The photographer must have and keep in him some of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time or the traveller who enters a strange country.
I have always loved travelling and with it the desire to record all I feel, discover and experience though my photography. I was born and brought up abroad and as English as I am there are moments when I do feel I don’t actually belong here. And as much as I absolutely love being in my home and keeping busy with hobbies here in London there is that deep routed desire to run away and discover and experience life beyond my familiar comfort zone. If I had the money I would travel the world and shoot in stunning and beautiful environments constantly and sell the images or hold exhibitions and simply live life like that. Sadly that’s not the case but once in a while I certainly do manage to escape. For some other travel images please see the travel section of my web site.
For most of the time a commercial photographer is clearly caught up with the demands of running the business and meeting the specific needs of the clients brief. All of which is good if you are busy shooting what you enjoy and working for respectful clients that give you challenging and creative work. You are chasing deadlines, searching for work and spending a lot of time trying to get paid after the hard work. As rewarding as being a photographer can be there are moments like any job when it becomes draining and you feel trapped. Shooting personal work allows you to completely break free from any constraints such as time limits, briefs and creative or commercial guidance. You are the master of the craft and free to explore, discover, witness and record.
For me I find it utterly stimulating to wake up in a hotel in a new and fascinating country and know that outside my window there are images to be found. I know that with patience and imagination there are fascinating moments to be captured. There is the challenge too of working out how to approach a subject and how best to reward ones plan. I like to have a project in mind for the entire trip or even just for the day or a period. For instance it maybe a busy crossroads and I am happy to sit there for a few hours in the heat and pollution and wait for all the visual elements to fall into place to create some visual harmony. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and I walk away and look for something new to keep me focused. But its the joy of just feeling free to wander and discover and essentially despite all the plans put in place to still not really know what will happen in the day and of course never knowing what image I will discover.
When it all comes together it is truly magical. Every photographer (well those that have captured great mages obviously) knows that incredible high and adrenaline rush when you know you are onto something special and it hits you even more when you know you have caught that incredible moment that you have been hoping for. Now we have digital we can see results instantly on our camera. Either we continue to make a adjustments to our exposure, angle, position or whatever until you feel you have it or you marvel with glee at the little image displayed and walk away feeling like you are the best photographer on earth! You have pre-visualised the desired outcome and patiently waited for all the elements to fall into place. You are Henri Cartier-Bresson and you are mastering the decisive moment! Of course before digital you were not sure if you had truly captured what you had hoped for and would have to wait a few days to see the images. This alone creates a change on the whole approach to shooting and ones expectations. Now after a day spend shooting on the streets you sit back in your hotel room or a café with a cold beer and carefully go through what you have shot and have a different view of how you intend to approach the next days shooting. But there is so much more to it than that.
I have shot all over the world in all kinds of environments and thankfully have not encountered any violence that has harmed me whilst taking photographs but there have been numerous occasions when I have come a little close.
There was the time whilst wandering through some one-horse, fly infested desert town in Saudi Arabia where I was chased by Arabs waving sticks and swords at me. I made it to the car with my dad close behind and cut out rapidly.
There was the time walking through the ruined tenement blocks in Palermo, Sicily when a menacing guy looked at me as I stood there with my Nikon FM2 and he simply shook his head slowly with a very serious unfriendly expression. This is the home of the mafia and one doesn’t need any more of a hint than that.
There was the time whilst walking through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Braz when a man a few yards up the street from me, turned to face me and lifted his T-shirt up to reveal a revolver jammed in his jeans. Words were obviously not necessary.
There was the time in Hanoi, Vietnam whilst shooting in an old demolished shopping centre when some very dishevelled, dehydrated, spotty, spaced out kid came up to me and ran his fingers across his throat menacingly pretending to slit it with a knife and pointed to the exit. I was carrying about £30K of Hasselblad kit on my back.
There was the time whilst shooting in the meat packing district of New York (before it was a cool and trendy hip zone) when two young Italian guys in a frozen meat lorry told me to F*ck off. Clearly ‘made’ guys I figure!
There was the time in Cape Town, late at night I was followed by a guy in a quiet deserted street. When I crossed the road so did he and then back again. I knew enough about the crime there to know I needed to be somewhere safe and fast. I made it back to the venue I had just left and waited and left later. Sadly the Italian booker at the modelling agency in Cape Town who I dealt with when organising all the fashion shoots was carjacked with his girlfriend later that same month. They took all his money and then shot him dead in front of his girlfriend, leaving her alive. I only discovered this when a few months later I was shooting fashion In New York with a model from his agency I had met in Cape Town.
There was the time whilst on a commission shooting portraits in a park in Ladbroke Grove, London when myself and my team were actually attacked by the locals kids. None of the kids were older than 15 and they came at us from all angles. We had to abandon the shoot and as knife crime rises here in London such an attack by such young people is not to be taken lightly.
I spent most of January 2019 shooting street photography in Thailand and Cambodia and allowed myself the freedom to simply wander and shoot whatever I fancied. Sometimes I had something specific in mind and other times I focused on whatever took my fancy that day. On one day wandering through Bangkok, close to where my old flat used to be when I lived and worked in Bangkok I came across the most epic event. It was the 2019 Japanese Expo and part of this was the massive Cosplay event. Now this just blew me away! I am a massive fan of dressing up and fantasy. I'm pretty obsessed with role-play, acting, costumes, and fancy dress. I have been one of the winners of one particular fancy dress competition three times in London and just love playing different roles and immersing myself in some completely different character. Added to that I love Asian faces and beautiful people. So coming across this event simply had me in complete rapture! I had it all happening before me and I was beyond excited! I speak enough Thai to help me in such a situation and managed to speak to the artists and fluently flatter them, ask them to pose and then arrange them, as I wanted. I know how to approach Thai people correctly; respectful of Thai culture and for sure this helped me get exactly what I wanted from them. I feel if I had not spoken in Thai it would not have been the same. I would not have had the same cooperation in return. The scene was messy, meaning it was impossible to find a neutral and clean background to pose the artists. I finally managed to locate one of the massive concrete supports for the sky train and realised it was far away enough to throw it out of focus and also sufficiently textured enough to contribute artistic value to the image. There was also the most beautiful soft evening light glowing onto the artists from the right hand side. I can’t describe how much I loved shooting this event. I was in a funny state of joy and amazement and I adored every one of the mad, creative, beautiful, funny, talented artists I found. There were hundreds of these amazing kids and the light was dropping so it eventually came to an end.
Incredibly however months later when I was looking through the images, out of curiosity I popped ‘Japanese Expo Cosplay Bangkok 2019’ into YouTube and got a big shock. There on one of the videos is me! You can clearly see me shooting the images in this blog. It can be revealed thus that my street photography attire consists of camouflage shorts, a straw cowboy hat and tight white T! You can clearly see me meeting one of the artists and then taking her to my chosen spot and then photographing her. Utterly bizarre to find this video!
For sure in those few hours I did indeed feel like a traveller in a strange world seeing everything though child’s eyes.
Watch it happen:
1.42-Me in the background bending down to take a shot
2.07-Me in the background standing up and looking towards the camera and then pulling my hat off briefly and then walking back to take a shot.
3.47-On the right taking down email details of the artist.
4.05-I walk past the camera followed by the girl on the yellow outfit after she’s agreed to poise.
5.22- Me directing and shooting the girl in yellow.
6.16-Me directing and shooting the incredible Eskimo style girl with bow and arrow.