Greg Turner’s Candid Street Portraits Use Light in a Gorgeous Way

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 editors@thephoblographer.com.

All images and text by Greg Turner.

My interest has always been to explore identity, emotions and experiences, in particular those influenced by existentialism and angst. It is almost certainly a little self-indulgent but it is entirely the product of my own experiences and difficulties as a child; of having to figure out who you are and how you’re going to ‘be’ when those around you don’t want you to ‘be’ with them. Exclusion at a young age has a lasting impact but thankfully my conclusions as an adult are entirely positive. I’m happy to be who I am even if the process of self-understanding is by no means finished.

I studied film for the first year of my degree and while I didn’t pursue the subject beyond that first year, what I learned made a lasting impression and kindled a love for the medium that has grown with me over the years. Among the films I was exposed to that made a particular impression (and which I would otherwise likely not have seen had I not made film a formal subject of study), was the Italian neorealist masterpiece ‘Bicycle Thieves’, which is, as I am sure many of you will know, is one of the greatest films ever made.

Such a visceral and incredibly poignant portrayal of the human condition would probably not have been possible had the film not also been made in what retrospectively came to be known as the ‘neorealist’ style. Neorealism was not born out of aesthetics but rather out of necessity. In post war Europe there was no studio system, there were no sets, no actors or casting agents and very little equipment. The neorealist film makers made their films in the streets among the lives of everyday people in post war Europe because they had no other choice. So when a thunderstorm interrupts a take and a group of nuns run across your shot to take cover under a nearby roof, that mise en scene is in the film because of reality, not scripting or art direction. But it is that realism that heightens the poignancy of the film. We are more able to suspend our disbelief precisely because at least half the film does not require us to do so!

This idea that you can simply go out into the street and make a film amongst the commotion of everyday life is wonderfully democratic and was a big influence on me when I decided a few years ago that it was time to explore my understanding of self through a more creative activity. I chose photography because that was the medium I’d had the most exposure to previously, and shown at least a modicum of talent for. I can’t paint or draw to save my life and while I can write a half decent sentence, I’m not ready to explore that creative medium just yet.

But I don’t have access to a studio and because I work full time, have a wife who also works full time and have two young children, I have to fit my photography in wherever I can. I took inspiration from the Italian Neo-Realist cinema movement and decided the best way to do this was to simply go into the street with my camera, find interesting looking people and take their picture, both formally and candidly. I do this whenever I can; in between meetings, while on business trips, if I have a spare 40 minutes at the end of the day.

My candid portraits are different to the street portraits and other formal portraits. These are the ‘moments’ in our lives that we take for granted and that so often pass without conscious thought. They are moments of serenity, solitude, peacefulness, love, tenderness or engagement. They are the times when we are most like who we really are, when we are happy to accept as true that no one is watching even when we know that most likely someone probably is; this is our suspension of disbelief that allows us to simply ‘be’.

These images tread a fine line between democracy and the invasion of that privacy; a privacy that is bound up in our abstracted moment of whimsy. So I take them and share them as sensitively as I can and my motivation for doing so is that I, and perhaps ambitiously ‘we’, might gain some insight into our own self. Being ‘in the moment’ means being aware of that moment, of how you’re feeling, what it means to you and by doing this, we can come to have greater insight on who we are. But that is hard to do and needs training; capturing these personal moments in others is my way of training myself to live more in the moment.