Interview with PhoS Athens Series Winner Streetmax21

Interview with PhoS Athens Series Winner Streetmax21

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OldBailey030717 Streetmax21 interview cover

PhoS Athens 2017 – A free street photography festival in Athens in November 2017

We’re continuing the countdown to the PhoS Athens street photography event – a free street photography event taking place in Athens between the 10th and 12th November 2017 which is helping to organise! Last week we brought you the announcement of the official programme for the PhoS street photography festival, which will include presentations, portfolio reviews, workshops, photowalks, exhibitions, and more! As well as all these events, one of the most hotly anticipated aspects of PhoS Athens has been the street photography photo contests held in the run-up to the festival. Read on for more…

PhoS Athens Street Photography Contests

In preparation for the launch of PhoS Athens, the organisers ran two street photography contests over the summer – a ‘Singles’ street photography photo contest and a ‘Series’ street photography photo project contest. Each contest was decided by a public vote and a judge vote, with the judging panel made up of the some of the top street photography names from around the world, including Chris Suspect, Alex Coghe, Zisis Kardianos, Dora Lavazou, Michelle Chan, Martin U Waltz, Andreas Neophytou, and more, as well as the editorial team! The standard of entries was incredibly high, and we all had a really tough time voting for our favourite street photos and eventually picking our winners. For the Singles contest, the winner of both the First Jury Prize and the Public Prize was Weslei Barba. The Second Jury Prize was awarded to Juergen Buergin, and the Runners Up Public Prize went to ​Bassam Ihab. You can check out all the shots from these three street photographers over on the winners page of the official PhoS Athens site! And now, onto the Series contest…

PhoS Athens Street Photography Series Contest Public Prize Winner & Runner Up

Emre Akdogan PhoS Series prize
A shot from “Mama, I had a bad dream..” series by Emre Akdogan, PhoS Athens Series 1st Runner Up Public Prize

We all had a great time enjoying the creative photo projects talented street photographers from around the world put together and submitted. And, after much debate and deliberation from the public and our judging panel, we were finally able to come to a consensus. The Istanbul based street photographer Emre Akdogan received the Runners Up Public Prize for his ethereal project featuring children titled ‘Mama, I had a bad dream..’ which the judges noted displayed “strong emotions and consistent visual language and subject”, well done Emre! The Second Place Jury Prize and Overall Winner of the Public Prize was awarded to  Szilvia Mucsy from Budapest, Hungary, for her project ‘Palm, Sea, Land’, a lyrical study of the Mediterranean coastline. Our judges felt Szilvia was able to “convey a perfect sense of the place” and that “mood and feel is consistent throughout the series”. Great work Szilvia! Which left only the final prize to award – that of the First Jury Prize for the Photo Series

Szilvia Mucsy PhoS Singles 2nd Prize
A photo from from the “Palm, Sea, Land” series by Szilvia Mucsy, PhoS Athens Series 2nd Jury Series Prize and Public Prize Winner

Streetmax21 – Winner of the PhoS Athens Street Photography Series

Walbrook030817 by Streetmax21
‘Walbrook030817’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

In the end there was one particular series that really captured our collective imaginations and remained at the forefront of our minds. A series which was described variously as “quintessentially ‘street” and “pure street photography” whilst at the same time being “contemporary and fresh”, “static and dynamic, and weirdly surreal”. This series was “technically demanding and very well executed”, demonstrating a great use of colour as well as superb layering. That series was ‘050310-030817’ by the British street photographer Streetmax21! Well done Streetmax! As well as having his winning series of street photos shown at a personal exhibition at Booze Cooperativa OVERVIEW-ikon in Kolokotroni street, Athens from 10th-24th November, Streetmax21 has also given an exclusive interview to to discuss his winning street photography series project. So dive into the interview below and enjoy Streetmax’s winning photos!

Exclusive Interview with PhoS Series Contest Winner Streetmax21

Streetmax21 PhoS contest winner
Streetmax21, winner of the PhoS Athens street photography Series contest
  1. Firstly, congratulations on being awarded the 2017 PHoS Athens Series prize by our panel of judges! We’d like to talk about your winning series a little later on, but by way of introduction, can you give us a short biography about you? Where are you from, and where do you call home?

I was born in Dundee, Scotland, but most of my adult life has been spent in London. I lived in and around the City of London for nearly twenty years. I shuttle now between London and Norfolk, which I regard as home, having moved there four years ago. I’m a part owner of a small food business although I still occasionally shoot architecture for clients.

  1. We notice you have a background in architectural photography and press photography. How long have you been practicing street photography, and what got you interested in the genre in the first place?
Paternoster050310 Streetmax21
‘Paternoster050310’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

My interest in street photography came about as much by accident as by design. I bought my first DSLR in late 2009 primarily to facilitate the shooting of small architectural details. Although the lack of colour depth was disappointing, I found the portability of the DSLR liberating after rail cameras, and the fact there were no film and processing costs only increased the potential for trial and error. I could use the camera recreationally therefore rather than just for work. To begin with, I’d fire off at anything that interested me, but, feeling my way, settled down to photograph “situations” where I could choreograph figures across the frame. When I shot Paternoster050310 I didn’t fully appreciate the value of having clear channels between the viewer and each figure in its entirety. I sat on this shot for three years. Only when I gauged the reaction on submitting it to the UrbanPicnic website in 2013 did I realise that this might be the way to go. I would say I’ve been practicing street photography in the four years since.

  1. Is street photography your main photographic creative outlet now, or do you focus on other things too?

With the exception of a few large format clients and the visual work I do for my business, it is my main outlet, yes.

  1. Can you describe any of your influences? Studying a lot of your work there is a very distinct and clear focus on layers. Has this been driven by studying the work of someone like Alex Webb perhaps? Or do your influences come from further afield, perhaps from film, or painters?
Leadenhall091115 Streetmax21
‘Leadenhall091115’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

My influences have been many and varied: To mention a few, I often come back to Poussin, Jacques-Louis David, Muybridge, conceptual artists, in particular Roman Opalka, Hanne Darboven, Sol LeWitt and On Kawara. Musically, I like JSBach and Steve Reich. Composition and structure are key. I look for things that have strength, quality and intelligence and I admire good technique. In photography, Tony Ray Jones was clearly pivotal and Gus Powell, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Melanie Manchot are interesting. Joseph Conrad is perhaps the writer I most admire. You’re on your own with Conrad!

  1. A lot of your work appears to have been shot in London. Is this your preferred street photography location, and if so, why?
Lime(5)150615 Streetmax21
‘Lime(5)150615’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

I’ve spent the largest part of my working life in London and around The City in particular. It follows then that it should form the cornerstone of my creative output. The City of London is the richest borough in the world and yet it is surrounded by some of the poorest boroughs in Europe. Some streets in The City still retain their Roman footprint, but house an array of architecture dating from Wren and Lutyens through to Nouvel and Foster. I wouldn’t say it was my preferred location however. It’s the one I’m most familiar with but I apply the same approach and style elsewhere.

  1. We were hugely impressed by your winning series of photos ‘050310-030817’. All of the shots were tightly connected together, and displayed great technical skill. Managing to fit so many subjects into the frame, make them appear dynamic, whilst ensuring none of them overlapped as layers is no mean feat! Would you be able to share any insights into your technique? Did you opt for speed and full auto modes, or manual and meticulous shutter timing?
Philpot220814 Streetmax21
‘Philpot220814’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

I use manual with an auto ISO of between 200 and 800. I rarely open wider than f4.5 and I need a speed of at least 1/400sec to freeze movement. I rarely shoot with my eye to the viewfinder. I may initially survey a scene through it, but more often than not I’ll lower the camera to chin or below chest height. My only guidance then will be the spirit level mounted on the camera shoe. I need to see what’s going on and anticipate what’s likely to happen without the encumbrance of looking through the camera. I tend to wait rather than hunt although I do get shots on the hoof too; ‘Paternoster050310’ and ‘Philpot220814’ were shot in this way.

Bread040417 Streetmax21
‘Bread040417’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

It may be that to begin with, if there is one figure or two or more figures who are positioned apart, I’ll wait until they’re joined by others in the hope that they’ll create a spatial and enigmatic dialogue. In ‘Bread160216’ the figure second from left stood stock still for five minutes affording me time to get the other assembled figures into the shot. Often these isolated figures don’t have to be interesting in themselves, so long as they create a narrative tension with others. It’s important that there is an element of movement from the figures. Everything must appear to be changing and in flux at the same time as retaining a spatial integrity. In the main, these shots are very difficult to do and require a huge amount of patience, concentration and luck.

  1. Another impressive aspect of your series was the excellent use of background – in this case architecture – and the way your subjects interacted with it, or at least looked very at home there. You really seemed to have your finger on the pulse of London. Was this awareness of architecture and background informed by your previous work as an architectural photographer? Did you carefully scout out your shooting locations beforehand?
DukesHead180416 Streetmax21
‘DukesHead180416’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

I’ve taken many architectural shots inside and outside buildings in London, but I wouldn’t say my previous work as an architectural photographer has any real bearing on what I do now. I already knew my way around London quite well. My images vary in location, situation and dynamic intensity, and I would hope the architectural backgrounds lend a somewhat unreal texture. I try to choose backgrounds against which I can display separated figures, distributing or choreographing them across the frame. I might refer the spatial rhythm of a grouping of figures to the architecture around or behind them but usually the architecture remains a non-referential space, incidental to a scene or situation that may or may not evolve within it. I’m inclined to look also for places where people pass through without congregating.

  1. Your series contains an interesting mix of shots with flashes of colour and those with more muted tones overall. This demonstrates a nice documentary style, as the photos have a very ‘London’ and particularly ‘The City’ feel, as anyone who is familiar with the place (and the UK as a whole) will testify – there’s a lot of grey muted colours! A lot of your series photos would almost work as well in black and white. So, have you always shot in colour? Do you plan on experimenting with black and white in the future?
Leadenhall091115 Streetmax21
‘Leadenhall091115’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

I haven’t shot in black and white for many years, although I rule nothing out. The images I’m making are more powerful when seen together rather than as singles. I have a sufficient amount of them now to allow me to scan across and consider what elements would make useful additions when next shooting. It may be something as simple as finding the colour red or a shot taken from height, someone running or someone on a bike. It’s by adding to the language in this incremental way that I progress the work and hopefully make it layered and content rich. There’s a tendency in photography to refer to layers as sets of elements that lead the eye across focal planes in an image. I prefer to define layers as being layers of meaning across a body of work.

  1. We see the title of the series is ‘050310-030817’. Is there any special significance attributed to this? The numbers look like they refer to dates. Has this series project really been almost seven years in the making?

The title of the series refers chronologically to the first and last images within it (‘Paternoster050310Walbrook030817’). Similarly, the series I entered for the LensCulture Street Photography Awards, which contained some different images, had the title ‘050310-030717’. I title all my images by the name of the street where I took the shot – wherever it may be in the world – immediately followed by the six digit DDMMYY date, not the American MMDDYY. Both these series therefore were seven years in the making.

  1. We’d like to know a little about the equipment you shoot with. Does this choice of camera and focal length influence your shooting style, and if so, how?
OldBailey030717 Streetmax21
‘OldBailey030717’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

I use two cameras: predominantly a Fuji x100s which is a fixed lens rangefinder, and a Nikon D700 DSLR when I want something wider angle (24mm) or zoomed (35-70mm, 80-200mm). Unlike a lot of street photographers who use a wide angle lens for closer work, I see it as a means to widen the stage for greater scale.

  1. It’s interesting how the subjects in your series aren’t actually interacting with one another – they are all rather isolated and very much in their own individual worlds. Many of them also look like office workers. It some ways there’s an interesting parallel to be drawn here with L.S. Lowry’s painting ‘Going to Work’. Did you intend this series to be a social commentary on modern working life in the UK in any way?
Going to Work L.S. Lowry
‘Going to Work’ (1943) by L.S. Lowry

Using the figure in the way I do could be deemed a political act, but I don’t make overt political or social commentary. I take an observational view of how our present circumstances govern our behaviour individually and in crowds. Progressively, we appear to connect with each other only on a synthetic basis. We attempt to mass connect with the aid of modern technology, but in so doing pay less attention to individual connection. I think this is compounded by the increasingly designed environment we inhabit. The codes we see, hear and read within it impact upon our behavioural processes and ultimately isolate us. Presently, I try to keep this idea uppermost in my work. Setting out non-overlapping figures could be construed as a form of visual hyperbole, but I do it to emphasise the Conradian trope that one really is on one’s own in life. The phrase from Heart of Darkness, “The horror! the horror!” is something we have to interpret for ourselves. People have described the figures in my work as looking like replicants, which is a little strong. I prefer cyphers. Their isolation from each other helps to emphasise an unreal and robotic formality.

  1. This series appears to fit into a wider body of your work. Is this part of a large project? Or do each of these similarly styled photos all fit into several smaller projects?

I don’t make “projects” per se, being more concerned with continuity. I expect that in time this body of work or archive will progress organically and in effect suggest its own “projects” inherently. In future, it may be feasible to make a series of any number of images titled, for instance, ‘010118-010120’, provided the images selected lock in a unifying aesthetic or take on similar linguistic concerns. Like amoebas, they could be assembled or dismantled according to how well they describe our human condition or “the way we are now”.

  1. What’s next for you? Are you moving towards a different project? Or perhaps aiming to shoot in a different location or country? Or apply this style and focus to other types of characters – perhaps groups of tourists or holidaymakers?
Milk010316 Streetmax21
‘Milk010316’ from the series ‘050310-030817’ by Streetmax21

For now, I’m going to keep on keeping on. That said, I do have a clear idea of where I want to take the work which I intend to keep rooted in street photography. I just hope I’ll be able to find the time to develop it. I lead a busy life!


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