Xuesong has guts. That’s what I like about his photography. He doesn’t think twice about walking up to people in the street and taking the shot he wants. And people either warm up to him quickly or they don’t. Xuesong comes from China. He has travelled (as you can see from his Flickr account) from India to Spain to NYC to Jamaica and lots of places in between, but he’s lived here in London for over a decade.
Read on to find more about his approach to people on the streets, what he hopes to accomplish with his photography and the story of a crazy woman with a dangerous Zimmer frame weapon in Barcelona.
LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do when you’re not taking photos? Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in London?
XL: I’m Chinese. I come from a city called Nanjing, in the middle eastern part of China. I studied a BA Fine Arts in China then came to the UK to finish my MA in Digital Arts at University of the Arts, London. I have been living in London 12 years now. When I’m not taking photos, I do some drawing, painting or graphic design and I am bit of a foodie. I love cooking too.
LLO: Tell us about your style and approach to photography in a few sentences.
XL: I like artistic photography so that’s the style I try to have. Also I like to shoot people in their natural way, not much posing and candid style. At the moment I use 50mm and 24mm prime lenses to shoot street photography.
LLO: As a photographer, your focus is mainly on street photography and portraits. How do you feel Londoners react to being photographed compared to people you’ve photographed in other cities?
XL: I think London is a great place for taking street photos. In general Londoners are okay about being photographed; sometimes they even pose for you.
LLO: How and when did you develop an interest in street photography?
XL: I was always interested in photography since I was young. When I came to the UK I saw so many different interesting things and people on the street. I started to shoot them, lots of them, and then I gradually developed interest in street photography. Now I can’t go anywhere without my camera!
LLO: You have some beautiful portrait shots from around the world. How do you decide when to approach someone and what do you say?
XL: Thanks! I don’t decide. When I see someone that catches my eye, I just go directly to take a shot. If they notice then I smile at them or say “I like your face”, “beautiful” or something. I don’t use a long lens for street photos. I don’t really ask but sometimes if I pass someone I really want to take a photo of I’ll stop them, say “I would like take a photo of you; you are very good looking” or “I like your beard.” Just pay them a compliment. Most times it’s not a problem. Sometimes they say no or get angry, but that’s fine; I just leave it. I don’t feel embarrassed or anything. You don’t lose anything.
LLO: Have you ever had a negative reaction when photographing a stranger?
XL: I do get a negative reaction from time to time, but that’s just part of street photography. You get used to it. Most of the time they just swear at you or put up a hand gesture. I only had one crazy time. In Barcelona I tried to take a photo this old lady with a Zimmer frame and her two dogs. She saw me try to take the photo so she suddenly lifted up her Zimmer frame, started running towards me and tried to smash me! She nearly hit me! I just wish I’d had a fast lens to catch that moment. It would have been a winning photo.
LLO: What message do you hope to communicate through your body of work?
XL: I try to document the moment, what happens on the street, people I see on the street, show the social environment, living conditions, humanity and fun. I hope people can see beauty everywhere through my works.
LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to shoot street photography? Do you prefer to wait or wander?
XL: London, West End. It’s always busy there, so many people to choose for a shot and nice buildings in the background. I normally just wander around but if I see some nice setting I will wait until something happens or someone comes into picture.
LLO: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far to get a shot you wanted?
XL: I don’t think I have done many challenging shots so far. Maybe I should do more challenging work in the future.
LLO: Which other London-based artists inspire you and your work? Why?
XL: London is good place to find art inspiration. So many artists’ work inspires me I can’t even name them. But most of my favourite artists are old masters, not London-based, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Steve McCurry. Their works are classic and timeless.
You can also find Xuesong on Flickr.
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