Stephanie Last’s collaborative projects are changing the way we look at street photography. This interview shows the UK photographer’s love for street photography and for the people who walk down those streets.
1. Have you always been drawn to photography?
Stephanie: From a young age I have had a camera. My Dad is a great photographer, and has taught me a lot of the key attributes to this discipline, particularly on a technical side. At school, drawing and painting were more what I was interested in, however I have always appreciated good photographs. Since being at University, I have become really interested in photography and the element of chance it entails.
2. What photographer(s) inspire(s) you?
Stephanie: Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martin Parr are my two main inspirations. I feel that when their works are in juxtaposition with one another, this makes for a fascinating result. Cartier-Bresson’s implicit, “poetic” black and white street photographs and the tribulations found with his labeling of the “decisive moment” interest me. Parr’s explicit, greatly saturated documentary photographs are also very appealing.
3. Your photos and photographic projects seem to show your impressions of life. What draws you towards the moments you choose to portray in your photos?
Stephanie: Well actually, I’m not trying to insert my own views on society, or life in general. I am interested in seeing other people’s outlooks and ways of representing life. However, when thinking about it, sometimes I do interpret what I feel are the main subject matters of the images I receive, and then work with these. So yes, I guess here, there is sense of my own personal preference and subconscious image selection applied to the photographs.
4. Is the city (with its skylines, heritage and cultural districts, etc.) your muse, or are the people in the city (and the way they interact with city environments) your muse?
Stephanie: Good question! I think with my first two Leeds, UK street photography projects, that I would say the associations with place and the building of a cultural identity were definitely the most important factors. With my most recent projects (5-A-Street and Sur L’heure) where there are no restrictions over locations, the way that people interact with certain places and their responses to the different tasks I set, particularly interests me. Although when I receive photographs from all over the world, and compare a photograph taken in say London with one from Sydney, Eskilsden’s idea of the “uncharacterized city” is an idea I find stimulating. I am interested to see whether different places and countries look different from each other. In fact, Martin Parr tried to capture these “cultural icronyzies” within some of his work whereas Cartier-Bresson avoided them.
5. On your website, you mention that the public’s opinion towards street photography is often negative. What made you want to do a collaborative project with the public?
Stephanie: Street photography is my favourite type of photography, as I feel it is the most realistic yet ambiguous of all. I knew I wanted to incorporate this into my photography practice somehow…although I was very aware of the negative response this discipline can receive due to worries over child-protection and terrorism, etc. So, I thought, ok, if people don’t want me to take their photographs in the streets, why don’t I ask them to take the photographs for me! And my collaborative photography projects began! At a time where street photography is sometimes frowned upon, community participation is an effective way of reengaging people with the discipline.
6. Many French Impressionists beginning in the 1870s were inspired by street scenes and they were also inspired by industrialization’s effects on French society. Japanese Provoke photographers beginning in the 1960s wanted to document post-war society and its values up until the 1970s. How important is the idea of capturing history through art to you?
Stephanie: I think art is great way of preserving history for future generations as it brings about both connotative and denotative signification. The Terezin’s Children Drawings Collection in Prague really hit me emotionally. The exhibition contained touching drawings by Jewish children who were in the Terezin Ghetto conveying their thoughts and feelings in the Second World War. Reflecting on street and documentary photography, I like to think that this is a realistic way of presenting history, and even if there is an absence of it (due to public fears) this can also teach future generations a bit about our society’s way of thinking.
7. What was the focus of your last project 5-A-Street?
Stephanie: The focus was to show the public the potential that street photography has and how it can be both “documentary” and “artistic”, and how they too can be part of it. I asked people to take 10 photos in 5 minutes, taken from the same viewpoint, and then send them into me and then I digitally combined them into one image known as a “dynamic capture”. Each time I created a dynamic capture, I sent a copy to the participant, so they gained something from the project too. Despite the “5-A-Street Rules”, I hoped that the viewer would play curator when considering my process. The final image was just as significant as the technical process, so I tried not to reveal the technical details too much. Through photo editing street and studio came into place, as typically studio photography is where post-production occurs whereas street photography is realistic.
8. What is the focus of your most recent project, Sur L’Heure?
Stephanie: I am interested in the relationship between “the decisive moment” and artistic license. I am asking people to take a photograph exactly on the hour, (1:00, 2:00….), wherever they are at that exact time. By recommending hours on a daily basis I’m hoping this will keep the shots quite random and reduce the artistic license involved with documentary/street photography nowadays. But any random shots taken on the hour are great too! From the images I have received, I am then going to build two digital photo clock animations—one in the style of Henri Cartier-Bresson and one in the style of Martin Parr—where the pictures change every time the digit changes.
9. How can people become involved in Sur L’Heure?
Stephanie: I update my website daily with the day’s capturing time and the pictures taken that day. Once you have taken a photograph, please send it to email@example.com . If you want to be part of my mailing list and receive more daily updates on Sur L’heure please email me also on firstname.lastname@example.org . I currently have 80 participants and am determined for this to be my biggest collaborative project yet!
10. What are your plans once you graduate?
Stephanie: I’m honestly not sure. I would love to carry on with photography projects after University. Or go into photo-journalism, digital marketing, or something like that. So if you have any contacts in this field, please feel free to pass my name on!
Stephanie at work.
For more info on The Last Street check out Stephanie’s project websites http://www.thelaststreet.co.uk and www.surlheure.com and also take a look at the BBC’s display of her work at www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-20729484.
*Update: 117 people from around the world participated in Sur L’heure, Stephanie’s 24 day project.