation for the concept of connecting with one’s inner child.
So, “Inner Child Playground” is the first of four installments you said. What do you have planned for the next three books? Will they have the same humorous tone?
“Inner Child Playground” marks the debut volume of the London Street Chronicles, and while I won’t reveal too much about upcoming volumes, I can confidently say they will have a different, less humorous tone. The forthcoming installments will more prominently showcase my love for documentary photography.
Each volume will delve into various facets of the city, my identity, and the collective experience of Londoners.
I’m currently hard at work on the second volume. I can’t give you an exact release date, as being an indie self-publisher adds some unpredictability, but I’m on it.
I’ve also got some other projects in the works that venture into mixed media, but I’ll save that story for another day!
Exciting stuff! Thanks so much for chatting with us today Gerald. It was great getting to know you. For those of you who are interested, you can grab your copy of “Inner Child Playground” here.