Photo Essays is a series on the Phoblographer where photographers get to candidly speak their mind about a specific subject or project of theirs. Want to submit? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am a professional UK/London-based self-taught graphic designer but ‘classically’ trained photographer working mainly in corporate identity, advertising and commercial.
I don’t follow the work of many other photographers, preferring to take inspiration from every day life — but my work is influenced by international cinema, film photography, Polaroid, my design work… and a very British sense of humour.
Away from regular work I like to shoot emotive people photography tells a ‘story’, provokes a reaction from the viewer and gives me a challenge. As a result I shoot various different genres whilst adding my own, hopefully distinctive, style — portraiture, erotica, urban/street, fashion, nude etc.
A lot of the inspiration for my photography comes from movies and (in this case) the likes of Wallace & Gromit (for the humour), Delicatessen (for the quirkiness), Cinema Paradiso (for the storytelling), and The Hairdressers Husband (for the atmosphere) provided a lot of subtle influence.
The Leaning Chronicles series came about because of a simple woolly bobble hat that the first model, Azteria, had brought along to a shoot but she wasn’t sure if it was going to be of use. We hadn’t planned on doing such a shoot but when we were discussing the hat in the hotel the night before, I said that I wanted to do something a little off-beat, unusual, non-expressive but fun.With hindsight, she was the perfect collaborator for the series. When we were planning ideas that evening I tasked her with interpretting ‘quirky, dead pan, normal, mundane’ in her own way. So she came up with the idea of wearing her green ‘flasher mac’, scarf and a shoulder bag to go with the hat.
However, the final key element to the styling was the pose — we spent the first 45 minutes practising and refining poses and angles. The first few poses and attempts didn’t have the feel I wanted until she leaned against a doorway. By this time I had a reasonably good idea of how I wanted to shoot it — and it needed to involve random members of the public.
The Models1. AZTERIA: This is how she describes herself — “A part-time mature model who’s very creative, with a huge imagination, and can often be prone to fits of laughter and regular sporadic excitability when working with like-minded people. Love anything quirky, surreal, conceptual, narrative, weird, and odd. Most of all, shoots have to be fun”.
A lot of credit for the whimsical ‘dead pan’ humour of the whole series is down to her for coming up with the initial pose and wardrobe stlying because she interpretted my brief brilliantly.2a. AMBER TUTTON: A very experienced professional fashion, hair and beauty model whom I’ve worked with over the years on my workshops and various other shoots and who is usually seen doing much more serious work. 2b. JEN BROOK: Experienced fashion model and blogger who has worked with some very well known/respected photographers and has a very creative streak. 3. AMABEL (now AYLA ROSE): An ex-gymnast/dancer turned professional model, she is extremely nimble and gave me the option of using a non-expressive facial expression because she has a ‘sweet’, almost child-like, face which was ideal for the series. 4. ZARA WATSON: Hugely experienced professional model whom I’ve known and worked with for about four years. At times, completely insane — yet totally professional. Her daring and sense of humour can be as wild as mine, which was a perfect fit for this. When shooting on the streets, which I do very often I like to take a very casual, personable and immersive (yet still very professional) approach. I operate a ‘shoot and scoot’ method which involves spending a little time doing a recce and carefully explaining to all team members exactly what I want to accomplish, perhaps even rehearsing on a quiet street somewhere else, then shooting extremely quickly once arriving at the exact location.
If encountering members of the public or security (always plenty of them in London), I specifically carry some business cards and a large portfolio of work on my iPhone to help me to explain what I’m doing. I sometimes have a Polaroid camera too (which I love shooting with) and that serves as an extremely ice breaker and gets people on my side.I am also keen to involve people too, and that often has a very beneficial result.
I specifically wanted busy places where there were going to be lots of people — hence Manchester city centre and central London.As these were street shoots in busy areas, I had to keep the camera gear fairly simple — basically either my Nikon D3 or D4 plus a 50mm f1.8 lens. To be honest, most of the time I could have shot these images even if I only had a basic ‘point and shoot’ camera. In fact, I did take a Polaroid shot (which I can dig out if you wish) during the first shoot with Azteria.
The main emphasis of TLC is the humour and narrative so I didn’t want the gear to be a noticeable factor when people look at the images. I wanted viewers to think ‘what is she doing?’ or maybe ‘look at those people’s faces’ rather than ‘great lighting’ or ‘look at the bokeh’.However, where equipment did matter was the third shoot with Amabel – as it was done at night. It was for exactly this kind of shoot that originally made me decide to upgrade my camera from an old D2x to the D3 (and then the D4) as I needed the high ISO capability.
This is where the movies have a lot to answer for. It is a direct result of the movie “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and the whimsical nature of Wallace & Gromit that I felt the editing style needed to reflect a care-free, vacational, ‘yesteryear’, ‘feel good’ tone. The humour and narrative, making the peculiar seem totally normal, would not have worked if the editing style looked clean, crisp and modern – it would be too ‘real’. Instead it needed to take people away from the real and into a world of fun escapism.Originally the series had no other purpose than for me to let off some steam with like-minded creatives because the advertising and commercial work I usually do can be (creatively) very restrictive. I do design and print my own portfolio books every so often but, somehow, never thought about doing a TLC version. However I would like to see it go further, so would not say “no” to galleries or books if the right circumstances came along.
More recently, I had given some thought to a follow-up series – which will be different, but still on busy urban streets. I just haven’t had enough free time to think it through properly and test it out.