I came across the work of John Fullard last year whilst browsing several Flickr groups. John Fullard’s brand of street photography captures life in New York. The majority of his mobile photography documents the life and quirky characters that travel on the subway while most of his DSLR photography is taken above ground at street level. I love the quality of the images he takes and how he manages to continually capture unique stories and moments in time as people go about their daily business.
John kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his mobile photography work, his approach to the subjects he takes, to street photography and about the stories behind some of his favourite shots.
Tell us about your introduction to mobile street photography
I had been taking pictures since I was a teenager but it wasn’t until much later, in 2005, after buying my first digital camera, that my interest in photography really took off. I grew up in Ireland, lived in Greece for a while and about 6 years ago I moved to New York for work. During the week, I’d live and work in the Bronx but would try to go to the city at the weekends to take pictures. Depending on where I was going, this could be a fairly long commute and I found myself wanting to photograph the other people on the train as a way to pass the time and to document what I was seeing. I wasn’t brave enough to use an SLR for this so I invested in an iPhone and quickly realized what a great tool it was.
Why do you think people find street photography so fascinating?
A lot of people seem to enjoy observing strangers and how they interact with their environment. I think people watching appeals to our natural curiosity but also to our sense of empathy and it prompts us to imagine how we might behave in similar situations. Personally, I like pictures that make me want to know more about the subject. The sorts of questions you ask, and the imagined answers, can reveal a lot about how you view the world.
Your photography manages to capture so many quirky characters and situations on the streets and subways of New York. How do you manage to consistently do this, what’s the secret?
Well, I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a hugely diverse population. With so many people around, interesting looking characters turn up all the time.
In public, people tend not to behave as they might at home, but because of the scale of a large city, and the sense of anonymity that comes with that, people here often let their guard down and behave in a very uninhibited and natural manner. This is the sort of behavior that I like to photograph and I try my best to be as discreet as possible when I’m shooting because I don’t want to influence that in any way.
I also take an awful lot of photographs, most of which are terrible, and really only show a tiny fraction of the pictures I take.
How do you tend to approach your subjects?
That depends. I always shoot candidly and never get permission from the person I’m photographing. Generally, if people are moving I tend to move but if they’re standing (or sitting) around I tend to loiter a little more. If I don’t see anything I’d like to try to photograph I usually move on very quickly.
On the train, you sometimes have no choice but to wait for someone to sit down or to do something interesting. In this case, I’m usually about 5 or 6 feet from the person I’m photographing and I almost always shoot from the hip. I’ll often take multiple images but I’ve had enough practice at this stage that I have a rough idea how the framing will turn out.
Out on the street I rarely use my phone but I also tend to shoot from the hip and to move fast. If the light is right I might hang about a street corner for a while but, because the background doesn’t change much from one frame to the next, I get weary of the results and move on.
What are the key ingredients that make up a good street photographer?
I have no idea. Perseverance, I guess. You have to have a genuine desire to get out and take pictures. I also think being curious about people is crucial. It is to me at any rate.
I really think anyone can take a good picture – and in the age of digital photography (and cell phone photography in particular) this has never been more true – if the desire to do it is there, and you take enough pictures, then I think it’s inevitable that you’ll make images that you’re proud of. Taking one picture I like is enough to encourage me to go out and try to take more.
What would be your top tips for others looking to develop their street photography skills?
Always carry a camera and get in to the habit of using it.
If you could spend the day with any photographer past or present who would it be and why?
Given my interest in the subway this is probably an obvious choice from me, but Bruce Davidson is one of my favourite photographers. I own more books by him than by any other photographer and I love the way he sees people and the world they inhabit, from the subway to the boardwalk. There’s something very intimate and human about his pictures and I really admire the way he connects with his subjects.
What is your favourite app of choice for shooting street photography and do you put much emphasis on post production processing?
Hipstamatic was my go-to app for a couple of years but with the arrival of Oggl and the ability to transfer images from your photo library, I now shoot, almost exclusively, with the phone’s built in camera app. Other than Oggl, I’ll occasionally edit using Snapseed but mostly I use Lightroom or Camerabag for desktop. Every now and then I’ll use Photoshop to remove distractions or if I think more significant editing is needed. I don’t like to over-do it, but it’s very rare that I’ll post a picture to Flickr without doing at least a little post-processing beforehand.
Tell us the story behind a few of your favourite photographs
Over the years I began to notice little collections of images emerge that contain similar elements – people with plasters on their face, friends sharing headphones and so on. Some of the images above are taken from a set I have where the subjects face is totally obscured.
The driver was chatting with a colleague on the platform. From the expression on his face you can tell it was a very jovial exchange.
I can’t recall which station I was in when I took it but I love how the people’s facial expressions are repeated in the graffiti. This was a totally lucky shot as I didn’t spot this detail until I got home.
I like how alert the woman is contrasted against the guy burying his head in his hands.
Temperatures in New York during the summer can become unbearable. This was taken in the Bronx during a long stretch of particularly hot weather. It was over 100?F (38?C) and this woman’s body language accounts for every degree.
I took this shot on the platform of 125th St station in East Harlem. I really like taking pictures at this station and I regularly stop here on the way to, or from, the city. The guys on the train could see that I was taking a picture of the person sitting next to me and were looking out the windows to see what might happen. They totally make this shot for me.
Finally, last year you mentioned you were testing out a video app. Could you tell us more about this?
Sure, a friend of mine who’s had a life long interest in film will be launching a new app called Snowball this coming spring. It’s a visual storytelling app that lets you collaborate and communicate with your friends using video clips, allowing you build your own story as you add to the stories of others.
I never used to shoot video but I’ve been enjoying playing around with it and there’s no question that certain things that might otherwise have no impact as a still can work so much better in video. Plus, I really like the idea that someone can take a clip I’ve made and add to it or modify it in some way.
Here’s is a link to a series of clips shot in New York that I’ve contributed to: www.snowball.is