March 20, 2020
NEW YORK IMPROVISATIONS
Photography by Bill Lacey
Interview by Melanie Meggs
Bill Lacey is a New York based street photographer who documents the daily life on the streets of the city that never sleeps, embracing its people and the towering architecture. He generally finds himself approaching street photography as an jazz improvisation, creating his own candid compositions filled with heart and soul from spending a lifetime walking the streets of New York.
"Jazz stands for freedom. It's supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don't be a perfectionist - leave that to the classical musicians.''
IN CONVERSATION WITH BILL LACEY
TPL: Bill, when did you start getting interested in photography?
BL: I was influenced at an early age by a relative who shot Kodachrome slides of my family. He also introduced me to jazz via Miles Davis records.
TPL: Where do you find your inspiration?
BL: For photography I find a lot of inspiration on Instagram. Next would be YouTube. Third would be the general internet. I was never a big collector of books of photographers – just of photographic techniques. But I’m starting to acquire more books about photographers, such as Vivian Maier and most recently a wonderful book about Stanley Kubrick “Through A Different Lens”.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
BL: I’m self-taught at photography and was never formally exposed (no pun intended) to the many incredible photographers that have defined the medium. Of course, I was aware of Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams and documentary photographers like Robert Capa and Dorothea Lange. But more recently I’ve been enjoying the work of Vivian Maier, Garry Winogrand, Jim Marshall and Joel Meyerowitz. And there are so many amazing photographers right now on Instagram who are all influencing my style.
TPL: Has your style of photographing changed since you first started?
BL: Only in the last few years do I feel that I have finally found my style, both in terms of subject matter and technique. It’s been a life-long journey to get here.
TPL: Where is your favourite place to photograph?
BL: New York City, without question. By virtue of proximity. London second. I really haven’t been out of the US that often and there are so many places I’d love to shoot in. But cities are my comfort zone.
TPL: Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
BL: Yes, absolutely. But not any particular camera, per se. Digital cameras in general made it so much easier for me to work with and experiment (I could never develop my own film). Mirrorless cameras specifically with their ability to let you see exactly what the sensor was seeing. And finally, improvements in high ISO sensor technology, which has permitted my style of shooting from the hip while moving quickly and often in low light.
To someone just starting out, I would advise them to just get out and shoot as often as possible and NOT get caught up in the buzz about the latest whiz bang camera. The difference between someone who is a photographer and someone who wants to be a photographer is the former gets out and shoots and the latter has an excuse for not doing so.
TPL: What characteristics do you think you need to become a good photographer? What’s your tips or advice for someone in your genre?
BL: Perseverance and determination are just as important as talent and gear. It’s very easy to be disappointed as an artist and question your legitimacy. Just remember that you’ll likely have more bad days than good. But when you have a good day, they are something special to hold on to. You just need to keep at it, relentlessly. For street photography, it’s so easy to become self-conscious and afraid that someone is going to catch you taking their picture in a public place, as if it is a moral and ethical crime (although in some places it seems now that it really is a crime if you lack permission). In those moments, turn your camera towards an object or the wonderful architecture we are surrounded by. Try different locations, different times of day, a different lens, shoot from below, shoot from above…
TPL: Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
BL: I have spent a lifetime working professionally with sound and music in the music, film and television industries. Creating something has always been a part of my life. I studied jazz improvisation at an early age, and to me street photography and jazz are very connected stylistically and philosophically.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
BL: I’m finally set up to sell prints online. And I’m planning to release a book of street photography before the end of the year. Fingers crossed.