Interview with Anne-Marie Boyer, Brussels, March 2007

AMB: Tell me about some of your influences?

CP: I’m not aware of specific influences. Like anyone, though, I’m a product of what I’ve consumed and my style must reflect this.

AMB: But surely other street photographers have influenced you? Perhaps Winogrand?

CP: I do like some of his shots - but not many.  I don’t consider him to have a strong, unique style - and there are many others who took such photos better.

So it’d better to say that I might have been influenced by that style of photographer. But I also don’t think I have been, much.

AMB: But who else do you like, you admire?

CP:  I probably like more Bill Brandt shots than anyone else. W Eugene Smith, Anders Petersen. Some of the famous French ones - although dated now. And others.

But I probably get more influences from stuff I see on Flickr and on other websites.

AMB: Are you someone who looks to the past then? Street photography is one of the most unfashionable forms of photography.

CP: No, not at all. You’re right that it’s unfashionable. But I don’t think there’s anything new under the sun - fashionable photography is often just the past repeated.

I take photos in what I think is one of the most interesting areas, in what can be the edgiest and freshest photography.

AMB: Tell us why you think this?

CP: I like the guerrilla and outlaw feel of it. I like the way it’s looked down on. I like the sharp and fresh stuff you get in the street that you’d never get in studio. I like the sharp presentation of life you get from the passing public and that you’d never get from a model.

AMB: Please tell us about your background in photography, your studies and previous work.

CP: I don’t have a background and have never studied it - well, studied taking photographs.

I did do a short photography course about twenty years ago, but it was nothing about the image - all developing and printing.

I’ve had an awareness of photography from my teens and I remember looking at a few, usually technical, photographic books - a long time ago.

I have watched a few programmes and borrowed a few books of photographs from a library - but again, all a long time ago.

The only book I had by a photographer, until a couple of years ago, was one by Weegee. So even though I wouldn’t have known what it was called, I did know that I liked street photography the most.

I did use film, both as a child for snapshots and about the time of that course for a few art type shots. But I hadn’t taken anything other than snapshots in years until I bought my first digital camera in 2004.

AMB: Do you remember what you shot when you took that course and what you do different now?

CP: Yeah - trees, gates, architectural features i.e. no people. The sort of stuff that you do when you haven’t decided to shoot strangers.

I remember then, although I did very little photography, that I would wait for passers-by to walk out of a shot. Now I want them in.

AMB: Do you ever use film?

CP: No.

AMB: Are there any rules you follow?

CP: I haven’t codified anything but I still follow a few:

Not from behind (unless exceptional); no posing or models, no asking permission; no set-up or contrived; natural light only; outside; get in close; include people and delete it if you doubt it.

Although I’ve probably broken most of these rules at least once.

AMB: 'Posed'  - how do you define?

CP: When the subject knows you’re there, even out of the corner of their eye - that’s usually bad, in my style.

AMB: Can you tell me about the moral aspects of your work?

CP: Few. I’m sure I’ll photograph someone dying in the street someday, but then only if my help wasn’t needed.

AMB: So what makes a good street photo?

CP: The best of it can capture an idiosyncratic moment that - I don’t just want to take a passing scene, too much passing life lacks aesthetic value, I want to take a photo of some sort of street vibe.

AMB: So you are capturing reality?

CP: Limited. You still use the tricks. The shot that is reported as a grimace when in fact it is was a smile in the process of being formed.

AMB: What techniques do you use after the shot?

CP: As little as possible. Turn to B&W. Maybe change the contrast and light and dark. No Photoshop or similar.

AMB: Why do you photograph?

CP:  I don’t know. I may have some artistic motive. I don’t entirely or overwhelmingly create an image like an artist may do. But I prefer it like this. It’s good to hack it around, reinvent the image but in my photos I like a relation to reality as a counterpoint to being subsumed under a sea of heavily manufactured images.

AMB: Why are you photographing now? Why not, say, 10 years ago?

CP: The digital camera, and software, have made the making of an image much more accessible to many people, including me - more affordable.

Anyone can have their own gallery on Flickr. Photonet, etc. Technology has levelled the playing field.

AMB: Do you have other artistic outlets?

CP:  I write quite a bit, under a pseudonym, some of it published - a lot of analysis or reporting or comment or reviews, also much work related stuff but some creative and artistic stuff as well.

AMB: Sometimes you make London look like Africa or India.

CP: Parts of London look like Africa. It's good. I’d find it hard to take photos in the suburbs.

AMB: How do you see yourself in relation to contemporary art photography - to your peers being exhibited here alongside you?

CP: Well my photography is clearly contemporary. As well as being taken now, it is also such that a fair bit of it couldn’t have been taken five or ten years ago, but I think (and hope) that it bears little relation to alot of  contemporary art photography. The bulk of that, I dislike it.

There’s a photo of an out of focus snail on top of a PC in the exhibition - and that’s it. There’s another of a young boy, sat bolt upright, with a glass of red liquid overflowing in front of him.

Both are taken very straight, very realistically - as you could see the image in real life. None are beautiful, intriguing, a snatch of real life (whether rare or commonplace) or are an arresting or a memorable image. They’re only unusual in a contrived way.

They’re representative of many photos in this exhibition and in many other photography shows.

And should have been deleted not developed.

AMB: This is because you haven’t taken cognisance of the objective of the photographer. Do you have knowledge of the intention of the image? Are you saying all shots must be ‘real’?

CP: No, an image can be anything - completely abstract. I rarely take abstract stuff but I still enjoy looking at interesting or memorable ones.

It wouldn’t have mattered whether I had read the blurb or not - the photographers statement about the image. A photo can be judged on what it is. It is presented, you judge. And in my view, they fail.

AMB: Clive Power, thank-you for talking to us.