In the spirit of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marcus Riccoboni, 34, walks the streets of London with a not-quite-identifiable Lomo camera, capturing ordinary people in extraordinarily beautiful moments. He’s been at it since he was a child, making his first print at the age of 10 with an enlarger his father bought from a jumble sale.
His work these days is all about street photography, about capturing people in a precise moment, an instant that then becomes unforgettable, frozen in time.
For this week’s London Art Spot, Marcus reminds us why London is one of the most amazing cities in the world (in case you forgot), talks a bit about how being colourblind effects his photography and shares his admiration for some brilliant photographers who have influenced his work.
LLO: Give us the basics first – Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you to this lively city?
MR: I’m originally from Cliftonville: a small, quiet place on the Kent coast – it’s a little run down these days and there’s not a lot going on. The nearest town is called Margate, which is known for amusement arcades, candy floss, and kiss-me-quick hats. I couldn’t wait to escape the area when I was young, so when I had the opportunity to go to university in London I jumped at the chance. That was in 1995 and I’ve been living here since.
LLO: How does living in London influence your approach to photography?
MR: London’s fantastic – the most diverse capital city in the world. There’s so much going; it’s an all you can eat buffet for photographers. London gives me the opportunity to make random images of truly interesting people and events: one minute I can be strolling along Oxford Street, taking in the rush of shoppers and the next I’ll turn a corner and find myself in the middle of thousands of Sikhs marching in a demonstration down Park Lane. It’s easy to take London for granted; every now and then I like to stop and remind myself how fortunate I am to be living here.
LLO: Why do you prefer black and white images over colour?
MR: I’m colourblind: I’m unable to differentiate between red, green and brown. Apparently the world looks muddy to me when compared to a normal sighted person. It doesn’t stop me from enjoying photography as I appreciate other visual qualities like shapes and shades. By removing the colour and shooting in black and white, it helps focus the viewer’s attention on what caught my eye in the first place. Either that or maybe I’m just pretentious!
LLO: When shooting street photographs, what elements do you look for while composing a shot?
MR: Normally I just work on gut and wait until I see something that feels right. I do, however, look for a number of elements: an interesting scene (a quirky individual or an unusual combination of subjects), composing the frame so that they form a harmonious structure and finally the all-important ‘blink and you miss it moment’ when the subject’s expression or posture changes to make the shot.
LLO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get a great photo?
MR: Self-confidence: I’m naturally a shy person, so the thought of walking up to a random stranger in the street and taking their photograph was terrifying. Sometimes it still is, although I’ve learnt that if you act as if you should be taking the photograph, it improves the dynamic between you and the subject. Very rarely do people get upset and a brief nod and a smile go a long way to diffuse any difficult situations.
LLO: With images of Brian Haw and Notting Hill Carnival on your new blog, it looks like you’re into a documentary type of photography, images that tell a story or capture a bit of history. Can you elaborate on your love of photographing people and the type of images you’re aiming to capture?
MR: I like people but staged portraits rarely do it for me, so ‘street’ style of photography really suits. It all started when I saw an image by Henri Cartier-Bresson: it was of a young boy in Paris, walking along Rue Mouffetard, holding two bottles of wine – I loved the expression on his face. I soon found myself at the library viewing books of images made by Cartier-Bresson and others like Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand and Willy Ronis. Running through them all was a common thread; the amazing ability to capture ordinary people, in ordinary situations at a moment in time that made the image far from ordinary. It’s all about that decisive moment: the split second when a raised eyebrow or sideways glance transforms an image into something special. I was hooked and have been trying to do the same since.
LLO: Which type of Lomo camera do you have? What are the advantages over a DSLR? And where in London would you most love to take it to experiment?
MR: I believe it’s a Lomo LC-A, although I can’t be sure as it’s Russian and I can’t read the Cyrillic lettering on the camera. Anyway, it’s small, easy to carry and very inconspicuous – perfect. People hardly notice when I’m using it; I simply load it with old film and shoot. The Lomo has an almost magical ability to help me take photographs when the technical complexities of using a supposedly more accomplished camera would otherwise get in the way. I’m planning to use if for my next project: photographing the meat traders at Smithfield market.
LLO: Elaborate on your upcoming Smithfield meat traders project.
MR: Smithfield has been operating since 1868 and it’s the only remaining great London market that hasn’t been moved out of central town. Although the place oozes history, it’s still a fully functioning market which means there should be plenty of contrast between old and new for the project. There have been numerous attempts to redevelop the area so I’m keen to document the place and the people who work there before it disappears. It will mean a few early mornings as the market opens at 4am, but I’m sure the pictures will more than make up for that. I expect it to be great fun: full of quirky characters bustling around in an interesting setting. I’m even thinking of doing it in colour, which would be a first for me. I can’t wait to get started.
LLO: What are your thoughts on post-processing in Photoshop or other editing software?
MR: A lot of people get in a twist about this one – there are some real militants when it comes to the subject of image manipulation. People seem to forget that the photographer is manipulating the image from the moment they take the decision about which lens, filter or film to use. Personally, I think it all depends: if the image is to be used for journalism, it should be left untouched as an accurate record of events. Otherwise, I’m more than happy to dodge, burn, crop and change the contrast or exposure of an image – any process that could be done in a darkroom. As soon as anything that wasn’t there is added or an artifact is removed, then it’s a different ball game – it becomes art – which is fine, just don’t call it photography.
LLO: Favourite London-based artists?
Matt Stuart (www.mattstuart.com) – perfect timing and an ability to just ‘see’.
Nick Turpin (www.nickturpin.com) – I love the way he frames his work.
Sean McDonnell (www.waysofwalking.net) – breaks all the rules and still makes great pictures.
For more about Marcus and his work, see his website: www.random-image.com
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