MOMENTS OF BEAUTY
IN CONVERSATION WITH LUCAS JOHN
Lucas John is an English actor and self-taught photographer who tries to document the little moments of beauty that exist in the spaces in between us all. Photography is not just an art to him, but a way of life. He became interested in it through his love for cities and street culture and connections with people. He tries to capture what he calls the spaces in between, small things that often go unnoticed by others, that exist between people and their interactions with others and their environment.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
I was originally born in Leeds but spent most of my adult life living in London working as an actor in a physical theatre company. Currently due to the lockdown I am back in Leeds. I was living in Croatia for a short time but had to come back to the UK for unforeseen circumstances and then Boris decided to lock things down, so I find myself here for the time being. I became interested in photography mainly due to my love of big cities, people, street culture and chaos. Also being a bit of a hopeless romantic. From a young age I always wanted to live in Paris as a clown and photographer, and I became obsessed with Doisneau and Brassai as their photos encapsulated everything I wanted from life and a time I really vibed with. Further to that they resonated with me and my desire to be lost in the cities as an artist connecting with people.
Where do you find inspiration? Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
Garry Winogrand - an absolutely incredible photographer with an ethos and work ethic which is infectious, rigorous and driven. I love his practice of being out on the streets each and every day documenting life. He was in love with "life" and his photos were not based around aesthetic appreciation or being "pretty," they were about the reality of the moment, having an event, a story, something hidden within the image, open to interpretation. His ability to create work but completely detach himself from it egotistically, was and is, a huge thing I have taken from his ethos. Keep moving forward, do not get trapped in the past and let the work be, develop and grow, and move forward.
Olivier De Sagazan - a powerhouse in performance art. Bringing the nightmarish inner thoughts of the human condition into the moment through the creation of his creatures and physical representations of the darkest and most surreal spaces that exist within the human psyche. It has a beautiful fluidity, aggression, brutality, grace and honesty about the work. It refuses to hold back and for myself it was beautiful to see the connection and fusion of the artist and the art coming together in the moment. The art no longer exists as a piece external to the artist and therefore something which we can detach from, it lives through the artist and is present eternally.
Charlie Chaplin - for his humour and comic timing. Fun engaging and simply by using the body, was able to speak sonnets of humour and vulnerability. It goes to show that the voice is not an apparatus which is used only when speaking, it is a tool which is an energy and force which can be expressed via the entirety of our being.
Gao Bo - an exceptional photographer that I came across while staying in Paris. His work is just extraordinary, the depth and contrast that he uses in his work to highlight the human condition of what was going on in Tibet, and his dedication and pride to his culture by fusing his own blood with his photography creates an almost spiritual experience that can be felt pulsating out of the images. There is a real sincere honesty about his work that I haven't really found elsewhere.
What do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
I always try and capture what I call the spaces in between. For me this is the little pockets that often go unnoticed by others, that exist between people and their interactions with others and their environment. When I am taking photographs, I really don't like to present anything aligned or within a structure I like everything to be off centre, slightly distorted with a sense of something happening out of the frame. There is a power in the imagination that is unlike anything and I really like to let the viewer create their own narrative of what is going on in the picture. That is why I never stage any of my shots and I really do try keep them as real to what I encountered as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love an artistic shot with high contrast and shadow work, heavily edited, every now and then, but I have to say the shots that I really engage with are really naturalistic. They transport me to the scene, where I can almost smell, hear, feel and touch what was happening at the time.
Where is your most favourite place to go photograph?
I would have to say London. That city has a very special place in my heart, being a broke actor wandering around the streets with a camera not knowing where my next paycheck or meal was going to come from, but just living off the energy of the streets and the orchestrated chaos that is this wonderful city. When I did this, I met so many wonderful people who helped me out and became friends for life. Wandering around the city whenever I go back just makes me feel alive. It was at that time that I realised that as long as I wake up everyday and I am being creative and connecting to people be it through acting or photography, then I didn't need anything else in life. Money and security became insignificant to me and it was all about connection and art.
What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
Every now and again you get people who spot that you have a camera and I find that if you're just open and honest in yourself and take ownership of your craft, then most people don't give you any grief. I try to understand as well that some people would not find it cool at all to feel like their picture has been taken without them knowing, but it is a fine line that you have to navigate when you're trying to capture realistic authentic, candid moments. If they ask I often show them the photograph or explain about what I'm doing and just try to find out a little bit more about them as a person rather than making them just a subject that I am photographing. I want to get to know them as a person as well because I believe it adds more depth, colour and richness, not only to your art but to your experience being out in the street, you are around other human beings who are deeply interesting and intriguing and can inspire you to no ends.
When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
I don't really have a concept in mind when I go out and hit the streets. I pop a podcast on or some cool music and I always take my notepad for poems and stories with me as well and I just wander the streets and observe life and what's going on around me. After a while you just find yourself entering a flow state where everything is extraordinary. Sometimes you can wander around aimlessly and it can get a bit of a drag and that's when I might start looking for certain things to photograph just to give me a bit more focus so I don't drift off. But more or less I just hit the streets almost every single day with my camera and just become a part of that life, a part of that scene and just live in the moment. I don't see photography as a job or a task, it's just something I really enjoy.
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 don't think the equipment really makes a massive difference, however there are certain times that have come up when I've had to upgrade my camera equipment just because I felt that the equipment I was using wasn't giving me exactly what I wanted artistically. At the moment I'm using a Fujifilm X Pro1 one and a xe-3. Most of my images have been shot using a 28 or 27mm lens. I just like a nifty little lens that's not too obtrusive and that's easy to pocket and carry around.
What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I like to visualise myself living In a tiny little apartment in Paris working as a theatre practitioner in my own horror theatre company, as well being a travelling photographer who puts on exhibitions, either in spaces, or on the street for people to enjoy. Hopefully in five years as well I will be combining my poetry writing and my photography and creating little books for people to either purchase or if they can't afford it take to go and enjoy my vision and stories from the streets. I intend to travel a hell of a lot more after getting the travel bug from Croatia and be part of artistic residencies around the world, teaching, learning and broadening my artistic knowledge and skill set.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
At the moment I don't really have anything planned such as projects apart from some acting work I will be doing in the near future, working on some clown and bouffon work. I would love to collaborate with some fellow photographers and artists out there (cough) and learn from them as well because I am so new into the world of photography. It would be just incredible to collaborate with some extraordinary photographers and artists out there and see what we can come out with.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
...when I am not out with my camera doing photography work I love to write poetry. I love to use my body physically as an actor. I love to watch horror movies endlessly, read horror stories, basically all things horror as well as take long walks in nature. I love to connect with people, going for drinks, having a laugh and working on artistic ventures. I love performing and learning new skills as a performer, practicing techniques from all backgrounds. I also love to travel as well as immersing myself in new cultures, people, artists, performers, creatives and just fellow human beings."