Thank you for talking with me today. Tell me, where are you from and how did you get into photography?
I’m originally from Essex in England but moved to Melbourne, Australia years ago.
My introduction to photography was not dissimilar to many folks’ experience. When I was about 9 or 10 my family went on a holiday to the Spanish island of Majorca. In the days leading up to the flight I was handed my Dad’s old Halina 35mm film camera. Along with the camera came a warning from Dad to be careful with the film as when it finished there was no more. When we left the hotel on the first day, I had my new prized possession in hand. Road works were happening and a large hole had been dug into which a truck had been accidentally reversed. The situation fascinated me and I asked permission of Dad for me to take the shot. Dad replied, “up to you but remember there’s no more film when it runs out”. So, my first photograph was not of smiling, happy, holidaying family members or nice scenery it was of a beaten-up truck in a hole in the road. My love of documentary photography had begun. Interestingly I still have the photo, to be honest the composition could do with a little work 😉
My next major influence was as a teenager (a fairly naïve and impressionable teenager) watching Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” on my little black and white portable tv. I was struck by the glamour and lifestyle of Thomas, the photographer (since proven to be a thing borne of movies rather than reality!). Something resonated within me. The problem I faced was working class lads from Essex didn’t become photographers!
Some years later, after moving to Australia, I took myself off to university to study business. It soon became apparent this was not the course for me. A girl I was sharing a house with at the time who was studying fine art suggested I give photography a go. I did. This was back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the world and photography was film, darkrooms and smelly chemicals. I became obsessed with war photographers Lee Miller, Robert Capa among others but in particular, Don McCullin. I managed to tailor the course towards press photography and gained valuable work experience accompanying local news photographers. It was a great time. Then the course finished, debt hit, and life got in the way. To this day photography has remained an unpaid hobby, actually more than that, an unpaid passion.
What drew you to street photography specifically?
Very early on I realized the link between photography (press in particular) and history. The mere fact that something is recorded means that it happened and therefore becomes a part of our history and adopts a level of importance. So much of our history is about the rich, wealthy, aristocracy, the Kings, Queens, Lords, Presidents, Pharaohs et al. There’s not a lot about Joe Bloggs the working-class mechanic down the local service station. The history I was taught only mentioned the workers en masse. No individual names were mentioned unless they were criminals, footballers or rock stars. Photography has given a visual voice to the normal folk of our world. Hopefully my street photography of ordinary folk just making their way in life helps in some small way to make the ordinary a little extraordinary in the annals of history.
How would you describe your street photography style? What do you hope that your viewers see in your images?
To be honest I’m not sure I have “a” style. I’ll take and process an image in the way that the content demands. I actually believe it’s good to challenge myself and step out of comfort zones with different genres of documentary photography as well as other genres of photography and art in general. It’s about continuous learning and self-discovery not about adhering to “a” style. Each image has its own personality and characteristics that lead its ‘development’ in different directions, the whole process is very organic. I guess overall, I attempt to elevate the ‘everyday’ into an artistic interpretation.
I hope my work communicates to viewers an empathy with and respect for the people in my imagery and a desire to celebrate them as who they are.
They say that photographers often capture stories that are really about themselves. What part of your personality do you think comes out in your photos?
All of my street photos are essentially selfies. I am very ordinary, a normal bloke. I haven’t won gold medals, won an election or done anything so special so as to have drawn attention to myself outside my family and immediate circle of friends. I photograph ordinary, normal people just like me. People busy going about their business, their life.
What have been the biggest challenges for you in street photography and how have you overcome them?
Street Photography’s biggest challenge is pretty much everything is out of the photographer’s control. You can’t request that the sun stop setting for a couple of minutes until the right person walks past, you can’t get that woman looking stunning in the bright yellow dress to walk 6 inches to her left and please don’t start me on the folk in the background that end up with three quarters of their head poking out of the top of my primary subject’s head. That being said, developing the ability to see into the future and become psychic can really help. Of course, I say this somewhat tongue in cheek but if you can “read” the situation and know what is likely to happen next you can gain a certain amount of control over the uncontrollable variables. What helped me in regard to this was band photography. I knew by feeling the music myself I could anticipate when the guitarist would slam a massive power chord or the drummer smash the cymbals etc. This is one of the times where I have learnt something in one genre of photography and adapted it to street.
It seems like you’ve traveled quite a bit. Where are your favorite places to shoot and why?
I can honestly say that wherever I am currently in the world is my favorite place to photograph. I’m happy and in a world of my own when I’m holding one of my Nikons and pointing it towards an interesting situation/subject. It doesn’t matter where I am, location is irrelevant. All cities, towns and villages have people, people with stories. It doesn’t matter if that story is taking place in London or a small town in outback Australia the stories are equally important and worth telling.
What is your most memorable image or experience in street photography?
We had booked a family holiday to New Zealand for early in 2018. The plans included hiring a car, trekking, experiencing the great beauty of the country and generally being pretty active to make the most of our time. I was then diagnosed with a pretty serious condition that required surgery. I was down, worried and literally in fear for my life. I recovered enough from the surgery in time to board the plane to New Zealand but there was to be no driving and minimal exertion on my part. The holiday changed to a week in Auckland (a great city, by the way, just not what we had planned). We did a fair bit of walking and I took a lot of photographs but fatigue was an issue. I was laying on the bed in the hotel feeling pretty darn sorry for myself when I got up to have a look out the window. Nine or so floors below was an amazing junction in the road that was full of people. Photographic inspiration and a lust for life struck. The lights would change red, the cars stop and people would fill the square all rushing with determination to get the other side. When the sun shone at sunset the shadows were incredibly long stretching out across the tarmac. When it rained the umbrellas came out and people scuttled across the road. When the rain stopped the reflections in the puddles took over as the visual draw. I sat on that ledge pointing my camera with a 55-200 zoom at the junction on many occasions during the holiday. The experience picked me up mentally and, I’m sure, contributed to what appears, now, to be a full physical recovery. I knew then whatever life threw at me I was better, bigger and could turn it around and come out on top.
What has photography taught you?
Photography has taught me to believe in and be true to myself. To persevere, keep going, not give up. There’s always another “image” around the corner, if things aren’t great today chances are tomorrow will be fine.
You never know, if you keep on going and going maybe one day Ashley from Street Photography Magazine might contact you for a chat!
Editor’s Note: Esay was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.