In this weeks Talking iPhoneography I caught up with UK mobile photographer Rob Pearson-Wright. Rob, who by his own admission is an enthusiastic amateur DSLR photographer but more rabidly addicted to iPhoneography was born and raised in London, UK. He works as an office manager for his family’s architectural ironmongery business. His style of photography features candid shots of lone characters on the streets of London, many of them captured in black and white, with textures and blur effects to highlight the subject in question.
Rob has been lucky enough to have his work exhibited in three cities in the USA as well as Paris, Derby and London. A photo that we featured on our ‘Capturing the Moment in July – Edition 2’ was also exhibited in The Kiernan Gallery’s ‘Eye on the Street’ exhibition in Virginia, USA and has also been chosen to be the cover image for the exhibition catalogue. His pictures have also been featured on other mobile photography sites including P1xels, The App Whisperer, WeAreJuxt, iArt Chronicles, iPhoneogenic, iphoneart and iPhoneography.
How did you first discover iphone photography?
I got my first iPhone towards the end of 2010 and took snaps using Hipstamatic for a couple of years. My old compact camera hasn’t seen the light of day since then. At the end of May 2012, I started an ‘iPhoneography’ course tutored by Richard Gray which introduced me to different apps, techniques, genres and Instagram. After that I was hooked and could see the creative potential of iPhone photography.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I think that my style is reactive and about capturing those fleeting moments in the human experience. I see a character I’m drawn to or a person displaying an interesting reaction to the world around them and try and steal that moment in time that would otherwise be lost forever. I hope that the moments I grab capture a mood or hint at a story behind the image.
Where do you get your inspiration and have there been any photographers that have influenced your work?
The inspiration is out there on the street. London is a huge playground for those interested in street photography. There are so many different characters from various backgrounds that it’s easy to find someone you are drawn to and find some situation or location with interesting possibilities.
The first street photographer I learnt about was Richard ‘Koci’ Hernandez and as he was using an iPhone his work particularly interested me. As I grew more fascinated and involved with street photography I read up on the well known names in the genre. William Klein, Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden and of course Henri Cartier-Bresson became particular favourites. Seeing the work they have done has allowed me to understand the genre more and taught me that my work is just a reflection of the world as I see it or want to see it.
What is a perfect photo for you?
One that strikes an emotional chord. It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect technically as long as it captures a mood or tells a story, even though good composition and lighting can be important. Also something that stands repeated viewing over time and you can find extra little details. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a perfect photo and I would consider myself lucky if I took one or two over a lifetime but to strive for that goal is a wonderful challenge.
Could you tell us about your approach to your street photography and the images you capture?
I don’t really have any set approach or plan, I just walk around and try to be observant and instinctual. If someone or something interesting catches my eye I’ll try to get in a good position to frame or compose a shot. I’ll try my best to read a situation, predict an outcome and react to it. I prefer my shots to be candid and to get as close to my subject as possible without disturbing them or ruining the mood that attracted me to them in the first place.
I love capturing images of all sorts of people and the ranges of expressions that we display as humans. Sometimes I feel like a sociologist in a zoo studying how we react with each other and the world around us. Saying that, if you have a hat, a beard or are smoking you’ll probably find me pointing my lens at you. These seem strangely prominent in the images I take.
What apps do you regularly use and is there a process or methodology that you apply to your post production editing?
Like many people I know, I have a ridiculous number of apps I could use but I probably have about five ‘go to’ ones for my street photography work. Snapseed, Big Lens, Noir, TouchRetouch and ScratchCam. If I get a gem of an image that I think just works, it’ll get put through Snapseed for a tightening up, convert it to black and white and leave it at that. Sometimes I’ll feel that the image would benefit from focusing on the subject more or that the background is distracting and it will go through Big Lens to blur out certain elements. If the image needs more grit or texture, I’ll see if ScratchCam can add anything to the mix. TouchRetouch is for taking out little details that are distracting to the composition and Noir is great for adding mood through lighting.
Do you have any incredible encounters or a story that really is part of your photographic journey that you would like to tell us?
Earlier this year, I took a photo of a guy leaning against a doorway, waiting for someone to meet him. When I edited the image it turned into a great candid street portrait, the first I had attempted and done well to my mind. A few months later, I went back to the same location, on the same day of the week and at around the same time of day with the hope that the guy might be a creature of habit and be there. I had wanted to get his permission to enter my photo of him into a portrait competition and I needed a signed model release form. I spotted him in nearly the same place and went up to him and tried to explain.
To say he wasn’t a fan of street photography or of my portrait is putting it mildly. He didn’t understand why anyone would want to take someone’s picture without their permission and after giving him a brief history of street photography and telling him why I thought it was important and offering him a print he still wouldn’t budge. I was deflated especially as I thought it was a strong image and that I was sure that he would like it.
I left saying ‘thanks anyway’ and walked off feeling completely differently about the guy who I previously thought must have been a nice guy because I had taken such a good picture of him. After calling him a few choice names under my breath as I went on my way I realized a few home truths. Not everyone will like having their image ‘stolen’. Not everyone understands, knows about or will care about street photography. More importantly it made me remember that I do it for myself. I like to share my images but if I couldn’t that would be ok as it makes me happy. So I didn’t get to enter a competition, big deal. In my mind I still took a great picture. Maybe the next guy or girl won’t mind.
Could you tell us the story behind a few of your favourite photos?
You goin’ miss your candyman
This guy’s shaven head, adorned by the shades and headphones first got my attention. He kind of reminds me of DJ’s Carl Cox or A Guy Called Gerald. I took a few snaps of him without any good results until the third one where he pulled this wonderfully zen-like expression.
Let me tell you about onions…
I had just come out of the supermarket and spotted this man with a beret on at the Starbucks opposite me. I tried taking a few shots from right in front of him but they did nothing for me so I sat in an empty seat next to him and snapped away. He must have got curious about his new neighbour as he turned around to get a good look at me just as I took the shot.
My Beady Eye
On a walkabout in London’s Chinatown, my eye got drawn to this slickly dress bouncer wearing a cool hat. I lined my shot up by pretending to make a phone call and triggered the shutter with the volume button on my iPhone three times. The first two shots were okay but the third one was a charm. His eyes had locked on to me for some reason even though I was facing away from him and this great connection was made between him and the lens.
I came across this character near Covent Garden and was interested in his well worn facial lines. As I stood in front of him he automatically put his hand in his jacket and I took the shot but even afterwards he kept it there. His natural connection to me being there seems to be one of suspicion.
Again I have seemed to have zeroed in on two people with cool hats. What I love about this shot is how you can imagine a conversation just ended with a complete dismissal from one person to the other and the reaction to it. The way out sign is a cherry on the cake.
Is there anything else you would like to add or share about any future plans or projects?
There are a few ideas I have for some series work. One involves taking people out of street shots and transplanting them into different settings. The other is a trip to New York to see family there and to shoot the streets there. Mainly I hope to build on my skills and keep taking photos.
Lastly, thank you Andy for your interest in my work and this interview. I’m honoured to be featured amongst the great photographers you have showcased on this fantastic site.