Back at school, I loved the idea of art, but when pen went to paper it was a shambles.
Eventually, I realised I could create art with photography, something that I was far more competent in. I trained in digital – with a heavy focus in the wizardry of Photoshop – but have since come to enjoy a simpler style of photography, relying much more on the raw image and story this portrays.
I really got into portrait photography as an adaptation to my surroundings. Moving from the greenbelt surrounding Reading to bustling Bethnal Green in London, I was faced with people as my primary subject, as natural landscape wasn’t as readily available. I now enjoy the storytelling that comes with portrait photography and hope viewers enjoy the stories I tell.
For me, portraiture in a studio and portraiture on the streets are two very different things. The idea of putting what we learn in a studio environment into practice in the real world is fascinating; taking what we know and use in the studio with lighting, composure and direction and putting it into practice on the streets, in the home and anywhere that suits. Hence, Portraits In Practice came to be.
One of my favourite images from the project is ‘Girlfriend In Green’. This photo is taken of my girlfriend in the lounge of my flat. She absolutely hates the photo, but I love it. She says she looks posed when in reality, I captured her in the seconds leading up to her final pose. With just one shot taken on my camera, there was no way to flick back and inevitably pick the image she preferred. The way the late afternoon sun strikes her side profile meant for perfect lighting conditions.
Then, there’s ‘Matt – The Extreme Sports Enthusiast’. I took this image of a fellow traveller in Thailand named Matt – he was from the USA and obsessed with extreme sports. The way he casually hangs off the back of the speeding Songthaew perfectly captures his nonchalant attitude to danger and injury, oozing the casual coolness of someone who stares risk and peril in the face.
As a photographer, I’m fascinated by Instagram culture. It began when I worked as a photographer at a summer camp in the depths of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, USA. The children were obsessed with the camera and hung on every image as a possible Insta post for when they got home and were able to use their mobiles again. Seeing the kids crowd round my camera swiftly sifting through the images, deleting, rotating, enlarging as they went made me think about how we act in front of a camera in this age of Instagram and constant digital capturing. Hence, for this particular project, I reverted back to an old Pentax ME SLR and Kodak point and shot 35mm that I picked up in a charity shop to retract this instant image gratification of a digital camera.
For Portraits In Progress, I had two main influences that I drew great inspiration from. Firstly, Platon who’s studio portraiture encompasses everything I love in a portrait photo (the intense lighting, the raw emotion and the effortless storytelling). Having said that, I just watched a Netflix documentary about him and he seems like a bit of an ass. But I need not look behind the camera at him. Next up, Cecil Beaton was always drummed into me when I was a student and I feel it’s only now that my work has matured that I truly appreciate his photos. The way he shoot his subjects in their natural environment was hugely influential for Portraits In Practice.
** Words by Thomas Reed **
Words by HQ