IN CONVERSATION WITH DAVID SHORTLAND
Originally from Ireland but now based in London, street photographer David Shortland draws inspiration from some of the greats like Saul Leiter and Ernst Haas, as well as some incredible contemporary photographers that he has had the pleasure of connecting with through social media. As someone who deals with some anxiety issues, street photography has been life-changing for David. Becoming a form of therapy, it has helped him become much more confident and creative.
"Street photography is such a fun and accessible form of expression. I love to shoot on slightly longer lenses and use elements of abstraction, texture and vibrant colour, and I would encourage everyone to give it a go."
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in the eighties in Northern Ireland, which was a bit of a strange and intense time and place to live! My career path has been a bit all over the place - I worked in film and TV production for a while, then graphic design, then moved to London to study human rights and ended up in the non-profit sector. So I have been living in London since 2010, and love it here despite the out of control rent prices. It is a great city for street photography. I am definitely spoilt for choice.
How did you become interested in photography? What does photography mean to you? Describe your style. Where do you find your inspiration?
I was always broadly interested in photography and cinematography, and also in graphic design and visual arts in general. But I didn't decide to properly start learning and practicing photography until the end of 2020. It seemed like a fun lockdown hobby at the time, but it has since become a bit of an obsession. It is all about street photography for me, and I think my style tends to include some elements of abstraction or unusual composition. I am inspired by so many incredible street photographers, particularly some of the masters like Saul Leiter. Bur day to day, I find my inspiration by just walking around and seeing what is out there.
What is it that you love about street photography?
It is about the experience of finding opportunities on the street as much as it is about the images. I love the whole experience - I find it really therapeutic, a strange mixture of relaxation and exhilaration. As someone who struggles with some anxiety issues, street photography has had a huge impact on me. I always feel great after a photo walk, and overcoming the fear of photographing people has really helped me become more confident and remove some barriers to creativity. I don't think I would get the same satisfaction from more controlled types of photography.
What are some tips/advice you would give yourself if you started photography all over again?
It's easy to say in hindsight but I'd tell myself to dive right in and face my fears when it comes to photographing strangers. It took me a long time to overcome the fear that people would react badly. Looking back, I realise I just needed to build up enough evidence through practice that it's really unlikely to happen. I could count on one hand the number of times people have even said anything to me, never mind actually objecting or asking me to delete an image. More often than not I get a smile or a wave, and I've met some really nice people this way. The other tip I'd give myself is to get out practicing sooner and more often. I think I tried to learn too much theory early on, and once I hit the streets I realised it all goes out the window until you've built up a bit of experience and confidence with using your camera.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
The work of Saul Leiter has had a massive influence on me and has definitely shaped the way I approach photography, even if the images themselves turn out quite different. I love diving into the work of some of the masters: Ernst Haas, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank - even some of the incredible documentary photographers like Gordon Parks. And I've met so many incredibly talented photographers through social media - it's really inspiring to see so much beautiful work being produced by them.
When you are out shooting - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
I barely plan at all. The only thing I plan is the general area I'm heading to to start my walks (though sometimes I just jump on the tube and pick a station to get off). I'm never quite sure what I'm looking for and it always takes a little while to warm up. I still start out every time worried that I won't find anything to shoot. But I've learned it's just part of the process for me, and the instinctive eye always kicks in eventually. When I find a scene or opportunity, I like to spend time really exploring it and seeing what I can make out of it.
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?)
I started out in the new year with a Fujifilm X-T200, which is an entry-level mirrorless camera. It served me really well but I fell in love with the X-T3 after hiring it a couple of times, so I recently upgraded. Most of the time these days I'm using a Viltrox 56m f1.4 (85mm equivalent), and I love that focal length - it's got such beautiful compression and it's perfect for picking out details. I also use a Fuji 35mm f2 (roughly 50mm equivalent) quite often. I've recently been feeling really inspired by some great wider-angle photography, so I've just ordered a used Fuji 18-55mm zoom lens to try shooting at 28mm-35mm equivalent range. I find the X-T3 really reliable and just a ton of fun to use, which helps me keep wanting to pick it up and go out to shoot.
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
It's all about street photography for me, and it's notoriously difficult to make a living off that. In a way I'm just very happy to keep it a hobby. I'm not a huge fan of the idea that hobbies should always be monetised where possible - I like that photography is a bit of an escape from the day-to-day, and I'd like to keep it special in that way. So who knows really - I guess I'd like to have improved in five years. Maybe one day it'd be cool to be exhibited somewhere but we will see!
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
I've started planning my first short-run publication. I'm not sure of the format just yet but currently I'm thinking a zine, maybe around 40 pages or so. I'd like it to be a presentation of my favourite shots over this first year of street photography, so it's still a few months away. But I've begun the stage of arranging tons of little prints all over the place and trying to come up with a sequence, which my partner's delighted about of course!
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
Read about culture and politics (I'm a big leftie nerd), play guitar badly, watch too many films, and eat too much veggie/vegan junk food."
Thank you David!
All photos © David Shortland