Q: Dear Lee, once again we have seen your presence on B&W Child Photo Competition after 3 years. And once again you won the Portrait Category! How does it feel to be the winner in our contest?
A: I didn’t actually enter the competition until the very last week before the deadline but I knew the winning image had a chance. Its one of those shots that instantly gives you a buzz when you look through the viewfinder. I had a good experience with the contest three years ago so I decided it was worth throwing it into the hat. The fact that it won is amazing of course, but not entirely a surprise.
Q: We honestly cannot wait to hear more about your winning photograph and the boy… what’s his story behind?
A: I haven’t actually shot any child portraits for a couple of years…then a number of commissions from local families and friends came along, all of which I ended up entering into the competition. Zephyr, is the son of a friend of mine in the USA. She was over in London for a few days and she had asked me could I take a few shots of him. I live in Manchester so she must have wanted me to do it pretty badly. I ended up getting the 6 am train to London, meeting up, and shooting his portrait in the street outside their hotel….only to get back on the train to Manchester a few hours later. It was a long day of traveling but it appears I got the shot….so well worth it.
Q: Last time we did an interview with you was in 2015 when you won the First Place in The Portrait Category. Can you share some updates with us? What’s new in your life and career?
A: I’m still very much a full-time accountant but in terms of the photography I think the biggest thing that has happened is Instagram. Those that are following my work has been building with enormous strength and numbers. It’s something I’m truly grateful for. I may be slightly bias of course, but I have always been of the opinion that my images should be seen….by as many people as possible. They have a social dimension and humanity that needs to be felt. Instagram is facilitating that and it’s amazing what opportunities have come my way as a result. One example is the fact that a selection of my images will appear in JLo’s new movie “Second Act” which is to be released in November. How amazing is that…… for an accountant from Manchester??? I have also had the opportunity to work with some really awesome people across the globe, the guys at the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle (which I will go into detail later in this interview) being an example.
Q: You’ve been photographing for years now. Do you still have the same passion and drive like you did years ago?
A: It’s not necessarily photography that is my motivation, more my own sense of loneliness. I have, over the years, suffered intolerably from periods of intense isolation and I have always found the antidote for that was to go out onto the street and be with people…..people who invariably understand and feel the same way I do. That has been and still is the driving force. The photographs are the final piece of the emotional journey. They represent a personal, artistic, goodbye if you like, to the people I have met and the relationships I have developed.
Q: How do you manage to connect with so many different people and their stories, yet keep a healthy distance and not become overwhelmed?
A: I am always overwhelmed. Always. With each relationship I develop, in a strange way, I fall in love with the person I’m with. I did actually fall in love with Margo Stevens who I met in Miami. Not a day goes by without me thinking about her and my failure to wave a magic wand and make things better for her. My images are my goodbyes. I sit processing in tears, over each and every one of them. Yes, even the Zephyr image. In absolute honesty, the beauty of what I am creating moves me to my core.
I’ve shared this before but I came across it just now whilst writing answers to an interview. It reminded me of how much I loved her and my complete failure to make it all right, although I tried. . Margo. I looked up and there she was. Stood before me, as we later joked in “full hooker mode”. Fur coat, high heels…..smeared lipstick. We developed quite a bond over the few weeks that followed. I guess I fell in love in a strange kind of way. Her youthful beauty twinkled beneath the facade of years on the street. Her life “before” hit me hard. I’ll never get over how helpless I felt. I wanted to turn back time to when she was just a girl. I felt, and still feel I could have saved her. Then again can you really save somebody from themselves? . On leaving that final day I shouted from the car as she walked away….”Margo. You’re beautiful”… . She stopped, turned to face me and replied “so are you”………
Q: Can you tell us more about the #lookusSeattle project?
A: I have been volunteering with the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle for a couple of years now. The organization has long appreciated my work so it was a natural way for me to try to use the power of what I do on a macro level to help those very people I photograph. To give back.
#lookusSeattle was a marketing campaign organized by the Mission and some very dedicated external professionals. We wanted to take the very people on the street, the Lost Angels, and make them so big and so visible that Seattle as a city couldn’t fail to notice them. For a number of nights in November 2017, therefore, we projected images onto the skyscrapers in the central business district in the city. It was a huge success. We won numerous national awards for the campaign and the dollar return in terms of donations and increased credibility of the mission was priceless. The event was such a success that Lost Angels 2 will run this December in the city with lots of exciting new elements. Watch this space. Whilst its not always possible to wave a magic wand to personally take every individual I meet out of homelessness, I can help the mission generate awareness and funds because its the mission and organizations like them that these people rely on every single day for survival.
Q: You are aware that you make many people cry when they look at your work? Some people always want to distance, but many see and hear. Do you have any message for those who want to see and hear and help? How can they do it?
A: I would point them to a couple of videos on my website. Just sit, watch and absorb. You’ll know what to do after seeing them
Q: What do you think of your opponents in The First Half of B&W CHILD 2018 PHOTO COMPETITION? Do you have any favorite photographs from The Winners Gallery in the First Half?
A: I think everyone that entered the competition deserves credit. It’s not easy to say, “hey, this is my work, please judge it” So for all those who had the balls to do this and enter the contest, Id say well done. Keep at it and keep shooting with your heart.
Q: We are all witnessing a lot of copy/paste in all forms of art and a crazy amount of hyperproduction. Can you tell us your opinion on this and photography scene in general? What’s the future of photography, especially fine art photography?
A: I’m pretty insular and none political when it comes to art and the photography industry. Not one to really get involved in opinions on things I feel I am certainly not qualified to talk about.
Q: Last time when we had a chance to talk to you, you told us that you are still using old Canon 5d body. Can you tell us what’s in your camera bag today? Do you use any other props to achieve what you have in mind?
A: I’ve upgraded to Nikon D850. Galleries were wanting much larger prints than the 5d was capable of, hence the change. Nothing else has changed only the enforced movements in software (which I hate haha)
Q: What are your future plans related to photography? We see you got into the filmmaking too. Please share with us anything you would like to.
A: Yes, I’ve done a bit of work for Terence Malick (Voyage of time). I’m open to any and all opportunities that present themselves. I have just completed a series of portraits of International Rugby Union players for example. As a huge sports fan that was such a brilliant project to undertake.
Q: Do you have any advice to offer us fellow photographers and artists about photography when it comes to entering quality photo competitions? Maybe why they should enter and how to select which work they should submit?
A: As photographers, we all know that moment when we have nailed a shot. That instant excitement. It’s those shots that ultimately win competitions. Advice….sure….be honest with your work. If its good enough, you’ll know. If you know, then hell yes, enter the competition and see what happens.
Thank you Lee!