I was recently interviewed by StaaG, this year’s sponsor of Travel Photographer of the Year for their ‘story behind the shot’ feature. This shot from Rio de Janeiro received an honourable mention for best single image in the monochrome category:
1. Where are you from?
Widnes, in the UK
2. What first got you into photography and how old were you?
I took a degree in Business Studies but from my early twenties – and particularly after a year traveling – I realised that office work and a career in business wasn’t what I wanted. I was much more interested in doing something I really enjoyed and for a while I looked at football journalism as an option and at the same time, photography. But photography took over completely, from around my mid-20s, I wanted to make it my career and life.
3. How do you look to approach and capture your next best shot?
I’ve been working on several long term stories for a while now, exploring a culture or location through a particular thread, so whatever I’m shooting obviously needs to fit into these. The beginning of a story can be fairly straightforward once you have an idea, but the latter stages are tough because you’re running out of ideas or inspiration, and often anything you shoot is only competing with other images from the same set.
So my approach is generally about finding that inspiration or some aspect of the project that might give it more momentum. For example, with the work I’ve shot in Rio, which is about football culture in the city, there are only so many shots you can have in a collection of people kicking or heading a ball in the air. The locations do add variety but at some point there needs to be more depth it all. So shooting a story within that about a family tragically affected by police invasions of favelas ahead of the world cup added something I hadn’t yet told in my images. And at the same times it opens up the chance to meet other people in a favela I haven’t yet worked in, shooting other sub-stories and moving in another direction with the work. At other times, inspiration might come more from something like films or music.
Ultimately I’m looking to explore a city and the story as much as I can. To go to different locations and meet new people, which often opens news doors. I’m constantly looking at the work as a whole and deciding from there which sorts of images or subjects I need, and how it will all flow and be sequenced. The ideas come out of that and for the shots themselves, I go where those particular stories or locations are during the right time; when I’m there, I keep working and exploring the location, trying to be patient and to build towards the best images coming at the right light.
4. What has being involved with the Travel Photographer of the Year done for your photography career?
Although I haven’t won the award itself, I’ve been a finalist several times and received an honourable mention in 2013, so it’s good to have some at least some association with the awards given the prestige they hold and to see my work in the final gallery which receives a lot of international exposure, as well as in the annual exhibition. But aside from trying to do well in them, the process of entering can greatly improve photographers, I think. For many – myself included – trying to shoot 4 image micro-stories that fit tightly with the portfolio categories is a challenge that can only improve you, and take you away from a single image mindset. And there’s also a lot of inspiration around the Awards and related events. I remember a talk by Mark Edward Harris at a TPOTY event a few years ago and his main message being that ‘the destination is not the story’. That was something I personally found an eye opener, even if it sounds quite obvious now. Until then I’d been shooting places in a sort of ‘Lonely Planet’ mindset (given that I’d shot quite a lot for those travel guides). Which basically translates to shooting a mixture of nice landscapes, portraits, cityscapes, foodshots and so on, of one particular place. There’s a danger though, for travel photography to come across as quite superficial and lacking depth in that respect. Better to spend time in one place for a while and focus on a body of work about an aspect of that place you were drawn to, rather than move from one place to another as a tourist with a camera, looking for shots that only really tie together because they were shot in the same country. That’s how my own approach has changed in the last few years and it’s certainly improved my work and helped to get it published. That learning curve has been the best thing to come out of entering the awards really.
5. Tell us the story of your profiled picture
This is the shot which received an honourable mention in monochrome category of the 2013 awards; a bicycle kick on Ipanema beach with the iconic ‘Two brothers’ mountains in the background. I was shooting football extensively around Rio, on and off for a few months ahead of and during the World Cup. Although I now have quite large body of work for that project, this is probably the signature image from it and probably the most striking. Where the photo essay’s been published since then, they’ve tended to lead with this shot (it was published by The Telegraph on the opening day of the World Cup, for example).
6. Where is your favourite place you have visited, and why?
Two places instantly spring to mind, which are Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. They’re two (very different) places I’ve spent the longest amount of time shooting in and if pushed to choose one though it would have to be Rio. Traveling to different places as a photographer, you do notice that certain places work better for you; in terms of providing inspiration and bringing the best out of you. There are cities that I certainly find more difficult than others but Rio seems to provide an almost limitless amount of inspiration, locations and stories. A good piece of advice that I’ve heard many times is ‘shoot what you love’ and Rio as a place, coupled with football as a subject, certainly works for me. It might not be the easiest place to shoot but maybe that’s part of the attraction it holds for me. If I relate it specifically to the project I’m shooting there about street football, I particularly like that the shots and scenes look almost timeless and that’s something my eye is drawn to photographically. And if I think in terms of one day trying to get a book published or an exhibition of my work, it would probably be about Rio. So I plan to return there for many years, working on a long term body of work there.
7. What piece of advice would you give someone starting out on their photography ‘career’, say in the New Talent award?
Choose a story or theme you that you love in some way, and that you can shoot for a long time. It will force you to explore your photography a lot more and confront the parts of it you aren’t necessarily strong at or comfortable with.
8. What or who inspires you to take the pictures you do?
I touched on this above really with the reference to ‘shoot what you love’. That in itself, provides inspiration and brings out the best in your work. At the beginning of 2014 I spent a week on a workshop with Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey, and the main thing I took away from him was the approach to what you shoot and how you want to develop as a photographer. Study the work of the the best photographers and compare your work with the absolute best that’s been shot in that place you’re photographing or around that subject. That can obviously be demoralising, but at the very least, by setting the bar so high and being so critical of your own work, you’ll end up with something much better as a result. In terms of photographers, there are many I’ve been inspired by over the years, at different times, such as William Klein, Steve McCurry, Christopher Anderson and David Alan Harvey for example.
For more information on Travel Photographer of the Year or to enter, visit
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