TPW Photographers Interview Series #77
English Photographer based in, London, England, Street, Portrait & Travel: Nick Fleming
1) What Photobooks are you currently looking at ?
When I was at college many years ago doing a photojournalism course here in London I used to look at many photo books. Part of the syllabus was to study some of the great photojournalists and their work. We were encouraged to look at as many different styles as possible with particular regard to the way photo stories are put together on a printed page. However, I don’t look at photo books quite so much now. Though I am always interested in looking at photographer’s work mainly through websites. Nevertheless, currently stacked on my desk are Elliot Erwitt ‘Personal Best’, a selection of photo essays by Eugene Smith, Raghubir Singh’s ‘River of Colour’ and Steve McCurry’s Monsoon.
2) What was the last truly inspiring Photobook you saw ?
The Earth From The Air by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Although it was first published in 1999 and the idea has been copied many times it still remains the classic book of its type. As the photographer himself says “when we look at the earth we know ourselves better.”He is a photographer who truly cares about the future of our planet and his images reflect that. It is not an art for art’s sake compilation but a timeless monument to the beauty, diversity and fragility of the Earth. In the same vein the epic work of Sebastiao Salgado, particularly his books “Genesis” and “Workers,” is impressive for its sheer scale, breadth and vision. His black and white images are like biblical evocations of life and a colossal testament to the people and animals that inhabit the world. He is surely one of the giants of contemporary documentary photography.
3) Give us the name of your favorite overlooked or underappreciated Photographer ?
Paul Strand especially his work on the Scottish Hebridean Islands which was first published over fifty years ago. He was an American photographer who bought great sensitivity and thoughtfulness to his subject and managed to convey the Islanders in all their unique gentle simplicity.
4) What are your photographic guilty pleasures? Do you have a favourite genre/style ?
I don’t really have any it’s as simple as that. Guilt is not a sentiment that for me comes from looking at photo books.However, if pushed the closest I can think of is the experience I feel from the series of photographs by Peter Dench entitled “The English Uncensored”. As an Englishman I feel it is not a document that captures our finest hour. It is a warts and all look at the English and the their seemingly bizarre and outrageous behaviour encouraged and fortified by alcohol. It is a far cry from some perceptions that England is a green and pleasant land. His follow up piece to that series is his look at the British abroad which is equally toe curlingly uncomfortable to look at.
5) If we came to your studio what would we see ?
I don’t have a studio. If I need studio facilities there are many in central London I can hire.
6) What’s the best Photobook on (Your nationality) Photography you’ve ever read ?
‘England My England’ by Chris Steele-Perkins. A wry, perceptive and beautifully photographed book
7) What subject other than photography, are you interested in ? That nevertheless informs your work ?
I am interested in what is going on in the world so politics and current affairs and keeping up to date with the news not just nationally but internationally is important to me. I am also interested in matters of faith and spirituality. For example I am going to see a film on the life of Paramahansa Yogananda in a couple of weeks. I read a lot as well from classic literature, travel books and history. I also like to read around a subject or country that interests me so I read a lot of books, periodicals and articles on India for instance. I also keep an eye on what’s happening locally in London in general and my immediate neighbourhood as well. As a photographer I feel it is important to know what’s going on around you sometimes the most interesting things are occurring on your doorstep.
8) What was the last Photobook that made you happy ?
It would be pushing it somewhat to suggest a photo book has made me happy. My sources of happiness come from elsewhere. For instance, photographing out in the field and watching a scene or moment come together in an unexpected way is on occasions an inspiring and truly uplifting experience for me. Encapsulating that in a fraction of a second makes me happy. In my experience photo books are capable of inspiring ideas, of educating and informing but do they make you truly happy?
9) What was the last Photobook that made you sad ?
Photo books don’t make me sad either.
10) What kind of person were you as a child? And what were your favorite childhood memories, which made you a photographer? how have you grown over the years what has changed what remained the same ?
My interest in photography grew out of my interest in the world. It was not something that I remember being particularly attracted to as a youngster. I would always read the colour supplements that came with the newspapers on aSunday and admire the reportage photos from war torn places like Vietnam and Lebanon. I came to love photography relatively quite late on. I had a career in something unrelated for a number of years before I made the switch to become a full time photographer. I gradually realised that with a camera in my hand I had a reason to be in a place. The camera allows me to linger, to observe and to immerse myself in a situation. I feel photography has expanded my knowledge of people and their behaviour hugely. It has given me experiences that have helped me grow as a person and has shaped my outlook on the world and life in general. An experienced photographer came to give us a final talk in the last few weeks of my photojournalism course and said something which I have never forgotten, “photograph what interests you above all because if it does not excite you it certainly won’t excite anybody else”.
11) Whom do you consider your Photographic Masters? Do you believe in mastery ?
I look first to master artists from the past like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Turner and the Impressionists rather than photographers. There are many great photographic masters past and present as well though that I admire, perhaps too many to mention. Mastery is something we all aspire to and is why I pick up my cameras every day. We can all be lucky on occasions but to be consistently good or even brilliant is another matter altogether.
12) Which Photographers have had the most impact on you as a Photographer ? Is there a particular Photo that made you want to be a Photographer? Please upload an image to justify your statement ?
My photography tutor at college was Patrick Sutherland who came from the old school of black and white reportage. His methods and work ethic certainly influenced me when I was starting to take photography more seriously. He encouraged his students to spend time building a body of work and to return to situations in order to capture that seemingly elusive moment that was central to the story. He taught us never to be satisfied but to continually strive to improve. There wasn’t a particular photo that made me want to be a photographer but the work of the press and documentary photographer Bert Hardy, whose work was published in Picture Post, was an inspiration. His black and white photos are documents of a bye gone age and full of timeless sentiments and honest to goodness humanity. As well as being beautifully crafted and composed. Those photos made me realise the importance of photography as an historical record and a legacy of personal experiences.
Two Canon EOS1D mk111 cameras and lenses, a16-35mm, 50mm and an 80mm and a light meter. No filters and I generally rely on available light. Very simple really. I use Lightroom to organise and archive my images.
14) Do you have any regrets with regards to your photography especially when starting out. What would you do differently ?
My only regret is that I wish I had started a bit earlier. However, the skills and experience I acquired before I became a full time photographer have proved to be invaluable to me.
15) In your genre style of work, what are the challenges/opportunities to your business. How do you envision yourself 5 years from now ?
In 5 years time I hope to be doing much the same as I am now. I would perhaps like to continue to build on my experience.
16) In your photographers Imagination, how do you perceive India. What photographs would you like to make of Her ?
I have worked in India for over 16 years on various projects including one I call “Living Divinely”. It is about the people and communities at the coalface of their spiritual calling and how they live and worship. I actually have so many things I want to do photographically in India which will take up at least the rest of my lifetime.