The images here came to me on an evening wandering around the magical town of Ataco in El Salvador. It’s a little cobbled town nestled in the mountains, surrounded by coffee trees and natural habitat for as far as the eye can see. It’s become a community of creatives, who have painted the crumbling walls with bright murals and sell their artisan wares on every corner. My time there will sit with me for a long time. And I’m sure that’s in no small part to the intimacy of experience that comes with slowing down and allowing time to take it’s own pace.Read More
“I have always felt that the action most worth watching is not at the centre of things but where
edges meet. I like shorelines, weather fronts, international borders. There are interesting
frictions and incongruities in these places, and often, if you stand at the point of tangency,
you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one. "
A friend sent me this quote and it struck some untuned chord in me. I’ve never been comfortable in the centre of things - I like to stay close to the edge, closer to change, and perhaps some notion of freedom.
This filters through to photography. By definition, as a photographer, you are observing and chronicling from a different place, from your own perspective. I seem to be attracted to projects where I’m not on the inside, where I need to work hard to find that space where our worlds meet, tentatively challenging perspectives along the way. But I’ve always felt the need to somehow find my way into the ‘inside’, to do the project justice. Anne Fadiman has made me realise that I don’t need to, that that space between is just as, if not more, valuable a place to explore.
I’ve recently been working with Asifa Lahore, known as the first open gay Muslim drag queen (who is now transitioning to become a woman). It was precisely this gap between our worlds that compelled me to spend time with her. Discussions around transgender rights seem to trigger heightened emotion in the media, but it’s often discussed from within two different centres. As I’m sat, slightly awkwardly, in the drag dressing rooms surrounded by glittery dresses, nudity and items of make up I never knew existed, I realise how very far from my comfort zone I am. I can never be in Asifa’s world, but I now realise that that awkwardness is in fact the space that I’m looking for when I photograph, one that comes from stepping away from the centre of your own world and towards the edge of someone else’s. It’s where the learning starts. If I can capture that tangent point photographically and bring it to others, then perhaps it could help form a space for healthier dialogue, ‘one where you can see both sides better than if you were in the middle of either one’.
Every so often someone approaches me with a project idea and I can’t quite say yes. Something’s missing. Rather than blindly dismissing it, I have started to explore this missing space.
This is where my inner child comes in, that pestering little voice that keeps asking… but why?… But why?… and ultimately, why?!
So often the why’s trip me up, when you’re really honest about them you start to get to the core of what a project is all about, and it’s impact on the people involved. In a world with so many deep societal and environmental issues that need our urgent attention, can we really afford as creatives to work on projects just because they’re ‘interesting’? Who is really gaining from this project, when we’re really honest, the people we’re working with or the photographer? Is this just shameless self promotion?
Photography can often feel voyeuristic, in extreme cases exploitative. When we explore issues such as homelessness, refugees and poverty, all issues that need discussion, how often do we stop and think about how our project affects the people we are photographing or interviewing? Opening up to photographers and journalists can be a deeply personal experience and leave open wounds of vulnerability. It can also be empowering, if approached in the right way. Sharing your story with others can enlighten and inspire, and help us realise that we all have something to say and an important place in this world. But it’s our responsibility to ensure it’s the latter, and that the process benefits the individuals we are working with as much as the wider society. If not, then we are sitting firmly in the exploitation camp.
I’m currently working with someone whose writing I am in awe of, to develop a process of working that fills this missing space, removes the voyeuristic side of photojournalism and creates space for authenticity and empowerment. To do that I’m being a child again, asking why and why again. As creatives we are in a powerful position to evoke emotional responses that don’t diminish or pity, but that empower, and nudge spirals of change upwards. Let’s use this power wisely.
I’ve questioned many times whether I’m really passionate about photography. I have few photos of my holidays and I’m never seen with my camera when I’m ‘off duty’. So maybe it’s just a job to me… but I know it’s not. I’ve been drawn to it for a reason.
When I’m not cycling, I’m usually swimming, in lido’s, lakes or seas - I’m drawn to water, like a little rubber duck, if rubber ducks could cycle. Many friends have suggested I combine my passions and get into underwater photography, and it seems like a logical suggestion, that would be the dream right? But something has always stopped me.
I’ve had all the chats about the barriers that might be getting in the way - procrastination, fear of failure, not being good enough. And I’m guilty of all of them. But as I build up a rhythm in the murky lake water, gliding through the seaweed and taking mental snapshots of the trees on the horizon every time I turned my head, I know why. I’m always observing, soaking in the surroundings and taking a hundred photos in my head. I don’t always need a piece of equipment to be passionate about photography. And I don’t need physical photos as evidence of that.
So it's not that I don't enjoy my job, it's just that what draws me to it isn't necessarily what draws others to it. Photography to me is a way of bringing more observation and exploration into my life, to focus in on things that I cherish. However, observation is a gift most of us have available to us at any time, in any place, and we don't always need a camera to hone this skill. In a world where everything seems to be constantly documented and photographed, we’d do well to give our memory more credit and give more time to the simple pleasure in observation, for ourselves. And I don't think I'm doing my industry an injustice suggesting this - when you do pick up a camera, you might realise you've learnt more than you expected.
Photographing weddings is no longer my bread and butter - I photograph about one a year and am selective. I work with people I like or have an affinity with, and throw energy and a fresh eye into each one.Read More
Writing a blog post is permanently at the bottom of my to-do list. Hence the lack of blog posts. In an attempt to encourage some kind of mental shift, and understand the benefit in sharing what I do with the world, I joined a storytelling workshop for creatives, which I’ve just completed. I’m not sure exactly what I expected to achieve other than some increased confidence in my writing ability, but whatever it was, this far exceeded it.
We delved deep into our driving forces, our vulnerabilities, fears and barriers (there were more than I thought) - we opened up, shared, and closed up again, then re-opened and dug even deeper. It was deeply personal but collaborative - without the support within the group it wouldn’t have had the impact it did.
It took me a while to realise what was happening. The process slowly unveiled, and gave us the confidence to use our authentic voice, authentic being the operative word. Most of us started the course feeling we had nothing of interest to share about ourselves. As writers, musicians, photographers, film makers, we all tended to place the focus firmly on someone else and their story. This course was about ‘our’ story, and making us realise that our little voices in our head are actually interesting to other people, and that there are people out there who want to listen.
So this is the start of the new authentic me. I’m going to be vulnerable and share what I love and hate. In every job I do I encourage the client to be themselves and have faith in their own character to shine through - so in the spirit of consolidation this is me doing just that.
I’ve realised just how much I observe the world around me, so most of my posts will be about my observations and if that can inspire anyone else to do the same then that’s a bonus.
Here’s to hitting that to-do list from the bottom up :-).
I’ve spent many a cold night pedalling round in circles, my little legs going faster than I thought possible, desperately trying not to drop behind the pack.
The Velodrome in Herne Hill is a place I’ve loved and hated in equal measure. I’ve pushed myself hard there and worn down my pride. But equally (nearly) always left feeling elated and full of fresh drive to achieve new things.Read More
I’ve always steered away from fashion photography. I struggle with the pressure it impresses on people - young people in particular - to look a certain way, with the objectification of models, the hierarchical nature of the industry and exploitation behind so many big clothing brands. But that's a conversation for another time… It does however, neatly neatly take me on to the topic of my next shoot - fashion. Ha.Read More
Since owning a garden I have a newfound love of plants. But I never 'really' looked at them, until I worked with the wonderful organisation Rope & Vine (who, believe it or not, sell carefully sourced, beautiful plants and hanging devices).
We spent a day in my studio, studying shape, form, colour and light. When you look at them from different angles you start to look at them differently, and see them as an art form. Or I did at least. Here's some which might help you do the same.
A few preview pics from a little shoot yesterday with the wonderfully modest Elisa - someone who I always find myself saying 'Where did you get that from?' to, only to find out she designed it herself... she's just launched her very own collection in Japan, called... Elisa!