This series of street portraits is part of a bigger study. It’s what I would call a ‘Photographic Demographic’ of my hometown and a repositioning of what people traditionally think of as Cheltenham town.
The UK can be very grey and dull most of the year, and it often effects the way see see our own towns that we live it. We get so familiar with the place that we no longer see inspiration in people around us. So I decided to start photographing local people in the street on my way to and from work.
I started to realise that Cheltenham is full of really interesting people and are not as grey as I initially thought. Cheltenham is positioned in many people’s minds as a rich and middle-class town, but since I started this project I’ve realised that Cheltenham is a lot more diverse than people think.
I want to show the beauty and character in everyone I meet. There is something special about everyone regardless of who they are. I decided to publish only their first name as a title for each portrait. Some have stories to tell and others are in a hurry. Some of them are homeless, some are wealthy, some are more educated than others, but most of them are just ordinary everyday working people.But the all have something about them that makes them unique and interesting.
Marksteen interviewed by Don MacDonell 14 December 2017 – Talk Photography Magazine
Tell us a bit more about the Cheltenham Folk project.
This project is a result of not being able to always travel to colourful places due to family commitments and work. I decided to challenge myself and look closer at what was around me, rather than always yearning to be somewhere else. The UK can be very grey and dull most of the year and it’s tempting to fly to places like Cuba or somewhere else exotic to do street photography.
But as I was stuck here in my hometown – Cheltenham, I decided to start photographing local people in the street on my way home or to work. I also use my lunchtime to get some shots if I can. I suddenly started to realise that Cheltenham is full or really interesting people and not as grey as I’d thought for so many years. Also, Cheltenham is positioned in many people’s minds as a very rich and middle-class town due to the Festivals and Horse racing we have every year. But since I started this project I’ve realised that Cheltenham is a lot more diverse than people think. Besides, many of the very rich and wealthy, don’t actually live in Cheltenham, but live in the surrounding country side and only come in to do their shopping.
This study has really opened my eyes to the richness of people we have in this town. I’m hoping to exhibit the images outdoors in the street and I don’t want it in a gallery.
How do you approach your subjects? Are the responses mostly accepting to having their portraits taken by you?
It’s never easy approaching strangers. I have good days and bad day. I just go up to people and ask them. 8 times out of 10, they say yes. But you have to be emotionally prepared for them to say no. It’s not easy to be rejected and it sometimes effects me, but I just have to remind myself that it’s not because of me, but more to do with them not wanting to be photographed. The most important thing to remember is to smile when you approach people. Everyone has something about them that is interesting and special, so you can mention that when they ask why you want to photograph them.
What story are you trying to tell by way of the series? What impact do you hope to have on the viewer of the images?
For me this study is turning into what I would call a ‘Photographic Demographic’. It’s a repositioning of what people traditionally think of as Cheltenham Town. I also want to show the beauty and character in everyone I meet. There is something special about every portrait regardless of who they are. I’m constantly surprised by the outcome.
Through your series you have captured many interesting people. How do you decide who to photograph?
It’s mostly random. I walk through the street and I’ll see someone that grabs my attention and then approach them. But I’ve also realised that I was initially looking for people and character. But that all changed on day when I approached a guy who seemed like a character and then next to him was his friend who looked grey and less interesting. I photographed his friend (out of courtesy mainly), but it turned out to be one of my favourite portraits. It taught me a lesson right there. I need to be open to the fact that what I initially might think is not an interesting person, can in fact be really engaging once captured
What technique did you use?
For this series, I decided I wanted to learn how to use the flash outside in daylight. I tried to learn about it online, but most photographers who do it well, pretend that they just use the programme setting on the camera and just go out to shoot. But that’s rubbish. You have to control the light by using manual settings. Flash is a hard thing to use as it will change according to distance and ambient light, depending also on the effect you want. The best way to learn what works best for you, is to use a digital camera and then do lots of experiments with a friend until you get the right settings. You need to experiment with distance too so that when you are out in the street, you can change the settings when you need to – quickly.
Are there a few people that are most memorable to you? What was their story?
I do talk to most of the people I photograph, but I decided to only publish their first name. Some have stories to tell and others are in a hurry. Some of them are homeless, some are wealthy, some are more educated than others, but most of them are just ordinary everyday working people. One of them had just come out of prison and we ended up having lunch together, one girl I photographed looked so young and when I asked her what she was studying, she told me she was a Doctor in our local hospital.
What advice would you give to fellow photographers or others getting starting out in this type of photography?
Practice with your equipment on your willing friends. I use my youngest son George for most of my practice. Decided what it is you want to do and capture, and then go out and learn to accept rejection because you will get rejected by many, but if you keep going, you will be rewarded too.