"I am a social documentary photographer based in the South East of England. I have been an active member of London Independent photography for 2-3 years now, and I am heavily involved in their social media/publicity, along with graphic designer/photographer Tom Gifford. Being a part of 'LIP' has led me to network with other creatives forming a small community that I can bounce ideas around; this improves my overall practice and the outcome of some of my work. I recently graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University, where I studied photography along the coast of Thanet. Taking this time away from where I live gave me the inspiration to go back and document my hometown with new 'ways of seeing'.
My practice is now primarily analogue and set in the Medway Towns, a small cluster of towns in Kent, and an hour away from London. This is where I lived the majority of my life, and I have found it important to interact with spaces and the communities that fill them. Working in my local area gave me the opportunity to build relationships with the people that I was photographing, often leading to creating work in their personal environments. Rather than following a linear narrative, each series is part of one major body of work. They work as interchangeable chapters: Vernacular pictures from different warps of life.
This 'chapter' however took a bit of a different approach. It separates itself from my previous work as it's a broader picture of the space and landscape. Where my previous work is mainly portrait based, I decided to concentrate less on the people and more on the banality of everyday spaces. Throughout Medway's history, it's landscape changed rapidly during the 19th Century. The largest employer around this time in the area was Portland cement, named due to the cement's resemblance to the top quality building stone from Portland in Dorset. "Blue" Mud and Chalk, were essential ingredients to making cement that would be able to set underwater. The Mud could be dredged from the banks of the river Medway and the chalk dug out from the Hills behind. At the turn of the 21st century, any major industries or employers are scarce and what is left are the remains of a once thriving infrastructure, a landscape framed by artificial cliffs created by massive quarrying operations.
Whilst making the work, I was approached by people mainly due to the camera that I was using, a Bronica Etrsi, a medium format SLR camera with one 85mm lens, and I used this opportunity to take their portrait. Later, when arranging the series, I found that these portraits also became an integral part of the story of the landscape and what remains. The camera that I use is very important when interacting with people on the street, and on occasion I will carry around a Polaroid Back with a packet of Fuji FP-100c so that I can offer them a copy of their portrait.
When it comes to film stock, I guess I'll shoot anything I can get my hands on. I do try to stick to using Kodak Portra 400 for any project work as it gives a series more consistency; it also has enough dynamic range to shoot inside and out, which is extremely helpful. I use analogue processes and shoot film because it allows me time away from the work. Its a key part of my practice to slow everything down, giving it time to breath allows me to separate myself from the work, and I have found that I can be more objective of my own work when I come to finally viewing it, therefore curating a stronger body of work overall.
Studying under photographic practitioners such as Rob Ball, Nigel Breadman, Thom Bridge, Andrew Bruce, Karen Shepherdson and Sam Vale influenced how I photograph and how I approach my work. It was whilst studying when I decided to start shooting film, watching how the use of analogue processes informed the work of my lecturers inspired me to take it up myself. Rob, Karen and Nigel have all created work based around coastal communities and are all connected with the SEAS archive; various different collections based in the Isle of Thanet. This pushed me to research my own local archives and a various other sources like Facebook group, 'Medway Through Time' who post photographs from Medway in the last century. Throughout my research I also delved into own family archive with photographs dating back to WWI, and all these resources contributed to the overall aesthetic of the series."
SFUK: Please begin by telling us a little about yourself and your interest in film photography.
DL:I first picked up a camera when on a holiday to Brighton with my parents, probably around 10 years ago in my mid teens, I guess I thought of myself as a bit of a Mod having watched Quadrophenia for the first time. I decided I would leave my parents sunbathing bareback on the rather uncomfortable pebble beach and go around photographing scooters and other Mod related items. This short break away also coincided with the purchasing of my first prints, two A4 black and white photos of the Mods and Rockers from the 1960’s fighting on the beach, which are still to this day on my bedroom wall. After that I put the camera down and did not touch it again until I entered sixth form and took a class focusing on photography. Around the same time friends had moved in right next door to my parents house this lead to a rather unconventional way of living, I photographed and documented this and would quite hesitantly hand them in to be marked, I only really found my style when studying later at University. Studying at university awoke a passion for photography and gave me a chance to properly research and broaden my knowledge of it.
SFUK: As a member of London Independent Photography (LIP) what benefits would you say there are in being a part of a creative community and why would you perhaps recommend it to other artists?
DL: London Independent Photography was a great opportunity for someone who lived outside of the city to break through and find a community. Giving opportunities to meet and discuss photography with people face to face that have been involved in the industry for years. They also run a number of themed magazines and events throughout the year, being given a theme meant that besides my own work I could branch out and try photographing new things, which overall has broadened my practice and helped it evolve. fLIP Magazine is where my work was first published, this gave me confidence to approach other magazines and publications. This year is also the 30th Anniversary of London Independent Photography and an annual exhibition will be taking place towards the end of the year, last year they held an exhibition at The Old Truman Brewery where I showed the Newsagents image from this series. I would recommend becoming a member, as it is a great chance to network with like-minded people and help you grow as a photographer.
SFUK: Your series "Blue" Mud & Chalk captures the current day landscape of Medway, telling the story of the local residents and the places they occupy. There's a sense of loss or abandonment to the series that is felt when viewing some of the images, where they are absent of life or seem they could have been taken several years ago. What is the story you're trying tell through your photography and how do you think the way you portray Medway will impact the town?
DL: I believe the Medway Towns, where the series is based has a poetic charm about it. There is definitely a sense of loss found here, if Medway is only visited for short while this abandonment is apparent, but the same can be found in any town or city across the country. The people that once lived here influenced some of the most well known characters in Charles Dickens novels and still to this day similar characters can be found but now they hardened to the concrete urban surroundings, local fame is now held by the likes of Billy the quid and the infamous Gasman the 21st century answer to Oliver Twist, both local legends in their own right. There is a stigma around the Medway towns to the people that know it, the birthplace of the Chav being one of the reasons among others, reference to which can even be found in EastEnders where the son of the Taylor family is proudly named Chatham. The reason I focus on where I live is perhaps because this the place I know best and where I am most comfortable, but another reason is because no one else is really documenting the Medway that I am familiar with. I do not believe any direct impact will come from creating this work, nor if displayed or exhibited locally. I believe if anything it would simply make people view where they are living differently, these everyday places they pass by, not noticing, would now sit within their conscious and be perhaps appreciated.
SFUK: You've already mentioned the interest people show when you shoot on your Bronica, which leads to new relationships and portrait images. Would you say your own perceptions of the town have changed since starting the series and if so, how has photography played a role in this?
DL: I think that photography has given me the chance to really go out and experience where I live more, it has also given me an opportunity to venture, meet the community and build relationships with people. I have lived in Medway the majority of my life and the reason for creating the work was to try and show the true Medway that I have been witness to for 24 years. My perception of the place perhaps hasn’t changed but my perception of the people that live here has and that is very much thanks to the fact that I was out photographing, it meant I had a reason to be approached or to approach people even if it was just for a conversation or a quick ‘hello’.
SFUK: What do you look for when you go out with your camera? Do you have locations in mind, or do you shoot what you see on your travels? What makes you stop and take the time to create an images and how do you approach the moment?
DL: In previous work I focussed more on environmental portraiture, photographing people mainly in their own personal spaces, they were often people that I knew through family and friends, which meant I took a more natural approach when creating the work.
For “Blue” Mud and Chalk, I found that I would notice places that had a certain aesthetic when traveling by train or by car, it reminded me of my childhood, a nostalgic mix match of 90’s exteriors. I would usually revisit these places on foot photographing things in between the location and my doorstep. A lot of this series came together just simply because I carried my camera with me everywhere and photographed anything that stood out to me, sometimes a scene would be waiting that was worth photographing.
It took a while for these photos to become a series of any sort, in between this I created other small bodies of work where I visited the London Boroughs of Lewisham and Charlton. These breaks away from Medway helped me to view spaces differently, whilst also giving me practice in sequencing a series. It was after these trips when I started to research and could articulate a meaning to the photographs that I was taking, I then built around that to create a body of work.
SFUK: Finally, do you see an end point for the series? How do you see the project evolving? Is there anything we can keep an eye out for such as a final exhibition, book or online publication etc?
DL: The series for now is ongoing, I think it will probably be a piece of work that I continue to make for at least a year yet, as I have said it is the place where I live and therefore I am always looking, finding and creating new work associated to this series. I would like to see this work eventually become an exhibition and even a book. The exhibition I believe should be shown locally at The Sun Pier House, then maybe I’d look at showing it further afield. For now, however that is all just a distant dream, I will probably still show images from this series in exhibitions that I am part of running up until I finally feel the series is complete.