A CONVERSATION WITH BARRY BOTTOMLEY
Always wanting to be creative, Barry Bottomley turned to photography as a way of expression. Now it's on the street that Barry finds his canvas. For him it is a space that offers endless creative possibilities. Barry thinks photography in some way reflects his inner thoughts and feelings which he states, "can be a jumbled up mess at times and fantastically inspiring and lucid at others". Barry is drawn to abstracts and urban decay. Working mainly with colour as it provides Barry with the tools to make bold, vibrant statements, whether this be on a cold, rainy winter's night, or a sea front in the middle of summer.
This collection of images comes from Barry's train of thought. They are all taken in London at various locations, but it is not the locations that are of importance to him, rather the feelings they evoke.
"I look at places and wonder what's on the other side of the window, door or curtain. Or what must it be like to be in that space...or feel a sense of isolation...or to reflect on better times gone by."
First off, tell us about yourself. How did your photography journey start?
Born in London, I am a London-based street and urban landscape photographer. My passion for photography began at school. I always wanted to be creative and had a go at sketching, painting, screen printing and pottery, but it wasn’t working for me. I tried photography and it just clicked, so I saved money from my pocket money and paper round and bought my first camera which was a Zenit EM. In those pre-digital days it was all about black and white film photography for me, so I taught myself the basics and learnt how to process my own negatives and develop my own prints.
Tell us the full story behind your series that you submitted. Does it have a title? What is it about?
No, the series does not have a title. I’m not big on titles, outside of location and date for cataloguing purpose. However, the pictures are all taken either through a window, or reflections in windows, or of what is on the other side of the window. So there is a definite thread that links all the pictures. I tend to be drawn to whatever grabs my attention. I realised that I had built up a collection of images that, thematically and stylistically formed a series. It’s about using shapes, colours and textures and layering in an abstract way.
How does this series relate to you as a photographer? What sparked your interest? What do you want the viewer to experience when they look at this series?
At school I wanted to do a screen print of a row of houses at night with the lights on in the windows, but could never get it right. I had a fascination with windows and light even then. This same fascination is at play here. I didn’t consciously set out to do a project with this in mind. This came together organically over a period of 18 months.
What I want the viewer to experience is a very difficult question and I am not sure I have an answer to that. The images have a strong presence, so I would like the viewer to be drawn into the images, to spend some time looking over them and to pick up on the shapes and colours. When I took the pictures I was drawn to a sense of homeliness, journey and the past.
What does photography mean to you? What inspires you?
When I am out with my camera I’m totally focused on the space I am in and what I am trying to capture. It is the means by which I can connect with society and the environment and express them visually. The street inspires me to look closely at my environment, not just the people in it, but the landscape they occupy. When good light gets thrown on it and the whole scene opens up the possibilities are endless.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
Don McCullin is the photographer responsible for me picking up a camera in the first place and I am still a huge fan. Otherwise Saul Leiter, Daido Moriyama and Fred Herzog have all had a big influence on me and I love the work of Alex Webb, Joel Meyerowitz, Vivian Maier and Diane Arbus, to name but a few.
Through Instagram I have discovered many photographers whose work I like, but particularly Suzanne Stein stands out for me particularly.
What have been some of your favourite memories or moments in your photography journey. What have you personally gained from your experiences?
I have fond memories of developing and printing my black and white photographs, and watching the image emerge on the paper. The whole darkroom experience not only evokes moments in my photography journey, but it connects to a specific time in my life too.
I have learnt to slow down. When I’m on the street I need to be able to not only see what is in the here and now, but to anticipate what may happen next. When I apply this philosophy to my daily life, I often find life less complicated.
When you are out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
It’s mostly instinctual. I have projects that I work on, but my best shots come through an instinct to gravitate towards what I like the look of. I read recently about Mindful Photography where the camera becomes an extension of your mind and you let your subconscious take over. I realised this is how I work. Even if I only get one photograph I like it doesn’t matter as long as I am out with my camera.
What are some tips/advice you would give yourself if you started photography all over again?
When I started out it was still all about film. Digital has radically changed the way I take photographs as there are no restrictions on how many pictures I can take. My advice would be to enjoy the process. Learn how light works and the camera basics. take a lot of photos and don’t be too concerned with the results and likes on social media. Be inspired by other photographers, build a book collection, go to exhibitions, look on Instagram, but take time to develop your own style and don’t rush things.
Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? (What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?)
Yes, it does. I use a FujiFilm X-T3 and X-E3 and also carry around a Ricoh GRIII most of the time. I tend to use either 18mm for street photography and 50mm for landscapes although recently I have been interchanging lenses using 18mm for landscapes and 50mm for street. I’m keen to explore street photography using a 50mm focal lens to gain a different perspective and to allow more space between me and my subject. I like to have both lenses to hand most of the time. When I’m lazy I’ll use my 16-80mm XF Zoom.
Ricoh GRIII is great as it’s dead easy to switch from a 35mm or 50mm crop and offers a great Image Control menu, especially where black and white is concerned.
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
Happily still walking the streets of London snapping people and places I see on it. I’d like to exhibit my work and am planning to self-publish a book within the next 2 to 3 years.
Are there any other special projects you are currently working on or thinking about that you would like to let everyone know about?
I am terrible at starting projects; running out of steam, then the parking them. However, during the second half of this year I started a project on English coastal towns with an eye to the relationship between local landscapes and its people. I’m still very excited about this and have plans in place going forward. Fingers crossed for a successful conclusion to this.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
Listen to music, go to my local theatre, have the occasional meal out and in the spring/summer tend to my garden. I also like to buy books about photography, an discover new work and go to exhibitions."