Thursday, June 15

Interview with me about street photography – from the Siam Street Nerds blog

The following is the English text, with a few modifications, of an interview with me that appeared on the Siam Street Nerds ( website a few years ago (it’s here, if you can read Thai – Thank you Siam Street Nerds for publishing it originally

First of all thank you very much for spending your time interview with me.

My first question is – I feel that your work have a lot sense of humour and also they are describe 'English' people through your views especially from your seaside town.

What is your inspirations?

Do you have any photographer, artist...etc who influence you? When was you start take street photography?

I’ve been interested in street photography for about 35 years but I only started doing street photography myself around 2003. My knowledge of the world of street photography at this time was limited to a few of the most famous European photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, and the big-name contemporary photographers such as Martin Parr.

As I started doing street photography myself, I became aware via the Internet of other names such as Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank and Tony Ray-Jones, who I found inspiring. My knowledge of photographers from around the world is still quite limited. Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones both use humour, and of the two, I prefer the gentle humour of Ray-Jones. I still like the work of Doisneau, although it’s not fashionable to admit that. He was another humorous photographer with a very light and affectionate touch.

Tony Ray-Jones is probably my favourite photographer. This English photographer was active in the 1960s and 1970s but died young at just 40 years old. He was known for his humour and well arranged tableaux with many elements, which is a hard thing to do…

He photographed in the USA but is best known for his work that resulted from a few years in the 1960s travelling around England, photographing traditional English customs, events, leisure and seaside towns. His aim was to photograph England before it, in his words, “became too Americanised”. His work appeared in magazines and exhibitions but no book was published during his lifetime. If you can find the posthumous compilation book by Russell Roberts, this is the best introduction…

The Internet was great in providing an education in photographers such as Winogrand, Frank and Ray-Jones but in the last few years I feel I've overdosed on photography on the web and I haven’t looked at much photography online recently. My main concern when I’m photographing is the usual thing about getting in the mood or zone. I take inspiration from the sights and sounds of the street…

Humour is one of the things I’m looking for in pictures – but I’m also looking for emotion, interactions and a little pathos and poignancy. The seaside photos came naturally – I live by the sea and there are a few seaside resorts that I can get to easily. I am looking for a particular view of the English seaside – quiet, pleasant, but maybe a little eerie.

When did you join in-public, and how?

I just applied several times. When I started seriously photographing street around 2003/4, In-Public was the only street photography collective that I knew of, and I was always quite keen to join. My first submissions were not very good but got better, and I was accepted in 2010, on the 10-year anniversary of the collective. That turned out to be a good time to join, as there was a book and exhibition to mark the 10 years.

From my opinion every kind of photograph can reflect photographer personality or character. If you look at your work, how you describe yourself?

I don’t know that you can tell much more about me from my photos than the fact that I like to take photos of people! This is a difficult question – I really just take the sort of arrangements I like to see, and I’m not sure this is related to my personality. When I’m photographing, I’m looking for little moments of excitement to shake me out of my boredom.

I seem to be taking loads of photos of dogs at the moment – or more accurately, just about every photo I take of a dog seems to end up OK – but I neither like or dislike dogs. My favourite photos of mine are neat and orderly with everything in its place, whereas in real life I’m often annoyed by my own untidiness – so maybe photos are a way for me to be neat and well ordered.

Which camera and lens you normally use in your works?

I started out using a Nikon D70 digital SLR with the kit lens and moved on to the Nikon D90 SLR with prime lenses. I found it easy to get good compositions with these SLRs, but the size of the cameras meant that I took very few shots, as they are so conspicuous. For the past few years, I’ve been using the Fujifilm X100, and this has meant that I’ve taken a load more shots but I find the viewfinder slightly more difficult to use, and sometimes I take shots where I’m not so pleased with the composition, as I like formal, precise compositions. But in general, using the X100 has given my photography a great new lease of life [2017 note – camera recently broke].

How often that you go out to shoot? Some street photographers are carry camera everywhere they go but some may take only the day he want to shoot. Which type do you think you are?

I carry a camera at all times but it’s often buried away in my bag. I live in a small English seaside town called Weymouth, and on an average day there are very limited photo opportunities. The shopping area is two small streets and for much of the year the beach is deserted. In winter in Weymouth, I might take four or five shots a week, and although I always have my camera on me, it’s usually in my bag. In winter the beach is just empty sand and no people.

In spring, they “put up the beach” – the fast-food huts, rides and helter-skelter go up, and this provides a more interesting backdrop, and so I take more Weymouth photos. In late autumn, the beach “furniture” comes down again. If I get a good shot in Weymouth, it’s like a free gift, as I don’t have to travel.

Most of my photography is taken on daytrips by train out of Weymouth when I travel to cities such as Bath, Brighton and London, and also some seaside resorts. Anywhere that I can get to (and back from) in a day. I do this about 4 or 5 times per month. These days out are where most of my photos come from. I always travel alone and wander around specifically looking for photos for hours on end.

How you practice to shoot street photography? And do you have any techniques to share?

Simple answer – I walk around slowly, but never stand in one place, and when I see something that looks like a good photograph, I take a photo. I pace myself so I can last all day. I don’t get that close with my Fujifilm X100 – so I’m always looking for how I can make an interesting picture without sticking my camera in people’s faces. One piece of advice I give is always carry a simple business card. In case of any trouble or dispute, people seem surprisingly impressed by this simple piece of card…

I don’t do hip shots and very very rarely crop. I started out with the 6 megapixel D70, which I used for many years. With so few pixels, I thought that every pixel was really valuable, too valuable to lose, and I think the discipline of not allowing myself to crop helped my composition.

My own problem is how to keep motivated and upbeat when I’m walking around for hours and not seeing any interesting photos. I am quite a light shooter – I don’t see a lot of things that look like good photos. There are days when street photography seems like a ludicrous thing to do.

I think it helps to have various themes in the back of your mind when shooting – this can suggest more pictures you can take. I even made a random theme/motivation generator for when I get stuck, which you can find here:

I see it as a photographic equivalent of Eno and Schmidt’s Oblique Strategy cards. But better, obviously.

I really want to know the story of your signature picture, The yellow mascot. How did you get that?

Well, it was taken at 2.45pm 19 November 2004 in Bournemouth. This is quite soon after I started doing street photography seriously. Looking at my files from the day, I have a few previous shots of the character in the costume moving around among people, starting with the first one at 2.31pm, and after that I had my eye on him, without taking loads of shots.

Over the 14 minutes I took just four shots of him in various positions – I didn’t want to annoy him just in case a really good scene emerged. And then it did – he stopped to take a rest next to the man on the bench, who luckily was holding his head, and I took four shots. I’ve never seen the costume since!

Another your the signature picture that I really like is the two grandmoms in the street. How did you get that?

This was taken in May 2007, 4.30pm, in sunny weather, in Bristol. I took over 140 shots that day, which is a lot for me, so I must have been feeling inspired, although looking at my files (attached) I seem to have deleted most of them. I really just came across these two women suddenly by chance – the taller woman had raised her stick momentarily, and I caught the moment. There was a slight feeling of intimidation. I took two shots, 1 second apart, that were very similar, and the first had better composition.

The two squares on the wall provide added interest – there was some building work going on and one square is a window onto the building work, and the other is the artist’s impression of what the finished building will look like.

After the photo was widely published in English newspapers in 2011 to advertise the Street Photography Now book, I was contacted by the son of the taller woman in the photo who told me a little about her life, and he sent me some nice photos of her. So I know now that these woman are Brenda (on the left) and Joan (on the right). Sadly the son told me that Joan died in 2009, just 2 years after this photo was taken. He said she “would have loved your photo! (I think!)”…

Do you have any ongoing project? I would love to see your photo book.

The galleries on my web site illustrate the series I’m gradually working on. For example, country shows is something I do for just 3 or 4 days a year – but for 10 years.

There’s the Beside the Sea series, which I think would make a good book. I have sequenced it on my web site ( in a way that makes sense to me. This was shot from 2004 to the present day, and is sequenced with a few livelier shots at the beginning before moving into quieter, out-of-season shots which are all shot in dull, overcast light for a consistent look.

It would be good to get this seaside set published. I’ve had three exhibitions of photos from the seaside series at art centres around the UK, and they received a good reactions from the general public, so I think this might have more popular appeal than the more traditional urban street photography. Of course, major publishers are reluctant to publish traditional urban street photography books as they have a limited audience and are expensive to produce, so are not profitable.

I’m also currently shooting in two cities, Bath Spa and Brighton, and comparing them via the diptychs you can see on my web site at Most of the shots in these diptychs are recent – shot in the last 2 years. A separate project is the Brighton Belongs To Me series which was all shot in 2013 with a compact digital camera. This can be viewed as a book PDF that can be downloaded from my site, which I think is the closest it will come to being a book. It is quite a personal project for me, partly as I was seriously ill the previous year and was not expected to live.

What do you think about street photography today? How much differentiate since you start taking?

Since I started doing street photography around 2003, the definition seems to have become more blurred. To me it has always meant candid photography of people in public places. But recently, some people have started using the term “street photography” to include posed portraits on the street. There was a recent Thames & Hudson book called World Atlas of Street Photography that included loads of stuff that I wouldn’t consider street photography. I think definitions need to be clarified, as it has become confusing.

The great thing about the Internet is that photographers producing good work get noticed. There seems to be many people producing good portfolios quite quickly now – maybe because there are now so many good role models on the Internet.

Unfortunately mediocre photographers who have good social media skills get noticed as well. I feel uncomfortable when I see street photography workshops being held by people who have very few or no good street photos themselves, or doing what I don’t consider to be street photography. This makes me think I should run some workshops myself… [2017 note – I am now doing this]

I really love to take street photography, also my friends in Thailand. We have many discussion about can we do street photographer for a living? For Thai it seems hard to do that. Do you have any opinion for this?

If you find a way, please let me know! The ideal way is to convince the art photography world that you’re very important, and then you can charge big money for your prints in the same way that someone like William Eggleston does. But this isn’t that simple… I sell prints off my web site in two categories – some unlimited editions of some of my best-known shots that sell for just £30 or £40 (, and limited editions of other images for collectors that are priced in the hundreds. This is the Elton John zone.

It’s very difficult to make good money from street photography itself. Of course, other possible revenue streams besides print sales are licensing images, carrying out commissions, and giving workshops. I mentioned that I’ve been doing street photography since about 2003 – for most of that time I was working from home as a freelance sub-editor, which allowed me to take days off to do my daytrip photography. (For the previous 20 years, I’d moved around the country working in-house for publishing companies in Chester, Oxford, Brighton, Bath and London, and probably some others that I’ve erased from my memory.) When I was ill in 2012, I lost all my sub-editing work, so for the past few years, photography has been my sole form of income…

Thank you so much, Paul

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