So It Goes contributor, Gillian Zinser, speaks to street photographer Jamie Strachan about capturing the wayward, not being a camera snob, and getting caught.
How long have you been taking photos and how'd you develop an interest?
I used to paint. I realized I didn't like any of my paintings after leaving school. So I threw them all out and I spent about two years not really practicing anything creative, which didn't do much for my well being. Then about 5 or 6 years ago I found an old camera of mine from when I was a kid, loaded in some film, went for a walk and I was hooked.
What kind of subjects are you attracted to? What inspires you to capture a moment?
I'm interested in everything, really. Anything from love to loneliness, a new born baby to a squashed rat. Just anything real. We're over saturated with advertisements everywhere trying to sell us these perfectly curated fun, rich, beautiful lives; I guess I just want to show the beauty of life as I see it, representing as many sides as possible. I'm inspired by anything that feels interesting and authentic to me. Generally, if I find myself looking at something for more than a couple of seconds, I shoot it. Often it's only after I process the film that I actually find out what was interesting. Life happens faster than I can consciously keep up with a lot of the time.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations/influences?
I have tons. Francis Bacon, Saul Leiter, Diado Morayama, Man Ray just to name a very few. I curate an Instagram feed called @SpeacialNeeds where I feature a lot of my favorite photographers and artists as well. And I'm lucky enough to have a lot of friends around me making art who are constantly inspiring me as well; Hugh Lippe is someone I work with a lot and is one of the best street photographers ever to do it...he pushes me everyday. Chris Cunningham. David Armstrong. Robert Herman. Cal Christie. Sig Bodolai. Grayson Vaughan. You.
Blushing. Okay, so you manage to capture people in these very subtle, weird, intimate moments - do you ever ask for permission to shoot your subjects or do you work candidly? Talk to me about your process.
I don't generally ask, but only because I want to capture an authenticity to the moment. When someone knows there is a camera on them they act differently and you miss the real moment. If I can shoot it from the hip, through a crowd, or in a reflection, unnoticed, I will.
Do you ever have people confront you after taking their picture? Have you ever regretted taking a photo?
I've had lots of people catch me - but most just smile and/or look confused. A handful of people have gotten a little upset, people don't want to be made to look bad or be the butt of a joke. But almost all relax after I show them some of my work and have a chat about why I'm taking photos. If you feel weird about a photo, it's probably a good indication you shouldn't shoot it.
Are there certain areas/environments you find more interesting to shoot?
I'm interested in wherever I am. I am rarely, if ever, bored. There are fascinating things everywhere, you just have to be in the right mood to see them.
What I love most about your work is it makes me want to slow down. I'll be walking down a street with you and you'll notice the tiniest moment that I would never have even seen had you not stopped to shoot it. You have such an acute sensitivity to the world around you, both the pain and humor of it all and it really begs us to become even more present and compassionate.
That's extremely kind.
You've also found a really honest, graceful way of capturing the wayward, the overlooked and the lonely. In what ways do you relate to these subjects?
I think we can all relate to these themes, whether we choose to ignore it or not. I just choose to confront them this way.
What does photography mean to you, and why do you photograph?
When done well, it's about communication. Growing up with dyslexia I often didn't have the confidence to explain myself in words. So making art became a short hand for the things I was feeling. Photography, or making anything, forces me really dwell on a subject, helps me work out how I feel about things. It makes me to confront my ideas. It's my therapy .
What do you think your photographs try and communicate, and what do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
I try to highlight things people may have overlooked. I want to provoke viewers to fill in the blanks. I hope to communicate empathy. But it's hard to generalize because they all have different intent behind them.
You shoot a lot of 35mm film as well as with your iPhone – is there a difference in the content of work with each respective form? Do you prefer one to the other?
All cameras have their pros and cons, but I think the content of my work stays consistent regardless of what medium I'm using. Pretty much any functioning camera is a good camera.
Three places you want to photograph next?
Iceland, Floridian swamp communities, and Haitian Voodoo.
If you could take anyone's portrait, alive or dead, who would it be?
My Grandfather, John McCorquodale. He was a 6'5'', very large man with curly eyebrows and a thirst for the finer things in life. He was a surrealist and portraiture oil painter.
Are you working on any other series at the moment?
I have a few 35mm projects I'm working on editing right now: a demolition derby, a series from the roadtrip you and I took across America last summer, and some more street stuff from New York. Mountains of negatives...
What are three things that make you happy these days?
The people around me... truffle honey… and there's a squirrel I've been feeding in my garden. We're pretty chill now.
All photography by Jamie Strachan