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blog | Gareth James | Photography London


20 Jun
Flares & Train Yards

Find a derelict train yard in London, get some SOS Marine Flares, then swing them about in front of a camera. The following set of photos does exactly just that. All the ‘swinging’ is done by a good friend Nils Lovenberry

Find a derelict train yard in London, get some SOS Marine Flares, then swing them about in front of a camera. The following set of photos does exactly just that. All the ‘swinging’ is done by a good friend Nils Lovenberry

07 Jun
Gareth James – Full Interview (Laissez Faire London)

1. Where did you get the inspiration to snap life as it happens; capturing spontaneity; without preparing the subjects matter or even asking their permission?

I guess when I really started concentrating on street photography in 2008, the best rule I could ever live by was to have my camera on me every day. Leaving the house every morning with the G9 round my neck, I’d go through weeks where I’d take about 60/70 photos every day. I’d get photos on the way to the tube in the mornings, on my lunch breaks, then take long detours on my way home to cram in even more. I’d obviously do a lot of filtering on the camera throughout the day, but even if I got 1 good shot in a day it was worth it. Having my camera on me at all times as part of my everyday checklist meant that I could catch all the candid spontaneous things that happen on a daily basis in central London.

I would have days where I’d see some crazy stuff kicking off in town and I’d slap myself for not having my camera on me, so I’d always just make a habit of keeping it in my pocket at all times.

2. That crocodile with its head just chopped off in Amazonia, Peru, is priceless – did you try a bit of the poor croc later?

Yeah, that shot was taken at the Belen Street Market in Iquitos, Peru. This is a crazy jungle market just off the Amazon river where a lot of the indigenous village people gather each day to buy and sell fruit, veg and meat.

There’s a relatively steady stream of tourism in Iquitos consisting mainly of white westerners going to try Ayahuasca in its original and most natural setting, but I went a little off peak to Iquitos and after nearly dying on the plane over there (dropping out of the sky in tropical thunderstorms and bailing landings) I took a walk round this market and it was something else…

We’re so far away from food like this with our perfect plastic packed chicken breasts and our clean shiny fruit so it’s all a little overwhelming at first, but this is how life is in the jungle and I tried my best to capture the life there without being too obtrusive or playing the cliche of the rich westerner taking pictures of the poorer village life.

But to get back to the question, no………..I didn’t try the croc! I’ll always try to get involved, but even that was a bit much for me!

3. Your photos are, shall we say, very interesting. I believe that a persons art reflects their personality. So you’re a well travelled and cultured man, who’s a bit of a voyeur, that likes hanging out in deserted train tunnels, and intrigued with exotic creatures – am I close? Please expand …

You’re definitely not far off the mark. My problem is that I’ve got too many interests for my own good. My pride and joy is probably my book shelf. I must have well over 200 books up there now ranging from hippy 60’s psychedelic literature and the use of entheogenic plants in shamanic societies to all the great beat generation authors through to poetry, philosophy and any other esoteric literature I can get my hands on.

I’m similar in my photography interests, and I like a lot of different types of photography including street, travel, documentary, fine art and advertising. Although I’m very conscious at this stage that I need to concentrate on one area and specialise rather than spreading myself too thinly over a wider range of disciplines.

More recently I’ve gotten into the whole ‘urbex’ thing, and in case you haven’t heard of the term ‘urbex’, It’s short for Urban Exploring, and it basically means you run around derelict and unused buildings (abandoned mental asylums and power stations) taking photos and hiding from security guards that aren’t really looking for you. It’s a funny little sub-culture and the demographic of ‘urban explorers’ is certainly swayed more towards the geekier side of the photographic community, but I can’t deny it is a good bit of fun.

Although I’ve definitely come to the realisation now that I’m more in it for the buzz of getting into places that I shouldn’t be rather than doing it for any photographic purposes. I’ve got a couple of mates who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and a Tuesday evening can be much more interesting trying to get to the top of Battersea Powerstation rather than a cup of tea and Eastenders.

4. How much re-touching did you do afterwards?

All my photos on the website go through a sweep on Lightroom and Photoshop. I’ve got no qualms about admitting that I post process my images. I think you have to these days if you want them to have an edge.

I’m trying to get to the stage where my images don’t shout out that they’ve been overly processed. Subtlety is the key for me although I remain adamant that it is essential to make your photos stand out that extra bit as opposed to taking them straight off the memory card and onto print.

I won’t go mad but cropping and adjusting the levels and curves is always something I will do, and I’m also a fan of using the high pass filter in Photoshop to sharpen up certain portions of the image.

5. Your shots seem takes place in a South America / South Asia. Why do you find these countries interesting?

I guess growing up in England all my life, I really wanted to go somewhere where the culture was very different from my own.

I wanted to experience all the sights, sounds, smells and people from these fascinating countries that I’d only read about and South America and Asia are fantastically different from England.

6. Which countries have you been to and which is others would you look forward to going?

I only moved to London in 2004, but I started in the daily rat race from the onset. I think I managed almost 4 years before I couldn’t handle it any more. I was very conscious that I was living on this fantastic planet yet I was sitting in a drab office, in front of a box of lights on a desk, moving a mouse around and clicking on things that meant nothing to me – every day.

I certainly didn’t feel like I was living each day like it was my last, so I put my life savings into a plan of travelling and I literally stuck pins in everywhere in the world I wanted to visit and planned a trip around it all.

I think once you spend time travelling you realise that even through you can be away for a year or more, you’ve only really scratched the surface of the planet, and although I’ve spend a good bit of time travelling across Europe, South America, Australasia and some of South East Asia, I could go back to all these continents again and visit all the places I couldn’t get to first time round.

The next route for me would be to fly to Beijing, travel across china into Tibet, then up over the Himalayas via Everest Base Camp, down into Nepal, then down again into Northern India. This section was in the initial plan but we had to cancel this portion and come home as we had some family who were very sick.

There aren’t many places left in the world that haven’t succumb to westernisation or capitalist systems, and difficult as it is to get into Tibet, It’s a country that I’m very fond of and will definitely get to one day.

7. Being a Londoner myself, I really admire the way you’ve captured London Streets 2009 and the Notting Hill Carnival in 2010 – do you think that people are happier in London or in some of the other so-called developing countries you’ve been to, such as Peru or Java?

Unfortunately we live in a world that’s riddled with struggles for money and power, and when the majority of the worlds money is owned by a fractional percent of people, there will always be poverty and inequality.

Every society around the world has its struggles, obviously some more than others, although saying this, it’s definitely true that you can find happiness pretty much anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter which walk of life you are from, you can find compassion and happiness in the most desperate of places. I find it’s usually always the children and the innocence that surrounds them that brings smiles to faces no matter where you are in the world.

For the entire time I was away I was always conscious of how lucky I was to have the opportunity I had to travel. But the reality was it was only because of the imbalances between the monetary systems in the countries that I visited that made my pounds stronger than another mans Bolivianos.

It’s an embarrassing situation to be in when you have an amazonian jungle guide asking you to help him fund a business idea that he’s been dreaming of for his whole life, and having to tell him that although I’m rich enough to travel through his country, I’m really no rich man.

8. What do think about the global economic imbalances?

The sad but real truth is that as long as we live in a world governed by monetary capitalist systems, it’s inevitable there will be imbalances.

Jacque Fresco who created the Venus Project concept has the right idea and we really have to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

Religion aside; money, power and the greed for both are the fundamental causes of all the problems we have in the world today and until we move away from the concept of needing to earn money just to live and to buy things that were conditioned to think we need, there is no way out.

The most crazy thing to me above everything else in the world is that we actually have people starving for food and dying in some countries, at the same time we have people hospitalised for obesity in others.

We HAVE the food, we HAVE the technology, we even have the compassion to put a stop to all of this, but because certain countries don’t have the ‘money’ to provide basic food and facilities, people die.

Another sad but real truth is that you can bet if these were white European countries that were starving for the most basic of human needs, food, it would be a completely different story, yet we let Africa suffer.

That this is still happening at this day in age is frankly shocking and the worst part is – I have to try to explain all this to my children…“I’m sorry son but there is this thing we invented and called money. It’s not a natural or material thing, it’s just something we invented but your life in our society doesn’t have a purpose or stand a chance without it”.

9. Which location did you use to get those awesome photos of the London skyline at night, or is this a trade secret?

Ah, that was the result of a little adventure a friend and I went on one evening. It’s an out of use tower block along the south-bank and it was completely abandoned while development or demolition was on the cards.

Some pictures did the rounds on the internet and we worked out roughly where it must have been and found it one evening. After crawling around the foundations for about an hour and deciding whether or not to cut alarm wires before wrenching open doors, we found our way up a fire escape and all the way to the top. Once we made it out onto the roof, we were given the best view of London I’ve ever had – and it was completely free 😉

I went up about 4 times in the end and every time I’d get to the top there would be about 5 other photographers up there doing exactly the same thing. It was a bit of a joke in the end the amount of people you used to see up there and I even saw pictures of full blown party’s taking place inside some of the top floors.

You’ve always gotta kind of keep these things under wraps, but you can almost tell where the spot is from the photos.

10. Briefly explain the techniques you use, or are experimenting with in your shots?

I’d say my street photography style is classic black & white, but what I really love taking photos of are people. I try to find the real characters in the streets, I’m not looking for someone who’s just stepped out of H&M who’s following the system and rushing to get somewhere deluded by a vale of pointless urgency.

I’m looking for the real characters of the streets, the people with a story to tell, people with character and people who give our city the diversity we don’t always appreciate.

Once I spot someone, its then just a case of homing in and getting as close as physically possible without them noticing what I’m actually doing, then pulling off a shot and moving on quickly.

You’ll notice that most of the characters in my photos aren’t looking at the camera and don’t notice that their photo is being taken, and that’s what give them a more natural candid feel. Bruce Gilden who shoots for Magnum is probably the king of getting in peoples faces, but I come quite close.

11. Who are your biggest influences?

I mentioned before that I’ve got too many interests and influences, but for black and white street and travel shots, I have to give a shout to another Brixton based photographer called Alexander Bartsch. His black and white shots are something else and people should check him out. Boogie is also another great NY based photographer on a similar tipp.

I also love photographers like Nick Meek and his use of colour in his personal and advertising work. He always manages to achieve lovely washed out looks in his images and I’d love to get to a similar level. Similarly Matthew Turley and Christian Schmidt never fail to produce an amazingly coloured epic outdoors scene.

12. A lot of readers have asked me how to get that blurry background effect (as if time is whizzing by), with the central subject crystal clear – as if I knew anything about photography – can you explain how one can achieve that result?

Yeah that’s called panning and its always a slight game of luck if you only have one chance at the shot.

The basic idea is that you select a slightly slower shutter speed than needed for the light conditions and you follow or ‘pan’ the camera with the subject while pressing the shutter release. It’s always a bit hit and miss and you need a few go’s to get something perfect.

If you have a camera with an AI Servo focus function or something similar, it should be a little easier to keep the focus on the subject while its moving. It’s definitely a case of trial and error to get it right, but it definitely adds a nice bit of dynamism to action shots.

13. Everyone has something they need improve on – what’s yours (talking about photography here)?

For me now, it’s just practice, practice, practice. Keep trying new and different things with the camera and keep improving my post processing and push to achieve a style that doesn’t look overly worked. I don’t have enough portraits in my portfolio, and at the moment I’m enjoying doing close-up but crystal clear head and shoulders shots, so I’ll definitely concentrate on this for the time being.

Other than that, I also have some longer ongoing projects that I’m hoping to work on throughout the year, I have a couple of interesting themes for photo essays / collections that I’ve got in mind, so hopefully you will all see the fruits of that labour later in the year.

14. What camera do you use?

I use my trusty Canon G9 for all my street and travel photos. It’s a great little manual compact camera that shoots in RAW. It fits in my pocket and comes out with me most of the time. It’s also much less obtrusive than a DSLR, so it allows me to get very close to people on the street whilst pulling off a shot with a good level of quality.

I do also have a Canon 5D Mk2 with the kit 24-105 lens. This is such a great camera and never fails to impress me when I get the photos onto the computer. It’s a lot of money but I’m so happy with it and the results I get from it. This camera will stay with me for a very long time.

15. How did you start getting into photography?

If someone would have asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up at school, I probably would have said I wanted to be a sports photographer.

I always wanted to be ringside at a big fight or by the goal line at a big football match. I remember convincing my dad that “It wasn’t just another faze” and that I really ‘needed’ an SLR, and I remember the first camera he got me was a Centon DF-300.

My dad wasn’t one for splashing out so no one will have heard of this, but it was cool for me and I used to run around taking photos of everything round the house and garden. Then school took over, then it was college, then all the other vices in life got in the way and I put the photography on hold while I tried out a million other hobbies.

It’s only really been the past 3 years that I’ve really got back into taking photos again, and now I’m so happy and active with it that I’m really looking to see if I can make this work full time.

16. What’s lies in the horizon for you Gareth?

Man, who knows what the future holds, but I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing with the photography and continue to work on personal projects that are interesting to me.

My dream is obviously to slide into this full time, but I also need to stay realistic and know that it’s not going to happen overnight. I’m aware that I’m still very much an amateur, so I’m just going to keep up the pro activity and put the hours in to improve.

17. What’s your day job – if you have one?

Unfortunately I’m not yet lucky enough to pay my bills with my passion, so I do have a day job. I’ve got a background in web design / development and I work for Sony Playstation and manage a small team of 5 who work on all the marketing websites for the games that get released each year.

It’s actually a really cool job and I’m really happy there. The gaming industry now outsells the film and music industry combined and we get to work on some massive titles so it keeps me busy and interested.

18. What other artistic pleasures do you delve in?

I’ve tried my hand at so many things now….I was a scratch DJ for a few years until I had to sell my 1200’s due to debt.

I got involved with music production for a couple of years and had a couple of great mentors to steer me in the right directions, and also being a big fan of literature, I tried my hand at writing and had a great little website called ‘ThinkersCorner’ that I used to run with a good friend (who has now gone on to publish 7 books) Anthony Anaxagorou.

But the one habit I really can’t shake is graffiti. It’s like an addiction that I can’t get away from. I look at graffiti on a daily basis and I love the whole sub-culture that surrounds it.

I draw/doodle/sketch a fair bit and it’s a pleasure I tried and failed at as a teenager. Getting caught a couple of times made me think twice and I really didn’t want it to be ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ so I put it all on hold and setup a website called ‘KriminalYouth’ and got people all over the country to send me their photos instead. I’m really gonna make an effort to start painting again this year so watch this space.

19. How old are you?

I’m 29 year old left-handed Aquarius (like all the best people are).

20. How many joints did you smoke in Brazil?

Ha, the weed smoking days are kind of over for me now, but I can tell you I was on the caipirinha’s on a daily basis! Hanging out on the streets in Lapa, Rio with a caipirinha brings back the best memory’s of Brazil.

21.Photography is an awkward business to get into, and get paid too. So now I must ask the age-old question: What does a young person looking to break into the business need to do to realize his goals?

I always used to tell people you needed to be 1 of 3 things to make it in any creative industry.

1 – Luck, right place, right time.
2 – Knowing the right people in the right places.
3 – You were born a creative prodigy.

I still think these rules still stand true. Chance encounters can lead to exciting opportunities, and it only takes a conversation with the right person to start off a chain of events that could lead to you working on something really interesting.

Knowing the right people and hanging in the right circles can also lead to opportunities. I’m sure if your uncle was Rankin, some opportunities would come your way.

And then there are the people who are just born to be creative, and they will always succeed.

But the 4th new point I would add is that if you have something good to show the world – shout about it! Use social media to your advantage. You can’t just sit there and expect people to find your portfolio these days, you need to push it in peoples faces and contact people directly to make things happen.

Me – I’m just going to stick to the things that interest me and stay pro-active. In the words of JayZ on his first album: “You let you’re sh*t bubble quiet, and then you blow”.

22. What do you think makes a good photographer in this day and age?

It’s the hardest thing in the world to do these days, but you need to be original. You have to make yourself stand out from everyone else with their digital cameras and Flickr accounts.

Even though everyone thinks they’re a photographer these days and it’s become so accessible through digital, I’m not overly worried because there are only a small percentage of people who are really original with it.

Obviously photography and art is subjective, and a good photograph to one person, may not catch the eye of another, but I think the main thing for me is that every picture can tell a story and can stand alone either in a collection or as its own piece.

There are a lot of fine art photographers these days that will put a very obscure collection of blurred images together and its deemed as art and highly praised, but if you were to take one of these photos out of its collection, set and setting, would it tell the same story and generate the same respect?


1. Where did you get the inspiration to snap life as it happens; capturing spontaneity; without preparing the subjects matter or even asking their permission? I guess when I really started concentrating on street photography in 2008, the best rule I could ever live by was to have my camera on me every day. Leaving

31 Mar
La Paz, Bolivia

Back to the travel archives this week with some characters from the streets of La Paz, Bolivia.

Back to the travel archives this week with some characters from the streets of La Paz, Bolivia.

30 Mar
London Street Photography 2011 (Bird Lady)

Stumbled on a couple called ‘Belle & Dave’ a few weeks back who were feeding the seaguls along the Thames close to Vauxhall. It turns out they do this every single day without fail, and even have a youtube channel with a whole bunch of videos of them feeding the guls to music! You’ve gotta love the streets characters like this, they absolutely loved it.

Stumbled on a couple called ‘Belle & Dave’ a few weeks back who were feeding the seaguls along the Thames close to Vauxhall. It turns out they do this every single day without fail, and even have a youtube channel with a whole bunch of videos of them feeding the guls to music! You’ve gotta