Tris is a London-based photographer who likes to go by his artist name @colourbricks. Having worked for many years in war-torn places, he now enjoys the lively streets of London, where he developed a passion for documentary and street photography. He is drawn to the colours, vibrancy and the story of life at home. Social media paints a world of perfection, beauty and unbridled consumerism, but Tris wants to take pictures on the better days: images that reflect the stoics, the optimists and those who don’t want to conform. His photographs show a London that is colourful, vibrant, extraordinary and ordinary. We interviewed him for the Pictorial Mag.
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
I’m an old man but young at heart. Throughout the majority of my adult life I have worked in places full of chaos, confusion and sometimes terror. I have seen the resilience of people during the civil war in the Balkans, watched families torn apart in Belfast and Baghdad and been a front row witness to war in the Helmand and Mogadishu. The life I led then has now fortunately passed. After 30 years of being drawn like a moth to the flames of conflict, I am now drawn to the colours, vibrancy and the story of life at home.
How long have you been a photographer, how did you get started with that?
I have always enjoyed being witness to an unfolding story. When the time came to kick off my dusty boots three years ago I wondered how or what I would do next. Walking around London made me realise that there were equally exciting, colourful and dramatic stories unfolding in front of my eyes. Mercifully the stories were about people in a ‘peaceful’ city, but the sense of an unfolding, dynamic and time sensitive drama was like a magnet! I love the passion of street photographers, the requirement to be patient, discrete and humble one moment, confident and courageous the next. I realised that I had been making mental images throughout my life, but now I could make real ones. My family encouraged me to purchase my first camera in 2017, and from that point I haven’t stopped. Thousands of hours and miles wandering the U.K’s capital!
Tell us a bit more about your documentary photography. How did you get involved with that?
London is so vibrant, dynamic and busy that there is always something happening - and whether a protest, demonstration or parade, people don’t hold back in coming forward! My first Pride parade was incredible! So much colour and happiness, a genuine celebration of life and love. The LGBTQ+ parade was just so special. I didn’t stop taking photographs and realised that I had found my new 'fix'. Documentary photography was one of the ways I could still get that adrenaline rush - never knowing how an event may unfold, but being quick enough to react and catch that moment whenever possible. Regardless of the politics of Brexit, I went to all the parades both for and against, just to catch the story and witness how people felt and acted. I now try to attend everything, from employment strikes, Falun Gong and pro-choice demos, to Extinction Rebellion (XR) and Black Lives Matter.
In your photographic approach, what are your favourite or most memorable moments?
How I raise my hat to those who are bold enough to take nothing but candid shots! I endeavour to do so, I honestly do, but after a life of conflict I now shy away from it if at all avoidable. I mostly raise my eyebrows or lift my camera when approaching someone, and if they look friendly (or at least look like they won’t assault me!), I try to get some non-verbal indication that they are comfortable with my approach. My favourite relationship is with a shirt seller - he was very hostile and aggressive when I tried this with him on my first two or three protest demonstrations, but now whenever our paths cross in various corners of London we greet each other like long lost friends!
Do you have a favourite quote/lyric/saying that resonates with you? And why?
As a beginner I still have so much to learn, but my early anxieties about shutter speed and ISO settings dissolved when I read Olivia Bee’s quote, “It’s way more important to know how to take a picture than to use a camera”. After that, I started to relax and enjoy the process. I still have mountains to climb and haven’t yet got to the end of my user manual, but rather than spend hours fretting about technical issues, settings and dial positions I remember that quote. Clearly 'so' much more to learn ("so" in italics and bold!), but I now want to get into that technical detail.
Generally, where do you find your inspiration?
My first photography book was called Requiem, which was a collection of images taken by the famous Vietnam War photographers. I realised that if I wanted to address my PTSD, I would be better to focus on images I wasn’t so familiar with, so then dived into the work of Vivian Maier, Fred Herzog and Elliott Erwitt. If I am totally honest the two people who have influenced me the most are Sean Tucker, whose mature, reasoned, and generous Youtube videos are a godsend and @Kudo_Bass, whose every photograph and caption posted on Instagram are like stand alone photography lessons. I was lucky enough to recently bump into Sean Tucker in a London camera shop and embarrassed myself by acting like a 14 year old groupie as opposed to 54 year old veteran!
Is there anything special you want to express through your photography?
Life can be grey and miserable at times. We all have tough days. Social media paints a world of perfection, beauty and unbridled consumerism. Life isn’t like that, some days are good and some days are bad, but my aim is to try to take photographs on the better days - not saccharine, but images that reflect the stoics, the optimists and those who don’t want to conform. I try to reflect London’s colourful, vibrancy and the extraordinary.
Are there any books that you have read that have inspired your creativity and that you would like to recommend to us?
I recently purchased Joel Meyerowitz’s ‘How I Make Photographs’. It was only published a month ago and I’ve re-read it twice - just a wonderful hand rail for people like me!
Do you prefer to shoot alone or with friends?
I’m a loner and what friends I have left would say I was anti-social! My evenings and weekends are now selfishly guarded. Offers of collaboration (whilst genuinely appreciated) are not likely to occur anytime soon.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has mostly influenced your style?
Billie Charity was one of the first accounts I followed on IG, shortly followed by Ibi Gowon. Sadly I haven’t had the opportunity of meeting either of them, but their online support and encouragement were incredibly important in the first few months. There were times when I nearly gave up, and were it not for their infectious enthusiasm and kindness, I wouldn't have continued. I don’t think I have a style yet, I do my own thing and just take photographs of people and scenes that I find curious or interesting.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
Yes - I get far closer to people now than when I started - the same sidewalk as opposed to shots from across the street!
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
London markets have so much to offer: Brick Lane, Portobello Road , Camden - always so colourful, vibrant and (pre-COVID 19) very busy. I have tried doing some night shoots around London - seeking to emulate some of the incredible photography of Joshua Jackson in Soho, but have discovered that whilst the light is so much better, the people out that late at night generally aren’t.
Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? If so, how? Do you have a preferred camera/lens/focal length?
The Canon 5D EOS MkIV is just a wonderful upgrade from my earlier camera. It felt like a huge self-indulgence, but I don’t smoke, drive a fancy car or motorbike and no longer drink to excess. While I love my camera, the truism that ‘the best camera is the one you have on you’ still amazes me, as some of my personal favourites have been taken with my iPhone.
What would you say to someone wanting to start out in your genre(s) of photography?
Get over the fact that you are likely to either: a. irritate someone on the street, b. embarrass yourself potentially asking someone who then rejects you, c. feel uncomfortable adopting strange positions in public. Overcome these challenges early and force yourself to embrace that discomfort! If it doesn’t sometimes feel a bit awkward, try harder! (I should follow my own advice!)
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before photography?
No - but wish I had!
Are there any other special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
None - just waiting for the next demonstrations and protests.
What are some of your goals as a photographer? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?
In an ideal world I would have enough financial security to leave London and become a war photographer. I would like to capture the human stories. That seems slightly crazy given my desire to put those tragic times behind, but being involved in the unfolding story was like a drug.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
Walk my wonderful dogs. Two beautiful, gentle Tibetan Terriers who always seem ready to provide unconditional love and affection!"
All photographs © @colourbricks
Read the story Rebels For a Cause about the London Extinction Rebellion movement featuring Tris's colourful photography.