“What struck me about working on the street was how the mundane day to day can be made fantastic by freezing a moment in time. As I learned more, the concept of not being noticed fascinated me…” says photographer Mark Heathcote of his fascination with street photography, and the inspiration behind his running project Commuters, with which he documents his daily commutes to and from London. “[I] spend my journey observing the comedy and sadness of commuting; the arguments about seats, seeing one commuter punch another, the tactics to obtain a seat, and the tiredness of everyone…” For Mr. Heathcote, this was combined with a realization that although there were large numbers of people, they were all isolated individually, no-one speaking or making eye contact with each other.
That’s how he got the idea.
Despite being exposed to photography at a young age and throughout his youth by his father, Mr. Heathcote had little interest in photography growing up. “It all sounded very boring and technical. I remember him trying to explain to me how a light meter worked.” Mr. Heathcote said of his introduction to photography, continuing to relate that he used to just nod his head in agreement. But that all changed in his 30’s, when Mr. Heathcote discovered street photography. “I had an epiphany when I came across some work from some street photographers. I don’t remember who they were, but I suddenly realized that photography did not have to be mediocre, or about landscapes and wanted to learn more.”
Mr. Heathcote took the next two years really getting into photography, learning about manual exposure, and falling into the same trap that many of us do — Gear Acquisition Syndrome (always wanting a new lens, or the latest/best camera/accessory). But he didn’t stay stuck in that rut, as he notes how his perspective changed for the better, resulting in a vast improvement in his work. “Far too much money was spent on lenses and cameras until I realized that a photograph is made by the photographer, not the camera. That was when my work started to improve rapidly.” Mr. Heathcote says of the journey he took to perfect his craft.
Mr. Heathcote began with a popular choice for photographers at the time, a Canon 5D Mark II with a couple lenses. But he quickly learned that it was not ideal to lug a round a full sized DSLR all day, so he experimented with mirrorless – but as we know of mirrorless tech at the time, it wasn’t quite up to par yet. This led Mr. Heathcote to Leica, specifically a Leica M6, which got him hooked on the rangefinder form factor — though he soon hit a wall with film. “I realized though that to progress quickly, I needed to take more shots and that film was holding me back. So I saved up and placed a pre-order for a Leica M240,” he says of his move from film to digital.
Nowadays Mr. Heathcote shoots almost exclusively with a 35mm Voigtlander lens, with occasional stints of 50mm or 90mm when he finds himself being inspired by legendary photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Saul Leiter. “I always revert back to 35mm though as I enjoy the flexibility of zone focusing at f8 to allow me to react quickly. I think the phrase is ‘F8 and be there’.” He says of his affinity for the 35mm field of view.
You can find a great selection of images from Mr. Heathcote’s Commuters series below, if you are a fan of street photography that isn’t all high contrast black and white, it’s a real treat.