I am excited to share with you all my first street photography guest blog interviewee, Sam Rodgers! I met Sam at this past year’s StreetFoto San Francisco through mutual photography friends and got a chance to roam the streets and shoot together. Sam was a finalist at StreetFoto, I am amazed at his body of work despite only been shooting street photography for a little over a year. On top of it all, Sam is a super cool guy. Below is the interview!
Hey Sam thanks for doing this. Can you start off by telling us a (brief) story on your background and how you first picked up a camera?
Hi Tim and thanks for inviting me. I first got into photography as an 18 year old when I took a year out to travel to India before entering the university. I took along a 35mm fixed lens camera which belonged to my Grandmother. This was in 1991 and we were travelling on a very tight budget so I was careful not to waste film.
Six months in India amounted to twelve rolls in total, although there were a lot more keepers because I would deliberate over each shot. When I got back I saved up and bought myself a secondhand Canon T70, they’d replaced the shutter speed dial with push buttons which made it feel high tech and minimal for all of five minutes, until I realized how much easier it is to twist a physical dial. I spent a couple of years taking pictures of London’s architecture with the occasional person shot, then my camera was swiped in a house burglary.
I was in med school at the time so life was fairly busy and didn’t get around to replacing it. Somehow twenty years went by, between training as a family doctor, meeting my wife and having kids I managed to forget how much I enjoy photography. I was working crazy hours in a difficult job last year when I had two epiphanies, that my life didn’t have to revolve around work, and that I had forgotten how to have fun. My response to the first was to resign and find a job that didn’t consume every waking hour. I resisted the urge to respond to the second by buying a sports car and behaving like a 20 year old, and bought myself a Fuji XPro2 instead. I read a couple of books on street photography after seeing the work of some London based street photographers and haven’t stopped pounding the pavements since.
What is it about Street photography that keeps you interested?
First up I like the absence of rules, if I want to focus on people I can, but I can also find abstract compositions, still life, whatever I feel like doing. Having had such long break from photography I still feel like a kid in a sweet shop, I enjoy experimenting with different styles and techniques.
Street photography is so portable too, you don’t need to lug around bags of lenses and tripods to get good results, a simple camera and an open mind goes a long way.
How do you go about street photography? Do you shoot on your lunch break, weekends, bring your camera everywhere?
I tend to carry my camera everywhere now as I can’t bear seeing something that would make a good shot only to realise I don’t have my camera. It was living in my bag but has now graduated to being slung over my shoulder after I missed a shot of an adult man entangled with a child’s scooter. That lets me take an ad hoc approach, on lunch breaks, or when I’m going out to pick up the kids. I also spend a half day every week solidly shooting street. I try to do this on the weekend as my hit-rate tends to be higher.
Is there anything you are looking in particular when you are out shooting, or are you more “Read and React”?
Its a mixture of both. I start by wandering and seeing what stands out to me, but if I’m struggling to see things will shift over to set myself specific goals.
What makes London unique to shoot?
There is a reservedness about Londoners which plays out well for street photographers. In the year since I started I have been challenged three times, when I started I thought there would be more confrontation.
The flip side of this is that people are polite about not wanting to spoil your photo, I often take my eye away from my camera to find a line of apologizing Londoners either side of where I was shooting. The light is pretty challenging, it can change quickly, we get a lot of overcast days which means I tend to rely more on composition or humor than on beautiful lighting.
Whose work do you admire?
It was seeing Matt Stuart’s work that piqued my interest in street photography and opened my eyes to the potential of our grey city. I also love Jack Simon’s work, theres a subtle surreal thread that runs through his work, and I like how he uses the whole frame to tell a story. The World Street Photography project has introduced me to some wonderful photographers – Jeff Chayne-Mouye, Gerry Orkin, Susana Freitas, Saman Ali, Jeffrey De Keyser, Antonio Ojeda, Vasco Trancoso and some guy called Tim Huynh all spring to mind but there are many more I could list.
How would you describe your street style or photographs?
Humour plays a part, its a trigger for me. I’m trying to rely on it less as there’s a danger that the whole picture ends up focused on the gag, and composition and story telling end up poor seconds. I love good light (because we get so little of it here). But I’m not sure I have my own style yet, being relatively new to street means I’m still enjoying trying out a range of styles.
If you can have one street photographer shoot your wedding who would it be?
After living in sin for 17 years we had a low key wedding because our accountant told us to! Our actual photographers were four feet tall – we gave cameras to our kids and told them to snap away. I loved looking back over the shots, seeing the whole thing from a child’s point of view was fascinating, they focused in on details that missed me completely. And because of their yoda like stature most adults weren’t aware they were being photographed so there were some great natural shots.
If we were going to do things properly then I would have to choose Kevin Mullins, he brings the candid style of street to wedding photography and is brilliant at capturing the interactions and emotions of people in a very natural style.
If you could shoot a particular style of a street photographer who would it be?
If I’m allowed to travel back in time to a particular era that the photographer was active in then I would have to say Joel Meyerowitz in 60s/70s NYC. Amazing photographer, city and era!
Any personal tips or advice on street photography?
Relax, enjoy and try stuff out, its advice to myself as well as I still feel inhibited at times and will avoid taking a shot. The one thing I wish someone had told me when I was starting is that its normal to get a very low number of keepers, don’t get frustrated or disappointed.