John Angerson Interview and Feature
I came across the work of John Angerson very recently, and a couple of weeks ago he kindly agreed to be interviewed here on my blog.
Swindon – Carpeo Ltd. is a 2500 square foot call centre, with 130 employees.
1. Your new project, “English Journey”, is a wide ranging survey of England in the spirit of J.B.Priestley. What originally fuelled your desire to take on such a broad body of work?
I first read ‘English Journey’ back in 1990 and within the first couple of pages I was hooked. The writing style is very simple, direct and has an almost familiar voice. Having lived and worked in Bradford, Yorkshire ( JB Priestley’s hometown) for the early part of my photographic career I had always been interested in Priestley’s work, and had for a long time contemplated undertaking a big project on England. It still feels slightly alien to me to travel half way across the world to make pictures of people and places that I will never know that much about.
Swindon. Lish Fernandes – call centre worker and finalist in the Miss Wiltshire Beauty Competition.
2. I find some of your portraits particularly compelling; how did you choose your sitters? were these images whittled down from a larger body of images?
I must make clear that I am only at the half way point of my journey. The work on my website is the journey so far. I am spending a great deal of time trying to research and locate contemporary people and places that JB Priestley would have been interested in talking to and seeing if he were around in 2009. This has ranged from office workers, big brother contestants and mothers of fallen soldiers from the Iraq war.
Stoke on Trent. Stafford Roadchef Services, Junction 15, M6.
3. How did you find using a large format camera? how has it affected your working process? How do you maintain a strong bond with your subjects while using such a camera? or maybe you don’t need a strong bond with your subject at all…? Enlighten me! (for the record I have done some testing with a 10×8 camera with friends, and found the slowness of the process frustrating, but the eventual results seductive…)
All the images were taken on a 5×4 field camera. After I had finished my last book in 2008, that was shot over 20 years on small 35mm cameras in black and white, I felt a change of approach would challenge me as a photographer. I think almost all portrait photography is down to the way the photographer and the subject respond to one another. The notion that one can capture a personality in a photograph is nonsense. I believe it’s all down to what the sitter is willing to give the photographer, and therefore my job as a photographer is to be patient and open to record this.
Coventry. James Cottle, Student.
4. I’m sure you are aware of Simon Roberts’ work in progress – “We English”. How do you feel your work compares or differs to his? Is this something that has even crossed your mind? As a photographer I find it frustrating when I come up with a brilliant idea only to find someone has already shot something very similar, or is already working on something along the same vein. How do you deal with this as a photographer?
When I first heard the Simon Roberts was undertaking an English project I had the natural response of feeling a bit disheartened. But history has shown that the more the merrier. British photographers have always been photographing their own country, but in recent years, particularly post-Thatcher, there has seemed to be a lack of it. So I thought I must be on the right track if another photographer (an excellent one at that) was thinking of similar ideas. It’s so easy to think if someone else is doing it then why should I. Almost every interesting project has already been undertaken in one way or another, better to just keep going, adding your own glitter along the way!
Southampton. Newport Inn Public House, Braishfield.
5. (from Sam Bedford) I’ve not read the book, but I wonder how you feel the work resonates with JB Priestley’s “English Journey”. Mutually exclusive or inextricably linked? How did you find this develop along the course of shooting the work?
I have been really careful not to fall head first into an nostalgic journey of red phone boxes and garden fetes. The only direct comparison is that I have followed the same route in the same order as the original book. In the early planning and researching stages I made a conscious effort to avoid any direct references to the book. I have tried to enter the mindset and spirit of JB Priestley’s journey. The opening page of the book sums it up for me, “What one man saw, heard, thought and felt on a journey through England”.
Birmingham. Anna Baranovska, originally from Latvia, who was shortlisted for Miss England.
7. You’ve published several books and worked on a number of in depth documentary projects; Would you have any advice for emerging photographers on how to go about “embedding yourself” in a project? Without giving away all your secrets, do you have any useful tidbits of advice on building bonds of mutual trust with your subjects?
Go down every avenue, some will be fruitful, others are sure to be dead ends. Prepare to spent days when the camera won’t even expose a single frame. Sit it out, there should never be a rush to finish it. You will know when its ready. Be honest, honorable and respectful to your subjects. With “Love, Power and Sacrifice” I built up relationships, even friendships, with my subjects, and made sure I explained my intentions throughout.
Yorkshire. Merrion Shopping Centre, Bradford.
8. My final question will always give you the chance for a little bit of self promo, so feel free to let us know about any shows, books, features that you have in the pipeline.
Love Power and Sacrifice is on at Belfast Exposed – The Exchange Place, 23 Donegall Street, Belfast, BT1 2FF.
6 February to 20 March 2009.
Love Power and Sacrifice is available to buy online.
Bradford. The Sweet Centre Restaurant, Lumb Lane.
Leicester. Deputy Manager of Camanile French Hotel Chain, Rob Brown.
I’m sure that anyone who has read this interview would like to join me in thanking John for taking the time to answer these questions, and look forward to seeing the complete project in the future.
All images © John Angerson.