I was introduced to documentary photography by my father, who was an Abstract Expressionist painter. I realised this was what I wanted to do when I first saw Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work and learned about his idea of the ‘decisive moment’ – the instant when ‘all the elements in motion are in balance.’
I tend to shoot digitally, in colour, and then manipulate the images in post-production. I like the graphic possibilities of black-and-white, but prefer to keep white out of the equation. A viewer once described my work as having ‘areas of unresolved darkness,’ and I think by going down that more geometric route you’re directing the viewer a certain way. In a world of image saturation, to me it’s about finding a fresh take, a new angle, on the familiar. Even though I like to have a human element in my photographs, it’s often a graphic detail that has the power to enhance the viewer’s interest.
When I was asked to photograph the bridges for Illuminated River at dusk a lot of the pedestrians were obviously on their daily commute. They were isolated from the space both by the fact of being in a rush, but also because many of them were wearing headphones. Either way, they weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. I think that the Illuminated River project, and Leo Villareal’s work, has the power to draw people in and make a familiar space seem new. Because the design will always be changing, even if you see it every day it will never look the same twice.
I had seen some of Leo’s work before (without realising it was his!) and it’s all about connection; about creating these stunning and surreal pathways. It’s going to give people a fresh perspective on the London landscape, drawing links between landmarks and reframing the bridges in a fresh and interesting way.
Every time I drive across London Bridge with my family, my wife will turn round to my daughter and say ‘Look! There’s Tower Bridge!’ As humans we’re a bit like moths: we’re drawn to light and we’ll always pause to look at it. The great thing about Illuminated River as a piece of public art is that it provides a great photographic twist - you can imagine people stopping to take pictures and sharing them. It’s going to be instantly sociable, instantly recognisable.
The bridges have so much potential for great photography. Some of my shots of Waterloo Bridge for Illuminated River have this real ‘1984’ feel to them, and then there’s my favourite bridge-shot so far, of the London Eye from a boat under the Golden Jubilee footbridges, with a pedestrian and a plane perfectly framed. It’s those little chance elements of composition that you can’t control that are usually what makes for a great photo. Whether you think of photography as a form of documentary or as an art – and I’d describe myself as more of a craftsperson – you can’t deny that Illuminated River is going to have a wonderful effect on images of Central London.