He captures more than photographs. He captures human souls in a pure, raw form. He photographs life and when you look at his photographs, there is a high chance you will feel goose bumps. Meet Lee Jeffries – talented portrait photographer from UK who won the 1st Place in the Portrait Category in the First Half of B&W CHILD PHOTO COMPETITION 2015!
Q: Dear Lee, we are so happy to have you here and find out more about you and your work. Can you tell us more about you? How old are you? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
A:Let me first thank you for the opportunity. I’m honoured that my photograph took first place in your competition and I’m very happy to be here.
I’m 44 years old. I was brought up on a council estate in Manchester and with the exception of three years spent at University in Plymouth, I always have and still live in Manchester (although I often dream of escaping!!)
Q: Can you tell us more about your winning photograph “B”? Who is the boy on the photograph? What’s the story behind this photograph?
A: I almost never give back stories for the images I shoot. Underpinning the philosophy of my photography is the portrayal emotion….I’m not a documenter of “circumstance” in the traditional sense. It’s true; my images possess a social dimension and have their roots in traditional reportage but that’s where it ends and a new process begins. My images are intended to resonate with the viewer on a spiritual and human level and I try to pack in the metaphysical…attributes which tell their own story. I try to provoke an imaginative and intelligent response from the viewer with a purely visual reference. I think I achieved that with the winning photograph “B”. Back stories in my opinion get in the way and dilute this process.
Q: You photograph mostly homeless people. Can you tell us why? How and why did you start photographing homeless people?
A: There is quite a well known story of me being in London to run the Marathon. The day before the race I found myself out on the streets trying my hand at capturing something. I notice this young homeless girl huddled in a sleeping bag in a shop doorway from across the street and start to shoot her with my 200mm lens! She sees me and kicks off…big time. I’m left embarrassed with passers by and all I want to do is get the hell out of there. Something stops me and I go over to talk to her. She taught me my first lesson.
As I’ve stated earlier in this interview, my images are about faith, love and humanity, not circumstance. The pertinent question perhaps should therefore have been “where does this spirituality have its roots in your images?” This is where things begin to become deeply personal. It’s my opinion to shoot a great photograph it has to come from within….but how do you harness and begin to understand that process. Back when I first started (6 years ago) I never truly understood what was going on with me on an artistic basis. I was living life…loving… opening my heart to all kinds of influences which I have retained to this day. Love was the catalyst for everything. It gave me great joy but also periods of interminable loneliness which persist to this day. In fact I don’t mind admitting that this is the driving force for all my artistic endeavors. Homeless people? Not because they are homeless…more that I truly understand and recognize the solitude I walk with every day myself.
Q: How do you choose who will be the subject of your next portrait?
Q: Many street photographers capture homeless people and very often we can instinctively feel that distance between “us” and poor “them”, they are photographed, but it’s like they are not part of the society. On the other hand, in your work we see not only pure art, but you put those people in front of us in a such a way we cannot ignore it. You manage to give them status of icons, pull out their personality, strong, raw emotions and suddenly they are not only homeless people, first of all they are people, part of us. Connection between you and people you photograph is obvious. What do you do to connect to them in a such a deep level?
A:If you will forgive my indulgence I will combine two questions you have asked into one answer here. My answer will also touch on the one I gave to the previous question. I wander the streets….looking into strangers eyes. When I see what *I* feel I have found a person I want to make a connection with. Loneliness, laid bare, is a very powerful stimulus. It’s never been about shooting a photograph though. The relationships I establish are self-fulfilling in many respects. My pain is somehow desensitized by understanding theirs. The recognition in a strangers eyes is instantaneous and I truly believe I’m accepted the way I am because they see the same emotion in me.
Q: It seems there is a tiny line between getting involved so much and keeping the distance. It’s like the most delicate dance. Are you an empath or you do manage to keep the healthy distance from the things you experience and see? How do you recharge?
A: I’m very much an empath. I say to people, that in a strange way, I fall in love with everyone I make a connection with. I’m very much project based, so I have to go to an area and immerse myself into the community. It’s emotionally challenging at the time but its in post production when I’m alone again, this is when I fall apart. The images I produce are the final piece of the journey. I channel everything into them. My faith, my love, my humanity. I sit in tears over every one. The image is my way of saying goodbye if you like. I hope that makes sense. It’s truly heartfelt.
Q: What do you do with your photographs besides posting them on social media? Are you involved in any form of charity work and helping to homeless people in that way too?
A: I’ve been very lucky. A selection of my images are available to buy at the YellowKorner galleries throughout the world. This has given them priceless exposure. It’s also allowed YellowKorner and myself to hold charity auctions, the last of which raised over 25,000 euros for a Paris based homeless charity. I understand the sensitivity of the subjects circumstance with regard to exploitation but I genuinely feel people must realize without a degree of commerciality events like the charity auction would simply not have happened. You have to develop a certain notoriety in the art world. Commercialism is the avenue there which can then be used for charitable causes.
Personally I run marathons….do sleep outs…you name it….all to raise funds for homeless charities.
Q: Do you ever show them photographs you took? How do they react?
A: This never really comes up to be honest. The depth of the relationships I develop means it’s never important to them or to me. They accept I have taken their photograph…they know what I do but they have also spent hours, days or weeks even with me. They take a lot more from the process and aren’t really interested in the photography side.
Q: When did you start doing photography?
A:Six years ago
Q:Who are some photographers that inspire you?
A: Stephan Vanfleteran– his understanding of “Flanders” a cycling race steeped in history and spirituality comes from within. He is photographing from his heart. It shows.
Q: What’s in your camera bag?
A: Nikon d810, Canon 5d, Nikon 24mm lens, Canon 24mm lens. Small hand held reflector.
Q: It’s hard to use any lighting in street photography. Do you use reflectors or speed-lights?
A: The light I encounter more often than not is on grey days. The light does nothing exciting. It simply falls vertically down from the sky. I’m not about moving people so I work with what I have. A small hand held reflector does help illuminate eyes from this flat falling light.
Q: Photoshop or Lightroom?
Q: What’s the magic ingredient in your post processing?
A: Knowing the tools to start with. I’m not fighting to learn whilst processing. I’m purely in artistic mode and because of that things flow.
Q: How much time do you spend in post processing for each image?
A: Probably more time than I need to. I process with classical music. I process in tears, lingering over every detail. Saying goodbye. I’m not doing much to the image at all, lightening here…darkening there…but the small work in local areas comes together to produce the metaphysical elements that are absolutely fundamental to a Lee Jeffries image.
When we announced results, many photographers were already familiar with your work and many of them were like “How is it possible I never heard of him before”?! We would like to know more about the person behind these powerful photographs, so here comes the list of non photography related questions.
Q: You are one of the rare people who got to see a certain lifestyle that is normally kind of hidden from us. How do you perceive concepts of “good” and “bad”, “fair” and “not fair”, “grateful” and “ungrateful”? Faith? Destiny?
A: Faith. I’m glad you asked that question. As I’ve said it underpins all of my images. I’m not necessarily stating my own beliefs when I produce a spiritual piece but I am fascinated by the power of religion and the influence it has on people and of its beauty. Faith is often seen as another word for hope and boy do some of the people that I’ve met need that to cling on to. It can be a good thing but is it unfair, particularly in the USA when so called religious organisations preach God’s name in return for food and clothes donations. Indoctrination of the vulnerable seems a bad thing. Destiny perhaps is the inevitability of the whole f**ked up process.
Q: It’s clear that your life calling is photography. But what’s your daily job? Are you a full time photographer or the answer to this question will shock us? 🙂
A: Accountant. Shocked?
Q: Are you an extrovert or an introvert?
A: I like to think I’m an extrovert but I know I’m insanely shy and insular. I think people would say I’m introverted.
Q: You are coming from the country known to have amazing music scene. When it comes to music…is it important to you? What do you listen to? Are you loyal to Brits? 🙂
A: Classical music is fundamental to my images. It’s beauty puts me in the required state of mind. Beyond that I like everything and anything. I just shot the cover for Gin Wigmore’s new album for example. Her music blows me away.
Q: Your favorite British sitcom is?
A: haha. I grew up watching AlloAllo. Still makes me laugh. “I was pissing by the door, when I heard two shats. You are holding in your hand a smoking goon; you are clearly the guilty potty” Officer Crabtree
Q: Do you like to travel? What’s your favorite place?
A: Love to travel. My favorite place in the whole world is Lake Como.
Q: Tell us something about you that was never revealed in other interviews 🙂
A: I’m a keen cyclist. Mad on the sport actually. Have been since I was 12 years old. I cycle at least 50 miles a day. I was lucky to be in the AG2r team car for the AlpeD’huez stage of the tour de france this year. A collector of my images in Paris arranged that for me. Time of my life and I never wanted it to end!
Q: What would be your message to other photographers?
A: Try not to imitate. Take elements of the work of photographers you admire and then entwine those into your heart. Your own style will evolve from there. With millions of would be photographers out there you have to be doing something original to get noticed. Then, have a thick skin. When you do something original you will get a lot of criticism.