Interview | Photographer Cian Oba-Smith

Cian, could you tell us a little about you?

I’m a 22 year old photographer from London. I graduated recently and I’m currently working on projects as well as shooting freelance and assisting.

You won the student category at the International Street Photography Awards 2014. Congratulations! How did you choose your entries?

Thank you! My main aim when choosing my entries was to select a cohesive series of images that had a similar feeling and reflected me as a photographer.


Am I right in thinking this year was your final year? You studied in Bristol, good place for street/documentary work?

Yes this was my final year studying in Bristol. I wouldn’t say it’s an amazing place to shoot street photography but it has its moments. I definitely enjoyed the change of pace going back to London and shooting there.  As a city Bristol is a great place to be and it was important for my development as a photographer to be apart of a community of like minded artistic people as well as experiencing life in a different city.


It seems street photography is only a small part of what you shoot which mainly has an everyday documentary/photojournalist style?

I would agree with that, street photography is the first thing I fell in love with about photography but as time has gone on my interest in other areas of photography has grown along with the variety of work that I’m shooting.


You're terribly good. How young were you when you decided "That's it, I'm going to study photography"?

Thanks, my initial interest in photography was sparked whilst studying my Art GCSE when I did a project on ‘lens based media’. This led to me doing an A-Level in Photography. The course had an amazing teacher who was really passionate about what she did and was good at instilling her enthusiasm in the students. It wasn’t until the second year of the course when I was about 17 that I decided photography was what I wanted to pursue.


You shoot a lot of photos free from people, quite lonely. Many photographers need these moments, do you spend a lot of time alone?

I don’t know if I would say I spend a lot of time alone although you’d be right in saying that a lot of my photos are free of people. A lot of images in my personal work are taken while I’m with people but I’m constantly aware of what’s going on around me and I always have a camera with me so I capture an image if something jumps out at me regardless of what I’m doing. The time I spend alone is definitely important to me, I always work alone whilst shooting project work and I find the process very meditative.


Can you reveal anything about your new project called "Bikelife" coming in 2015?

My new project ‘Bikelife’ is about the young biker community in London. Most people who’ve lived in London will have seen teenagers riding around on mopeds and have made a negative assumption. My project explores the diehard community of dirtbike and moped riders who hang out and ride on industrial estates around London. They are skilled riders and mechanics that are putting their energy into something constructive and trying to avoid trouble.


There are very touching and personal projects on your website. You don't need to discuss them but I think people should really see for themselves. You manage to captivate and have people relate to you.

You seem to care deeply about people. How people are perceived. Can you tell me a little more?

I try to give people a platform to talk about themselves and challenge the stigma that can surround certain groups of people.  I definitely care about the people I photograph and have an active interest in what they have to say. I aim to remove stereotypes and show people in an honest light.


Any advice you could share for budding photographers?

Always be passionate about your subject matter and make work for yourself, the chances are someone else will relate to it and enjoy it anyway. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ways of working but stay true to yourself as a photographer and don’t follow trends in photography, they will come and go but your own photographic style that you’ve spent time developing won’t. If you’re struggling to come up with unique project ideas look closer to home, only you can tell the stories about you. Lastly, learn your camera inside and out, make it your ally and not your enemy, if you want to communicate something visually you need to have the necessary skills to be able use the camera as a tool to create the image that you have in your head.

Thanks a lot Cian!

Be sure to check out Cian Oba-Smith's website and follow him on Twitter as well!

All photos © Cian Oba-Smith