Stephen Wright's Street Photography: "That look in their eye knowing they’ve just been snapped"

You're a street photographer based in Nottingham is this right? Tell us a little about you and your street photography?

Yes.  I was born in Nottingham and have lived there all my life – 46 years.  I first got into photography at the tender age of 12.  My sister bought me a Polaroid camera for Christmas, and I was immediately hooked.  I had a passion for photographing buildings and architecture – in particular church clocks – and spent the next few years snapping away.  I still have the prints.  I got my first ‘proper’ camera at 17 – a Praktica fully manual camera – and it was only by chance that I discovered a book by Elliot Erwitt at my local library and discovered Street Photography.  I was amazed by this genre – photographing strangers on the street!  I was absolutely blown away, and something inside me stirred.  I wanted a piece of this, and set out to do it for myself.  I’ve never looked back since.  I spent the next two decades photographing people, and have continued to do so ever since.  Seven years ago, I discovered a guy called Bruce Guilden, and I realised I’d finally found my direction.  Shooting up close and personnel, that was the way to go. I have no fear of snapping people up close, sometimes with flash, and I find I get the best shots from that. I do get myself in trouble sometimes.....

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Looking at some of your photography, there are a few recurring things. For example lines and patterns (I'm thinking of the three people with umbrellas, the stripped dog..). Is this something you look for in a shot?

Not particularly, but I do look for ‘three’s’...  I think if there’s three contrasting elements in a shot it always works.  It’s hard to explain, but with decades of trying, three is definitely the magic number!

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Do you always carry a camera with you?

I only own a Nikon D90 and one lens.  Sometimes I wish I had a pocket camera because it’s not always practical to carry around a DSLR.  That said, I won’t go out without it.  If there’s one piece of advise I’d give anyone, it would be to always carry a pocket camera – you never know when that shot will present itself.  Shame I don’t follow my own advise...

In a good way, your work is pretty gritty. Am I right in thinking you shoot film and not digital?

Sadly, I only shoot digital these days.  I have spent years and years shooting film (and have the prints to prove it), but costs are a deciding factor, and it’s getting really hard to get your hands on Tri-X these days!

I had a really good look at your photos and I'm smiling at how daring you are in your photography and the way you approach people so close. Have you built that confidence or are you just like that?

It’s really a bit of both.  I guess it’s like everything else, the more you do it the more confident you become at it.  I think confidence is absolutely essential when shooting Street Photography; you never know who you’re going to come across or how they’re going to react to having their picture taken. In my experience confrontations are very rare, but when they do happen I firmly believe it’s confidence alone that diffuses the situation.  You have to be polite but firm, and a smile goes a long, long way...  Every photographer will have their own way of doing things, but for me it’s shoot fast, shoot close and above all else – KEEP WALKING.  It’s very unlikely someone is going to chase you down the street!

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"It has to be said that I’ve never asked a person to take their picture, and I try to catch them just as they’ve clocked me doing so.  I like that look in their eye knowing they’ve just been snapped.  In fact, it’s my greatest strength."

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You're not afraid of eye contact in a sense that often your subjects are fully aware of you being there...shooting. Is this something you try and achieve?

You couldn’t have asked a better question!  A lot of street photographers I’ve come across do take the shot and set out to not be noticed.  I’m completely the opposite.  Eye contact is very important for me, and if I don’t get it, I’m not happy.  It has to be said that I’ve never asked a person to take their picture, and I try to catch them just as they’ve clocked me doing so.  I like that look in their eye knowing they’ve just been snapped.  In fact, it’s my greatest strength.

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Is it black and white street photography and only black and white street photography for you?

Definitely.  I ‘may’ shoot the odd colour shot, but it’s rare.  I’m old school, and black and white is where I belong.

Would you say you're documenting life? What's your aim as a street photographer?

Without a doubt it’s about documenting life for me.  I want to visually record people that are alive at a certain point in time.  Everytime I walk the streets I have the word ‘archive’ in my head.  When I’m dead I hope and pray that someone, somewhere happens on my pictures....  When I look at pictures of the past, I want someone in a hundred years to see mine.  My main aim is to just record people going about their daily life – nothing more, nothing less.

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There is a photographer called Stephen Wright who photographed The that you? Can't figure it out...

Ha ha!  I’ve heard this a lot!  And I can confirm that it’s not me.  Ironically, I’m a huge Smiths fan (have been since day one), but no, I’m not the one that photographed them.


I love that photo you took of the kid giving you the finger, that's a classic shot and I mean one I'm sure will be remembered by many. Can you tell us about it?

I think that picture was taken in 2008/9...  I was actually shooting the town hall in Nottingham when this boy jumped in front of the camera as I snapped.  It wasn’t until I got home and went through my images I realised I had the picture.  I was going to delete it and then thought ‘hang on a minute...’   Cheeky monkey!  I don’t know where that kid is now, but I’d love to show it to him on his wedding day!

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