This is another installment in our continuing series where we talk to photographers whose work we’ve appreciated on Flickr.
This week we feature Lee Jordan/ockermedia.
cinemafia: The first thing I want to ask you is how you began doing street photography, as it is generally a different story for everyone who does it. Did you have any particular influences that helped you along the way?
ockermedia: My first connect to photography was in college in 1986. I was 16, and just left school to go to college to study media and film. My first year was taken up by a film project called “Life in the Shadows.” I met many a colourful character – one called Teddy Ruxpin and another called Elvis… back then, as you may or may not remember, tramps were real tramps! Quirky characters who drank far too much, lived under bridges and made funny grunts and noises at people as they walked by, good, old massive beards… anyway it was a good short film that paved the way into my sports filming career.
Although my filming progressed into extreme sports, I remained interested in capturing local street life and would often include edits of street people in sports videos. In terms of other artists that have inspired me, Joel Meyerowitz’s 1980s New York street photography was certainly influential; Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant also influenced my style as I was interested in all aspects of street culture, street art, music, sports and lifestyle. It was only at the start of ‘08 [that] I picked up a DSLR and started my photography hobby. Having enjoyed all aspects of the creative control that filming gave me, I found digital photography a very accessible medium.
cinemafia: Why do you think it is important to photograph people who live or otherwise spend most of their time on the streets? Do you think these types of photographs will ever really make any difference in the world?
ockermedia: I think that it is an important record of people whose lives go largely undocumented and unrecorded [as] they slip through the net of any government statistic. Excluded from any family photograph, they have little or no paper trail of bank statements and addresses. A photograph gives them a lasting image, a record of their existence. “I am” is the simple statement they make in the photos. It is the way we view their existence that influences how we look at the photographs.
I think that street photography provides an important insight to all lifestyles in the city, for both current and future generations. We should all spare a thought for these otherwise forgotten souls. However, while I think that photographs of marginal characters in society can be useful in promoting awareness of social and cultural issues and provoke debate, I do not take the photos with this as an agenda; it’s simply a personal record of the characters I meet.
cinemafia: One of my favorite shots of yours is of Goliath (above). It’s a striking image, and the story behind it is all the more interesting. It speaks a lot to the idea that those of us who shoot people who are frequently on the streets, whether by choice or by chance, often come to know these people very well, even becoming friends with them. I wonder if you could talk a little about how it feels going out and seeing these people regularly, and how you think they feel about you photographing them.
ockermedia: Goliath is a gentle giant of a man that I met while shooting on the streets of Bristol. [I] sat on a bench having an in depth chat about life, and his role in it, and then I realized that I knew him many years ago. Back in his heyday he was a bouncer on the doors of many an establishment I frequented. Many Bristol locals would remember him from the Thekla, late 80s, early 90s, as the dominating figure on the door. He then went onto explain that he was also head of security at many famous festivals like Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds,etc, etc. But because of the nature of clubs and festivals he ended up an alcoholic, drinking maybe 30 cans of strong larger a day! So much of his time [now] is spent sitting around on streets drinking all day. However he does have a house – and a big house in the most sought after part of Bristol, yet he spends most of his time on the streets.
I know I was fuelling his addiction, but I bought him a couple of beers to say thanks for the photos. This put a beaming smile on his face – RESPECT he said! As I was leaving he called me back. He offered to repay my gift of beer with some old photography books he had. I didn’t want to take his books, but I saw it as a chance to see him more over the lonely Christmas period, if only to make sure he was well and happy. He is the most gentle of giants with an honest heart, and most of all, he is my new friend.
I don’t judge the people I meet on the streets. I’m just seeking interesting local characters, and you can find a lot of interesting faces and stories when you pay attention to people that get ignored. I simply listen to their stories and try to photograph them in their natural situation. I developed a connection with all the characters, none more so than Goliath, whose real name is Pohl. In fact, I got in touch with him over Christmas just to see how he was. He seemed a vulnerable person, in need of care and attention. However getting too emotionally attached to individuals is not something I would recommend.
cinemafia: I’ve noticed that you’ve started shooting film again, and I have to ask, do you think the analog experience has changed your shooting? If so, how?
ockermedia: Growing up in the age before digital, I always enjoyed black and white photography and especially documentary war photography. Modern digital photos always seemed so airbrushed, a glossy magazine version of life. As I became more interested in photographing characters on the street, I wanted a more gritty, real feel, which I think film provides. I think your photographic skills and flaws are more exposed in film photography; it’s also much more hands on, which gives it a more organic, authentic feel.
Digital photography gives everyone a convenient way of obtaining full creative control over their photos. That’s one of the reasons I started in photography, however a digital photo will always be a computerized image. For me, film gives the hands-on real-life image that I want to create. Photography should not be all about your ability to manipulate photos in Photoshop.
cinemafia: Lastly, do you have an advice for photographers who want to approach people on the streets to do documentary-type portraits? Any big “dos” or “don’ts” you think everyone should know?
ockermedia: Don’t go out with big, expensive equipment and approach strangers in unfamiliar surroundings. Have your wits about you and try to avoid large groups and enclosed spaces. In general, personal safety is the main issue when you are walking around areas that you are not familiar with. Never go alone, and be aware of how you come across to the people you want to photograph. Ask their permission. Talk to them and they will feel more at ease with having their photograph taken. Just be happy and you will capture the real quality of the person.
To see more of ockermedia’s work, go here.
Interview by cinemafia.