An Interview With Myself

Introduce yourself

Hello, I’m Brian. I like to take pictures. I nearly always have a camera in my hand, but I’m not a professional photographer. I’ve used lots of different makes of cameras over the years, but now I’m very much a Canon man.

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So what do you do for a living?

I work for a company called Capgemini as a Solution Architect, specialising in the Salesforce platform. Most people don’t understand what that means, so to make it easier I just say I work in IT.

How and when did you get into photography?

I’ve been taking pictures since I was a child, so most of my life. Digital photography wasn’t around when I started and my parents didn’t have much money so I couldn’t photograph as often as I would have liked. I remember borrowing their cameras when I was little, and learnt about exposure, shutter speed and aperture using a Zenit-EM. When I started working I bought myself a 35mm Canon SLR, then digital came along and I was delighted to switch over. I have taken many thousands of photographs since then.

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How would you describe your work and what are the ideas behind your images?

I have tens of thousands of images in my archive, some good, some not so good! In terms of genre I tend to switch a lot and have tried landscape, beauty, fashion, portrait, street, and documentary photography. Some of those are single images which stand-alone, while others are groups of images that work together. I usually start off with an idea of some kind, either for a single image or a project, and try to construct my pictures around that idea. However, they are not deeply conceptual and things don’t always come out exactly the way I intended!

Some of my images feel a bit safe, and I really have to push myself to produce more gritty, edgy work. Interestingly, the type of camera I use can make a difference. If I’m going for a snapshot aesthetic, using a compact point-and-shoot seems to help me achieve that. If I’m looking for something more crafted and painterly where quality is essential, I’ll use a DSLR. That’s not always the case, but it’s often a starting point.

My work is often described as quiet, calm, and peaceful. These are actually personal qualities of mine so perhaps it’s true that photographs are really a reflection of the photographer.

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What do you think of genres in photography? Do you consider yourself a documentary photographer, street photographer, or portrait photographer?

Probably a combination of all those things, so essentially just a photographer.

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Which photographers inspire you?

So many! William Eggleston, Garry Winogrand, Stephen Shore, Martin Parr, Alec Soth, David Bailey, Mario Testino. That’s naming just a few famous ones. Of the less famous contemporary photographers, one who has inspired me for a very long time is Stefan Bourson. I adore his beauty work, it’s exquisite!

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Would you describe your body of work as consistent?

Probably not, because I like to try different things. I do struggle with this at times, as everyone says to make it as a photographer you need to specialise. However, in my defence I recognise that I don’t need to be a professional photographer to make good pictures. Actually, I think it’s probably easier not to be a pro, so you can keep experimenting and shooting in any direction you like, free of commercial pressure of any kind.

I have noticed that my work is frequently pictorial, and often moody with lots of contrast, depth, and layers. Perhaps that’s where some consistency starts to come in, but I do mix things up and change my style quite a bit. I have been known to go minimal!

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Do you prefer single images or projects?

I like both, but there’s something incredible about the project work of photographers like Alec Soth. When you get a great series of images the whole collection adds up to so much more than the sum of the parts. Synergy!

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How do you stay motivated?

I don’t really have to because my livelihood doesn’t depend on it. I sometimes go through dry spells where I’m uninspired and don’t feel like making pictures, but I always come out the other side. Taking my cameras on holiday usually helps to unblock my creativity.

Advice for people getting into photography?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to be a pro. You can make beautiful images in your spare time and have a tremendous amount of fun, stress-free, while doing so. Also, don’t get too hung up about only shooting one thing. It’s so easy to get stuck in a pigeon-hole as a street photographer or horse photographer or whatever. Just be a photographer and shoot whatever you want to!

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Happy Childhood Memories

Today I went back to my old home town of Great Harwood, and walked around for half an hour with my camera. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for years.

It’s grim up north, but it’s where I grew up, where I spent many a happy summer day playing in those backstreets as a child, befriending stray cats and scraping my knees climbing walls. Great Harwood the town has changed, but turn a corner and you instantly go back in time. The red bridge is still there, as you can see in the photos above. I remember climbing through that same gap in the railings, and going down onto the little pebble shore. There was – and still is – a dreadful chemical smell rising from Hyndburn Brook, but when I played on that beach, skimming stones across the water, in my mind I was on a beautiful desert island in the middle of the pacific.

Happy memories.

A Short Break in Windsor & Eton

Nearly twenty years ago, I worked in Slough for around six months. I wasn’t immediately impressed with the town back then, and followed some advice to stay in nearby Windsor instead. I found myself a B&B where I settled for the duration, and since then I have been a regular visitor back to Windsor and Eton, with my wife tagging along. We always stay at the Castle Hotel, but with every trip there is something new for us to discover, as well as comforting familiarity.

This time we discovered the grave of the author M.R. James, in Eton Cemetery. We also discovered how lovely The George Inn is – it’s on High Street, Eton, and well worth a visit for food and/or drink. We enjoyed a mulled wine sat by the open fire.

Whenever I visit Windsor I always want to return to my old haunts. Alma House B&B is still there, where I stayed in 1999, although it has changed quite significantly since then. The Viceroy of Windsor, a fantastic Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant is also still there. I have memories of spending many an evening enjoying a spicy curry. My old favourite was “Murgi Mussala” – Chicken and minced lamb, medium spicy, with egg – and imagine my delight to find it still on the menu as a house special!

Don’t look too hard

I have been pretty quiet on my blog, Twitter and Instagram for the last year. The main reason is I’ve been focusing my efforts 100% on business.

One of the things I’ve tried to do on a weekly basis is reflect on the past week. It’s a little activity I indulge in every Sunday night. Sometimes it’s a positive experience that helps me recognise how much progress I’ve made, other times it’s a negative experience when I consider the ongoing frustrations and setbacks that are part of any business startup.

The quote on the graffiti wall above spoke to me when I discovered it down a back street in Shoreditch, London. I snapped it on my iPhone, hoping it would trigger some thoughts.

Why do photographers take pictures?

I attended an interesting talk last night that asked a couple of questions I’ve never really considered before in terms of my own practice as a photographer.

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As a photographer, do you enjoy the thrill of the chase involved in finding a good picture or do you enjoy the final image more?

For me, the final image is everything. While I do enjoy wandering around and taking pictures, it can be quite painful and frustrating at times. Looking at the final image either on screen or in print is what makes it all worthwhile.

Do you take pictures with a view to recording what is happening now, always with an eye on how your pictures will be viewed several years in the future, or do you take pictures simply for the sake of taking them at that moment?

I definitely take pictures with an eye on how they will be viewed in the future. I used to be very particular about excluding things like logos and cars and street fashions, simply because the currency of the subject matter makes it too familiar to be remarkable. It was a while before I realised that in twenty years time images of these subjects will in fact be very interesting.

I’m curious to hear how others answer these questions!

Two views of Stocks Reservoir

Here are two pictures I made of Stocks Reservoir.  I’m not really a landscape photographer, but these are interesting because they are both of the same scene, captured from The Causeway in Gisburn Forest, but they were taken twenty-two years apart.

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The weather conditions are obviously different, as is the water level!

The first photograph was made on black and white film in 1994. Back then I was still living with my parents. The second photo I captured with my DSLR a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m married, and my wife was with me.

Another big difference I remember is how back in 1994 I had to hold my camera up over my head in order to get that first picture. I took it blind without knowing what the view was like, or what I would get. This time around I could see over the wall, but the strange thing is, I was already fully grown in 1994, so it’s not as if I got taller. I can’t really explain what happened there.

Also worthy of note is the fact that for some reason I didn’t get around to developing that black and white film until c. 2009, so I waited well over a decade to see the result of that over-the-wall shot, even though I never forgot the day I took it.

Photographic dreams

When I’ve been doing quite a lot of intense photography, I find I suffer from strange photographic dreams. There are far worse dreams I could have, but these photographic dreams are particularly frustrating because it’s in the dreams that I seem to be making my best pictures!

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There isn’t really a beginning or end to the dream, I just suddenly become aware that I am taking pictures. There’s always a wonderful supply of subjects right on hand without having to wander around for hours. It feels like I’ve walked into ‘photo land’ where every street is amazing and filled with great-looking people who want to be photographed. I’m snapping away and saying all the right things and the people are really responsive and the backdrops are amazing and I know the pictures I’m getting are fantastic.

I’m fully aware all this is a dream, and I keep telling myself to remember this stuff and put it into practice, try to remember the framing, the angles, the expressions, etc. However, when I wake up it’s all gone. All that remains is the memory that I had a dream in which I was very energised, and taking amazing photographs, one after the other.

Apparently William Eggleston has similar dreams, so I know I’m not alone:

Often…I have these.. I call them ‘photographic dreams.’ They’re just one beautiful picture after another – which don’t exist. A short time later I don’t remember them. I just remember being very happy during the dream… Always in color.

I wonder how many other photographers experience these.

Welcome to the Moorcock

In my early twenties I used to regularly pass a place called the Moorcock Inn. It was on a quiet road between Waddington and Newton in the Ribble Valley, perfect for a summer evening drive out with friends in my freshly waxed car.

I haven’t been that way in some time, but in July this year I fell upon the place again, and was dismayed to find it in ruins. What a sad ending for this once lovely inn, which used to be a very popular venue in the Ribble Valley despite its slightly remote location.

As my pictures show, the Moorcock isn’t going to be serving food any time soon. Memories are all that’s left, fading fast among the piles of broken glass and detritus.

The joy of printing

I’ve spent the last couple of days producing prints for a portfolio update after pulling together edits for a couple of projects I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve never really produced my own portfolio prints, preferring instead to use a lab. However, I have just invested in a good A3 printer, and have been hankering to have a go at my own.

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My portfolio book used to have archival polyester sleeves into which I just inserted an 11×14 print from the lab. Dead easy. For this update it hasn’t been quite as simple, as I wanted to go down the double-sided ‘prints straight in’ route, and unfortunately I couldn’t find any 11×14 double-sided paper on this side of the Atlantic!

So, I’ve had to buy double-sided A3 paper, print on both sides, cut it down to size using a rotary trimmer, crease the edge so the pages turn easily, and punch the holes individually to fit the proprietary screwpost binding mechanism.

It’s been time-consuming, but I’m delighted with the results. I can see fine details on the prints that I couldn’t see on the screen, and I’m convinced these prints are better quality than I would have got from a lab.

Very happy photographer!