Kevin Shelley is a street photographer from the UK, here's a back and forth with him
1 Please tell us a little about you and what you do with photography.
I'm 46 and live in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, the English Lake District. Here I own and run a holiday home with my wife. My photography is currently centered around a blog about my Street Photography called (strangely enough), the Street Photography Blog. This also allows me to indulge in writing which I enjoy greatly.
2 What inspired you to want to be a photographer?
I can still recall vividly the moment I first became vaguely aware of ‘something' called photography, at around 5 or 6 years of age. My Father had just finished reading a newspaper and I became engrossed in a photograph on the front page (can't recall what it was about) and noticed how it was made up of thousands of tiny black and white dots.
This fascinated me and I concluded that there must be people ‘somewhere' who's job it was to put each dot on the paper with a pen to make-up the picture. Shortly after, I discovered the ‘truth' and quickly acquired an old Kodak Instamatic of my Mother's and decided that I would start making my own ‘tiny dots'.
3 What genre’ are you most interested in?
That's a good question and the answer is something that often inspires viewers of my photographs and blog to express their true feelings regarding my work. I have always regarded myself as a Street Photographer, yet there is a certain section of the Street Photography world that disagrees, sometimes strongly. To me, street photography is not only about candid close-ups of people caught in actual or imaginary situations but also a means of showing them and their environment and the lives they lead.
4 Could you provide some ideas as to where you seek and find inspiration to keep working?
Living for the last 20 years in the Lake District you would imagine that with so many beautiful lakes, mountains and hills to choose from, I would be a Landscape Photographer. However I've always been a people person and take every opportunity to visit towns and cities. As this only happens about once or twice a month, I relish every moment. City life is a complete contrast to my own and therefore I sometimes photograph things that city dwellers may find quite commonplace or dare I say, boring.
Usefully, I draw great strength from any negative comments I receive. It is said that a photograph should elicit an emotion or a thought or a discussion. When I post on the blog, or put a photograph on a forum, it is has been known to cause a raft of comments, varying from ‘great' to ‘don't understand it', or something along the lines of my all time favorite which is, “You should forget you ever tried to take a photograph and throw away your camera. Better still, give it to a blind man with no arms and he'll take better pictures.” I actually have that printed and framed above my monitor and it helps to remind me that I must be on the right track in order to elicit such thought and emotion?
5 Do you prefer B&W vs Color or do you work in both and please explain why you work in what you do?
Without a doubt Black & White, simply because it makes the viewer concentrate on the subject or the texture, rather than colorful buildings, posters or clothing etc . . . Besides, it makes scenes look so darn moody.
6 What cameras and lenses are you currently using?
Currently I shoot a mixture of Digital and 35mm Film (Ilford HP5+, self developed). Cameras are a Leica M2 with 50mm Jupiter 8 lens and a Fuji X-E1 with XF35 f/1.4 and XF60 f/2.4 lenses. It has taken a while to discover the perfect balance but I have found that these two cameras work really well together. I do occasionally shoot Medium Format with an old Mamiya C33 TLR & 135mm lens, but this is a real heavyweight package and can give severe neck and shoulder pain (no exaggeration).
7 What processing software do you use?
I catalogue all my pictures in Lightroom 2 and process everything in Photoshop CS3. All my B&W conversions are done in the SilverEfex 2 plugin, which gives an incredible rendition of 35mm film, from superfine to coarse grain and contrast. Conversely with film, the ‘software' I use is Rodinal developer and is done in a darkroom I converted from an old chicken shed. I mainly scan the negatives with an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
8 When it’s all said and done, how satisfied are you with your images and your journey as a photographer?
Since the early days of being told to ‘not bother', I have developed a mantra of shooting, printing and uploading only what I find pleasing and not what convention says I should. After all, if you do what ‘you' like, you'll never be disappointing?I wish I could shoot more often.
My short term aspiration is to be featured in a photography magazine and I'd like my work to become more widely viewed. Ultimately, I'd really enjoy being a ‘talking head' on a documentary about Street Photography.
Atlas – One of the earliest street photographs I took. This man came along carrying his ‘world' on his shoulders. Despite my being young, inexperienced and quite shy, I just knew I wanted this picture. The lens was hyper-focussed but in the wrong range (I didn't know what I was doing) and my film processing technique was haphazard. This is the one that paved the way for my style of photography.
Boy on Jetty – A contentious photograph amongst the Street Photography community. Whilst stood on a jetty waiting for a small boat, this young lad decided to peer through a hole in the boards. It only took a second to bag and almost instantly, he got up. For me, Street Photography can be found wherever people gather.
Fine Line – Another photograph that goes against the grain. After all it has no people in it, though it is on the street. To me it says how fine the line is between the haves and have nots. For many people, this situation is only 3 or 4 months of missed pay-checks away.
Disapproving Look – Whilst strolling around one day, I came across this young lady striking an interesting pose and also noticed the tattoo on her ankle. As I was framing the shot, another woman came round the corner and for some reason gave her a most disapproving look. Click !!!
Two Worlds – Photography transforms what it describes. Here it may be two people sat on a bench but it also says that the two differing cultures, whilst in close proximity, choose to ignore each other. Also, one culture is allowed to sit on the bench, the other has to sit on the side.
Dad Dancing – A good fun picture. There was loud techno music coming from a shop doorway and this old boy decided to perform his own interpretation of rave dancing. The young kid in the background must have thought it was hilarious as he couldn't stop laughing and egging him on.
Check out Kevin's street photography blog