Photography: Sophie Green
Text: Bridie Riley
You were quoted as saying you were interested in getting your work involved in magazines ‘particularly those that still believe in the power of the picture’. In an over saturated image economy how do you feel images retain their value?
I am a very purist photographer in my approach, I continually strive to keep my images as a representation of what I see through the viewfinder and through my eyes. I avoid retouching and minimise post production to subtle aesthetic balancing of colour and exposure. I love photography as a pure simple art form, nothing beats a beautiful handprint. I am of the belief that if a frame isn’t interesting enough straight out of camera and if you need to put a load of photoshop layers on an image to make it interesting, then it’s not good enough. You can recognise instantly if a photograph has been digitally manipulated. I don’t dismiss photographers who have other ways of working but image purity is very important to me. For me a photograph is powerful when it captures a moment, a truth and it has a raw and real quality and emotion.
Many of your projects sit firmly in the realm of documentary photography. It can often be a long and delicate process of building trust with your subjects. How do you develop these relationships, and do you feel it is always a fair and balanced exchange when making some images?
Of course. I wouldn’t want to take pictures that compromise the integrity of the person I’m shooting. It’s important to honour and respect their lives and show them fairly. I wouldn’t want my subjects to feel that I’m voyeuristically taking pictures of them. Image makers are communicating a story/issue and we bear the burden of that. I work in a collaborative way with my subjects to make the process a fair and balanced exchange. I seek permission from every person I photograph; the subject always has a choice whether they would like to participate in my project. Most people luckily are intrigued and say yes straight away. Others are suspicious and wary and take persuasion to be part of it. (Once I was emailing someone for 9 months getting them involved in the idea of a shoot before we eventually met up) A few people of course say no. Many express fear and embarrassment at the prospect of being scrutinised and photographed, which I can totally relate too because I HATE being photographed. It’s a very intimate exchange between photographer and sitter and I am always so grateful to people who give me their time and trust.
My project for the charity ‘Tomorrow’s People’ required a huge amount of preparation and research in order to get the project off the ground. Due to the nature of the vulnerable people, this project was certainly not a case of turning up and shooting. I had many conversations prior to each shoot with the individuals and their coaches talking to them, introducing myself, building up a trust and getting them involved in the idea of the project. This process went on for a month or two at least before I even did my first shoot. It felt very important that the people I photographed trusted me and felt comfortable with the process. Because of the nature of some of their past experiences this was sometimes challenging and took time.
Aspects of your work are reminiscent of early colour photographers such as Saul Leiter and Ernst Haas. This cinematic style alludes to a wider conversation around photography and moving image. Have you ever thought of moving into cinema?
I’ve never heard of Ernst Haas (is that embarrassing?) Saul Leiter is a pure, original visionary; the colour, his compositions, the layers and texture in his work – I wish my work was as good as his! I never strive to emulate his work, I want my work to stand out with it’s own personal and unique voice but oh I do look and admire.
I am hugely influenced by cinema; Andrea Arnold, Pawel Pawlikowski and Duane Hopkins are just a few directors that heavily inspire me. To me, they tell stories in a very real, honest and beautiful way.
I sometimes wonder if I will feel restricted by the still image as a medium. Moving image is something I am thinking a lot about. I have ideas which I plan to develop. Watch this space.
In the delicate process of assembling a photo story, do you invite outside influence when putting your final selections together?
I really trust my instincts when putting final selections together but some times I have a love-hate relationship with the editing process and I do just need a second opinion. I am lucky to have a supportive network of people within the industry that I can ask for a second opinion if needed. But the people I always end up phoning are my mum and dad, neither of them are photographers but I normally always send them a final selection of any story to get their verdict as I totally trust and respect their opinion. Art and photography is so subjective and people will tell you different critiques, which is sometimes confusing. I think it’s very important for photographers to show their work around and to get feedback from sources they trust. I find it hard to cut stories down and my edits are always too long so when this happens I know it’s time to listen to my head over my heart and seek thoughts from others.
The price of film and processing is already at an all time high and is only set to increase, making it more and more difficult for photographers to use these traditional methods. What impact do you think this is going to have on the next generation of photographers?
Film purchase and processing costs just totally break my bank but it is a treat to shoot with the medium. It scares me to think the costs could increase even higher and it’s going to make it really difficult for myself and other photographers sadly. You can only rely on your bank overdraft so much!
Not only does film give you an incredible aesthetic, atmosphere and depth to your image but one of the best things about it is it makes you highly disciplined in what and how you shoot – because it’s so expensive to purchase and process it forces a more skilled approach. That is a huge reason alone for why photographs can benefit from shooting film.
I absolutely love that nervous anticipation I feel once dropping the film off at the labs and seeing the results when the film is processed – I get so excited. If you’re lucky in that roll of film there will be one frame that you absolutely love, digital is so accessible and just doesn’t give me the same feeling or discipline. Every photographer should experience shooting film because it is such a pleasure to use.
Are there any projects you are currently in progress that you are particularly excited about releasing?
I’ve been working on a project which focuses on the traveller and gypsy community which has taken me to horse fairs around the country. Appleby was total madness – I’m talking fortune tellers, traditional carts, horses and singing birds. It’s a work in progress.
Bangers & Smash still isn’t complete. I will continue to document this community until I have the strongest body of work, which will result in a book.
I am in the midst of an exciting project in collaboration with LAW Magazine and Ditto Press, which is a printed book of banger car surface abstracts. It’s very exciting. Look out.
I also have editorial stories coming out in Man About Town, Victory Journal and The New British over the next few months – I can’t ruin the surprise so keep an eye out for the publications and on my website; www.sophiegreenphotography.com