Last week at FYCreatives, LeftCoast organised their regular event, The Golden Section. These events reach out to local artists and creatives by featuring noted practising artists and providing a platform for their work and a story behind it. They are interesting meetings and free by registering on-line. FYCreatives is a cool place and you always get provided with a hot drink and a sandwich or two.
On this particular occasion, the photographer, Len Grant presented a cross section of his work. I was especially interested to hear from a photographer who has successfully crossed over from quite architectural lead images to very intimate social portraits. I asked him a few questions to dig deeper.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you arrived at photography?
Most photographers come either from the formal education route or the enthusiastic amateur route. For me, photography was a hobby that turned into an obsession and then a profession. Before I took the plunge I worked for a TV company selling airtime. It was a good job but just not for me. There was nothing creative about it.
Your early career covers architectural based images and regeneration. Your later work is much more emotional and engaged with people and their surroundings – how did this begin?
Ah, I’m still doing the built environment stuff, there have just been fewer commissions around. But yes, I’ve also moved into covering social issues, often telling the stories of the socially excluded and vulnerable.
Through my regeneration work I realised there were lots of people who lived in low income areas (some people say deprived areas, but although they be deprived of money these areas are often rich in other things like community spirit), who were not affected by the regeneration efforts. I started to get interested in the socially excluded; people who had difficult lives and I thought these stories were worth telling.
What is the hardest subject matter you have photographed and why?
My work with Billy, the heroin addict, was very challenging. I was in situations that were very unfamiliar to me and that was quite tricky. But I think it’s important, as a creative person, to get yourself into situations where you feel uncomfortable. That way you are constantly learning and pushing yourself. life can be quite boring otherwise.
How does your own background compare to some of the social environments you have photographed?
The reason why viewers and readers find other lives so interesting is because the subjects have life experiences that are very different from their own. I guess its the same with those doing the documenting.
I had a stable upbringing and I’d now be described as middle class, comfortably off. But with a social conscious. In the evenings I like to be able to tell our kids about the people I’ve met and the challenges they face and I’m pleased to say our children now share that empathy for others.
What has been your most important moment within photography?
I’ve won the odd award along the way which is all very nice and re-affirming but I value the feedback I get from unexpected sources when I’ve been able to make a difference. That sounds very fluffy I know, but as a photographer and writer you don’t often get opportunities to make people feel good about themselves, so I appreciate it when it happens.
Who are your influences within photography?
I have a stack of photography books from which, at one time, I would have drawn inspiration. However, I realised you can get inspiration from all sorts of places: different art forms; novels, theatre, paintings and lots of different people, not just creative people. I’m not always very good at this but you have to be open to inspiration all the time because you never know when it’s coming.
What is your next project (if you can share that)?
You’re right, I can’t! It’s not that I’m being secretive it’s just that I’m in discussions over a number of new projects and, if I mention them here, they’re bound not to come off!
All photographs courtesy of Len Grant
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