Please Introduce yourself
I was born and raised in the central belt of Scotland. The next half of my life was spent in France before recently moving to Milan. I'm a photographer because it's my way of out-running my demons and re-enchanting my world. My work tends to revolve around themes like alienation, identity and social dissonance. I’m Scorpio, ascendant Caesarean.
What made you start with photography?
As a kid, I was forever stretched out on the living room carpet sketching, so that was the prequel I suppose. Later I found myself at a crossroads in life. I was working in the local docks and my heart just wasn't in it. As they say in cards, I had to decide if I should stick or twist. So, I packed in my job and flew off to America for a lengthy road-trip in the hope of living something more vivid. Experiences came thick and fast. My cortex was saturated to the point I was having to delete old memories just to free up space for new ones. I decided to buy a little Agfa 110 to help me out. It wasn't really 'photography' as such but it led on to it a few years later.
Why do you take pictures and why street photography?
It's the best idea I've come up with for selling my self to myself. My way of achieving a sense of purpose and pride. I've always been someone who highly prized a stroll in the street; people-watching was second nature and I was curious about what made the world tick. Photography gives me an oulet for all that by channeling the shit-storm inside into something satisfying. But just in the interest of precision, and leaving aside whether street photography exists as a definable branch of photography… To me, the thread that runs through my work is documentary whereas street photography weaves in and out. That said, if someone labels me a street photographer on the basis of a shared understanding of the term then I'm quite happy with that. I believe good street photography often overlaps with documentary. On the other hand, I have nothing in common with contemporary street photography of the infantile, pixel-fuck variety.
Describe how you shoot, do you follow a specific approach or is it more spontaneous? Is there something specific you look for when taking pictures?
It varies depending on where I'm going and why. For me personally the DNA of a good picture is a mixture of beauty, meaning, atmosphere, emotion and singularity. Satisfaction for the eye, the head and the heart. Something that blows the fuckin doors off. Obviously, I usually fall flat on my face but nonetheless that's my bullseye. I leave home with those core elements ingrained in me because they're what I appreciate in other people's pictures. This is the raw material that will register on my street antennae and draw me in to a scene. I wouldn't say I have an approach as such but do prioritize a state of mind that balances child-like openness, calm and concentration. Italian ice-cream generates a similar state of mind.
How often do you go out to take pictures?
Most days. After starting off with a vengeance I soon got side-tracked by various meat-and-potato concerns and then sidelined by geography. I gained a garden and time with my daughter but lost a lot of photography time. It's only over the past year or so I've really been able to take up the gauntlet again with any gusto. So it's like a re-birth and I'm kicking the arse out of it now. It’s a race against time and time had a headstart.
What gear do you use? (analog or digital) and do you think gear is important?
I hate clutter. I use a Fuji X-T1 with the XF27 pancake lens. Of course gear is important. Don't listen to Leica owners who say it isn't. What I mean more precisely is it's important to use whatever equipment is in harmony with your personal aims. Which leaves it wide open of course but that's not the same as saying any old camera will do. Also, it also doesn't do any harm if you swoon for your tool of choice. Something that looks the business and begs to be taken out as often as a Greyhound on amphetamines.
Color or B&W? Please explain why
I started off in B&W and experienced all the shamanic, caustic alchemy. But maybe growing up in Scotland I got my fill of shades of grey. These days I’m more enamoured with colour as I feel it better hits the bullseye I mentioned in question four.
How important is the editing phase to you? What’s your editing process?
As important as it is to everyone I suppose. 'Process' is probably an exaggeration for describing the pencil-and-paper nature of it. Time permitting, I dive straight in to the day's catch. No messing about. I quickly look through the lot and jot down the reference numbers of any possible eye candy. Ideally I want to stumble across something that picks itself. Something that makes me eager to get it booted and suited and onto my website. But I also try to be receptive to anything that might be a slow-burner and grow on me given half a chance. Something that might not neatly fit my usual criteria of what warrants a 'good' picture. Then I might leave it overnight before running through that shortlist and this time indicating which ones still hold my attention enough to warrant some Photoshop effort. Usually, once I've done that a few more will have lost their shine leaving me with just a couple of half decent ones that will then be uploaded onto my website and/or released into Flickrland.
Have you ever had moments without motivation? If yes, what do you do to get new inspiration?
Loads. Usually due to my luck running dry for a spell; effort outstripping reward. As with most things, a sense of realism and perspective is a good first step to recovery. An element of faith in the fact that good shots lie ahead if you meet them halfway. Delving into the work of my favourite photographers can help bump-start me back into shape. Or, if all else fails, listening to Meyerowitz waxing lyrical. I’m convinced he was a double-glazing salesman in a previous life.
Which photographers do you admire?
Scant few. In no particular order. Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Cristobal Hara, Don McCullin, Alex Webb, Chris Killip, Harry Gruyaert, Trent Parke, William Klein, Josef Koudelka, Paolo Pellegrin... A pretty predictable line-up with no obscure B-sides I’m afraid.
Would you still take pictures if social media didn’t exist?
The idea contained in the question is totally alien to me. I started shooting pictures pre-internet. I was quite happy making prints and showing them to a few people I could trust not to say something stupid in return. Photography was an end in itself. It was only relatively recently that I decided to give Flickr a spin because photographer friend Gustavo Gomes twisted my arm. Otherwise, as far as that stuff goes I’m pretty much ex-directory. Don't get me wrong, I love the positives of internet generally but I'm not a social media aficionado. Probably because I tend to mildly dislike most people.
Do you have any specific project going on?
Most of my website sets are ongoing. One in particular I could mention is a long-term story called 'Haven' about a group of Pakistani refugees who are rebuilding their lives up in a tiny mountain village in Italy. Once or twice a month I drop by to shoot a few pictures, catch up on their news, share a bite to eat and play cards with them. It’s a different angle on the refugee situation. A bittersweet success story far from the usual tragically photogenic media coverage. Pictures of camaraderie mixed with their ups and downs. They're a bunch of people I've grown very fond of. Maybe you can tell. Hopefully I can publish it once it feels ripe.
Would you like to give any advice to newbie street photographers?
I won’t flatter myself with the idea that there’s much demand for my advice. On the other hand, if I could voice my hopes for new street photographers they would go like this: Don’t shoot street photography. Shoot the best pictures you can then let their classification sort itself out afterwards. If that turns out to be (the grown up, noble side of) street photography, then fine. Choose your masters wisely but shimmy free of lazy templates as soon as you can. Have a point of view. Have empathy. Shoot pictures of substance that convey some passion and urgency. Photography you’ll be proud to have as your personal legacy. Pictures like your favourite songs, which because of their beauty, meaning and emotion put a spring back into your step and make you think that maybe life isn’t so bad after all.
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Interview by Nico Ferrara