“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good.” - Nina Simone.
Q1) Could you give us a bit of background on how you grew up and who and what were your greatest inspirations and influences? Is photography your main source of income and if so, how did you get to where you are now?
Grew up in Newcastle-on-Tyne (Hence a Geordie) in North-East England and had a pretty happy conventional childhood. Guess we were working class but didn’t really find that out till I went to University Both parents worked hard to give my brother and I a good start probably as neither of them had much of an education Dad left school at 15 and Mum at 16. So I guess I had a work ethic drummed into me from an early age – which is no bad thing when you look back. My brother and I are both creative’s (He writes children’s books and for TV) but it’s a bit of a mystery where the creativity came from…
I came quite late to photography only been doing street for 4-5 years but two early photographic influences of mine were Oscar Marzaroli who worked in Glasgow and Jimmy Forsyth a near blind documentary photographer who worked in Newcastle and I was lucky enough to meet, sadly he was only really discovered as an old man. In both of them I liked the naturalistic way that they documented ordinary people’s lives, though at that time I had no plans to be a photographer myself.
Some of the photographers whose work I look at again and again are Erica McDonald, Weegee, Roy deCarava and Vivian Maier I’m especially interested in both Street and Documentary photographers.
Photography isn’t my main source of income, it would be nice if it was but in these times it seems almost impossible. In my day job I have mostly worked in marketing which I also enjoy. My career really has always been a bit of a battle between pragmatically earning money and following a more creative path true to my heart. It’s a dilemma that’s quite common to many photographers I’m sure.
Hopefully my photography will become more lucrative as time goes by and I develop my portfolio and work. Objectively I think my work is fairly commercial and certainly popular with the general public so If anyone has some great ideas on how I can monetise my work please drop me a line !
Q2) Why did street photography choose you?
In a way it’s a natural progression from my first passion which was writing. Going back twenty years I used to write for television, mostly comedy initially but later into drama. I think the disciplines of writing and street photography have quite a lot in common, they both require an interest and observation of the world and more importantly the people around you. They are both ways of telling the stories of ordinary people and trying to present them in a way that will be accessible and enjoyable to your audience and at the same time trying to show your own personality, style and point of view in the way you present those stories. They both require strong observational skills and for me empathy with the people you are portraying be it with words or with a photograph.
I still have a great urge to write but little time, I have started writing a play this year about one of my heroes Paul Robeson the singer (and so much more) and the time he lived in England but it might be quite a long time before I finish it..
Q3) What is it like shooting in London as compare to other places that you’ve been to or that you’ve seen?
Anywhere in the world you would love to shoot?
To be honest London like most big cities is easy to shoot in, I never have any bother with the authorities or the general public. For street photographers working in a small town environment I have a lot of respect as their job is so much more difficult. In my hometown Newcastle people are far more likely to challenge me when taking photographs (i.e ‘why are you taking my photograph?’) and it does mean you have to work differently, usually more consensually, even with candid shots.
I am a happy traveller – aside from Iraq & Afghanistan I’d be happy to take my camera anywhere given the chance, would love to have a crack at Moscow, Lagos would be wild and some of the big cities in China.
Q4) What gear do you shoot with?
Simple rangefinders suit my style best as I like to work unobtrusively and close, £300 is the most I’ve ever spent on a camera (Mainly because I’m usually broke). If someone was to offer me a nice Leica or a Hasselblad I probably wouldn’t say no though I just take one camera with me, my trusty Panasonic which I’ve had for 4 years and it still does the business.
Q5) Could you share with us a unique or favorite tactic that you use on the street?
I do like a hipshot. For me don’t worry about how many shots you take on any given day and how good they are – we all have good and bad days, good and bad luck, the most important thing is to take all the shots that you see in your mind. When I go home and I can honestly say to myself, well I took all the shots I saw – that’s when I’m happiest with my day’s shooting.
Q5) Out of all your photos , do you have a favourite? Why? … and favourite artwork or photo of another person? dead, alive , famous or not.
‘To a better place’ is my favourite. I titled and took it as a tribute to my Mother just after she died of cancer in 2009 and it helps me to remember her passing in a positive light.
I love art and indeed I also paint myself sometimes, pushed to pick someone I would go for Yoshitomo Nara he’s endlessly entertaining and I love the world he lives in.
Q6) A question that I’d personally like to know. I see that you’ve shot in Paris. Ill be going to Paris in a few months. As far as shooting street photography, I have heard it is quite frowned upon and often difficult. For example, if I wanted to have a street photo published and there’s a recognizable face I would need a release form. What are your thoughts?
Yes I believe you need permission to use someone’s photo you’ve taken candidly – which is pretty restricting so I guess stick more to portraits and semi-consensual shots where you can approach the subject afterwards. Personally I found shooting in Paris no more difficult than London except the laws on what is permissable after you have taken the photograph. I tend to shoot first and worry later…
Q7) Many photographers shoot and artists draw as a means of meditation or self-exploration. What is your connection with spirituality and do you believe in God?
No belief in God and no spirituality for me. Creative expression in any format of course is a voyage of self-exploration and discovery to find the person you really are and what’s really important in your belief system that you want to share with the world. Personally of all the creative things I’ve done I would say painting gave me the most reward – I could work for hours and forget everyone and everything except what I was painting – in that sense it’s wonderfully escapist.
Q8) I see you’ve been published in several magazines. As a photographer, what has been your biggest achievement?
Probably the March issue of Life Force Magazine featuring alongside Larry Fink, would be nice to follow in his footsteps.
Q9) Any projects or exhibitions you are working on at the moment?
I have some documentary work planned but need a period of free time to get it going so for the moment just carrying on with street shooting in my spare time.
Q10) Where do you see your photography going in the future and how are you evolving as a photographer? And some last words or advice for your fans and followers
As with the previous question I see myself moving into some serious documentary projects in the coming years alongside my street work, there are a lot of stories out there I would like to tell and I have some strong ideas.
Last advice… Many photographers at one time or another will lose their confidence or mojo if you like. It’s something we all go through, I follow a few hundred photographers quite closely and it’s easy to see when it happens. It’s like falling off a horse, you really need to get straight back on again, if you lose your confidence in taking candid shots or even in your own ability – whatever you do don’t hang up your camera, try photographing different things, be they flowers, graffiti or your partner, keep shooting and keep the faith and the mojo will return !
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** Thanks to Ian for taking time out to answer with such depth and insight. Don’t forget to add me to Facebook as I will add regular interviews & photography updates to my blog posts.