2018 in review

So that's it then, 2018 has been and gone and to say it was a life-changing year for me is no understatement! 2018 was the year where I faced up to the gnawing doubt in my mind about what I was doing with my life and decided to grow a pair and go after what I really wanted my life to be spent doing. It was also the year that my personal photographic path took a completely new direction, developing a new focus and style while teaching me a lot about how to shoot what I wanted to shoot. I went from Canon to Fuji, and then from digital to film, in a search to try to create the type of photography that I felt was best for me.

At the start of last year, I began an experiment looking at how limiting myself to using only black and white in my photography would influence my style. This experiment quickly led to me focussing on the use of strong highlights and deep shadows to create interesting compositions in my street photography. I didn't start the year with this aim of only shooting my personal work in black and white, however as the year progressed and a style began to emerge, I began to see how this limitation was helping my photography. The removal of colour allowed me to focus on subject and composition which I believe enabled me to make better images in my eyes. Throughout the year I applied this same approach to my street photography, my portraiture, and finally to a new series of architectural photography. Over time I began to see and think about my photography in black and white as a result of this restriction that I had placed upon myself. I developed a real love for black and white photography that I know will endure throughout my photographic career.

Moor Street commuter.

Moor Street commuter.

London underground.

London underground.

Portrait of Amo Mann.

Portrait of Amo Mann.

Something I didn't expect though was the way shooting in black and white exclusively began to help me to see colour differently. I've always felt that colour in an image, particularly a street photography image in the classic sense, can be a distraction if it is not adding to the composition in an interesting way. People might think this is an obvious observation, but to see colour used in a street image in the way that someone like Alex Webb used it, is enough make you realise that this is not an easy thing to achieve! However, there have been times certainly in the latter half of the year where I have seen a frame and the association and organisation of colours in it have really jumped out to me in a way that I don't think they would have had I not been seeing and thinking in black and white. Strangely, shooting exclusively in black and white has started to give me the appetite and confidence to introduce colour back into my work, and to go back to those images that I know worked well in colour and give them an airing.

Business lunch, Madrid.

Business lunch, Madrid.

As 2018 moved through its seasons I began looking for a way to further simplify my work and reach a new level of honesty in it. I wanted to find a way of creating images that were as real as they could be, no editing, just creating images in camera as I saw them at the moment I released the shutter. A move from digital to film was the step I was looking for and it finally came in Autumn when I bought an Olympus Trip from a friend, before jumping in with both feet and buying a Leica M6. Several good friends had urged me to start shooting film but I had resisted for a long time due to its cost and a lack of equipment. However, when I finally made the switch it dawned on me how the limitation of 36 frames in a roll of 35mm film actively forced me to be more precise with the images I was making. I'm still in the early days of this journey but moving to film has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding steps I've taken in my photography.

Birmingham on Kodak 400TX.

Birmingham on Kodak 400TX.

Portrait of Ariya Larker on Kodak 400TX.

Portrait of Ariya Larker on Kodak 400TX.

London in the sun, on Kodak 400TX.

London in the sun, on Kodak 400TX.

This was also the year when I finally let photography take over my life completely. I had been considering going freelance as a photographer for some time but the thought of the uncertainty associated with starting again had always dissuaded me. Over 15 years I had built my career in the diagnostics industry, reaching the level of Director by 37, so to walk away from it all was no small or easy decision. I hadn't been happy in my career for a long time though but fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, photography had slowly been taking over my brain space. So, in April, and with the support of my amazing wife, I took the decision to resign. Four months later I found myself for the first time in my life self-employed and trying to earn a living by doing something that I loved. It's been an incredible 4 months since I went full-time freelance at the end of August, working with some amazing clients, teaching my skills to others, and of course launching our first Birmingham Photography Festival with two great friends. It's not been easy though, and the path ahead in 2019 is a scary one. However, I feel confident that if I keep working hard and keep shooting for myself, that my success thus far will continue.

Viviendo como los Madrileños / Living like the Madrileños

Madrid is a massive city with 3.2 million people living in the metropolitan area alone. As with any city of this size, the populous is incredibly diverse and therefore very interesting for street photography. A recent week spent in the city gave me the chance to document the inhabitants of this great city, known as Madrileños. 

The city is cut into several different districts, each with their own unique culture and people. From Malasaña to Lavapies, and Salamanca to Retiro, Madrileños pack the city’s wide Boulevards and endless narrow side streets as they move about their daily business. 

Here are a few of the images I grabbed while in the city last month.

Onlooker in Malasaña.

Onlooker in Malasaña.

Waiting to cross the road in Lavapies.

Waiting to cross the road in Lavapies.

Fat Spiderman performing near Plaza Mayor.

Fat Spiderman performing near Plaza Mayor.

Nightlife near the Gran Via.

Nightlife near the Gran Via.

Row boats in El Retiro Park.

Row boats in El Retiro Park.

Man waiting in Malasaña.

Man waiting in Malasaña.

Old man.

Old man.

Butcher in Malasaña.

Butcher in Malasaña.

Side street traffic.

Side street traffic.

Taking a break from shopping in Chuecas.

Taking a break from shopping in Chuecas.

Late night revellers.

Late night revellers.

Book seller in Retiro.

Book seller in Retiro.

Restaurant worker in Huertas.

Restaurant worker in Huertas.

Conversation dries up in a Malasaña bar.

Conversation dries up in a Malasaña bar.

A working lunch.

A working lunch.

Old man with cigar.

Old man with cigar.

Stripes.

Stripes.

Metro exit.

Metro exit.

Skateboarder.

Skateboarder.

Angel.

Angel.

Businessmen in Centro.

Businessmen in Centro.

Metro.

Metro.

Looking for shade.

Looking for shade.

TAKING STOCK

It’s a sunny Sunday afternoon in the sleepy Devon seaside village of Salcombe. The light is bright and the shadows are deep, and the streets are thronged with locals and tourists making the most of the bank holiday weekend. Families hustle from one ice cream shop to the next with relaxed parents trying to keep track of their highly excited children as they weave through the narrow streets. The pubs are full of interesting characters and the harbour is awash with boats and their nautically-styled owners. 

Salcombe, May 2018

Salcombe, May 2018

I am sat on the sun terrace of one of the seafront drinking establishments in the village, a pint of beer in my hand and my wife sat next to me enjoying the sun. For me, it’s the ideal conditions to be out shooting and of course, I have my camera with me. However, on this day I am happy to let the world slip by along with all the photo opportunities that I would normally be out there hunting down. Don’t get me wrong, I have grabbed a few images during our pub-to-pub exploration of the village, but I’m in no ways committing the focus of my day to shooting on the streets of Salcombe. 

Artist at work. Salcombe, May 2018

Artist at work. Salcombe, May 2018

No, this trip is a break for both of us. A break from all we have going on at home and also a chance to take stock of all that has happened lately. It’s also a chance to reflect on my work over the past few months of my year in black and white as I approach the halfway point of this project. I have been really satisfied with the work I have produced so far in 2018 and I feel it has evolved as I have moved through the months. I have learned so much in this year, but I know I have so much more to learn.

A talk I went to by a well-known photographer at the end of April left me thinking about two changes that I needed to make in the way I go about my documentary and street work. 

First, slow down. Slow down everything. The pace you walk at, your movements with the camera, your observations of the world you are in. Take the time to understand with the eye before trying to capture it with your camera. To consider a scene, understand its meaning, and then develop a composition that tells the right story, takes patience. Something I don’t always have. 

Second, shoot more, A LOT more. As I look back at last months number of shots I should feel happy with the 8 events and outings I have shot in May. However, I know it’s not enough. I need to do more. This passion demands more time to be committed to it, along with the consumption of a greater variety of subject matter. I already have 8 quite varied shoots lined up in June so I’m heading in the right direction. I just need to maintain this pace, but I know I can do this because it’s easy when you are doing something that you love. 

Sunlight breaking through the clouds at Hope Cove. May 2018

Sunlight breaking through the clouds at Hope Cove. May 2018

Taking some time out from photography to think about your work, and what you need to do to keep it moving forward, is very important. Getting out and shooting is obviously critical to anyone’s development in this field. Just as important however is taking the time to properly review your work, curate it, and plan your next move. For me, that’s going to involve learning from those people who have already walked this path, while also taking criticism of my work, and being critical of it. This way I will hopefully stay on the right path, and continue to put out work that pleases me, and hopefully others too.