London Art Spot: Marcus Riccoboni

 

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? 
MR:
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.

Thanks Marcus!

For more about Marcus and his work, see his website: www.random-image.com

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

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London Art Spot: Martin Hoare

Some people love to capture London on film, others in photographs, a few just in memory. Welsh illustrator Martin Hoare takes his sketch book out to the streets. Later, some of these sketches are transformed into more elaborate drawings or paintings. For a while, his pens & pencils sat in a drawer while he concentrated on his day job as a graphic designer, but now he’s set up a blog to revive them. It’s called Martin’s Doodles. If you enjoy his unique catalogue of London life below, pop over and have a look.

For this week’s London Art Spot, Martin tells us a story of frustration as a prospective art student, talks through the process of creating a new piece of work and about the satisfaction he’s recently discovered in a completely unrelated hobby that fills his spare time.

Piccadilly Line

LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
MH:
London is an amazing place to live and work. I’ve lived here now for 12 years and there are still always new places to discover. I love the way that each area has its own unique feel, the way you can travel just a short distance and feel like you’ve gone somewhere completely different. It’s always been drawing people and the way the people of London interact with each other and the urban environment. That’s what really interests me. Someone once said: “There’s 8 million stories all playing out at the same time.”  That’s what I’m trying to capture.

Green Park

LLO: Graphic designer by trade, and here you are with a blog full of “doodles”, of sketches and drawings. What’s your artistic background?
MH:
I have always been a compulsive drawer. As a kid, I don’t think I was happy unless I had a pencil and a stack of paper. I left school at sixteen and took a training scheme at the local Ford Motor plant. I think it soon became apparent that I had no interest in producing axles and, fair dues to them, they set me up with an interview at the local art college. But without formal qualifications, they weren’t interested in taking me on, and at the end of the interview they showed me a perfectly airbrushed illustration of a motorbike and told me not to come back until I could produce work of that standard. This really discouraged me from perusing any kind of career in art. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the illustration was from a student’s final degree show.

I did a fanzine for a bit around this time, designed a few record sleeves, t-shirts and gig posters for local bands. Then when the need to get a proper job came along, I became a painter and decorator. So I was working as a painter, but just the wrong type. I still kept on drawing but didn’t think of doing anything with it until I started taking a life drawing class. There were a lot of art students there from the college that had turned me down a few years back and I was surprised to find that I was drawing at a better level than practically all of them. So I thought, what the hell, gave up my job and started a foundation course. I intended to go on to study fine art or illustration, but having discovered the wonders of what could be done on a Mac, did a degree in Graphic Design and have been sitting in front of a screen ever since. The down-side of this being that for a long time I put down my pencils and brushes and it has taken me quite a while to pick them back up again.

Brewer Street

LLO: Where did the initiative to start “Martin’s Doodles” come from and what do you hope to achieve by keeping the blog?
MH:
I had drawings all over the place, in numerous sketchbooks, on bits of paper, and it was hard to keep track of everything. I really needed to get everything scanned in, just to pull everything together. So the main reasons for setting up the blog were getting organised, getting my work out there and moving it forward. After all, what’s the point of producing a load of artwork if it’s just going to sit in a drawer in the spare room?

LLO: Best place in London to shop for art supplies?
MH:
Cass Art in Islington. I spend a lot more there than I need to, I have a thing for buying new sketch books, whether I need a new one or not. I also visit the London Graphic Centre in Covent Garden quite a bit.

North Lanes

LLO: Favourite place in London to sit with a sketch pad?
MH:
Probably somewhere on the South Bank, especially when the sun is out. There’s usually a chilled atmosphere and noone is in a rush to get anywhere, which is helpful when sketching.

LLO: Which piece are you most proud of so far and why?
MH:
It’s usually what I’ve just finished or am working on at that time. I’ve just finished a painting ‘Leaving Las Vegas’, which is Soho street scene. The thing that started me off on this image was the signage, which I just had to work into a painting. And being Soho it just had to be a night scene.

Leaving Las Vegas

LLO: Describe the process of how your artwork comes to life from the moment you conceive an idea to the finished product.
MH:
I’ll spend a lot of time wandering around just looking for somewhere that will work as a drawing or painting. I’ve basically always got an eye on the next piece of work. Once I’ve chosen a location I’ll do a few rough sketches and take as many pictures as I can. I’ll then put all these together in Photoshop, and usually work up a composite image, putting all the elements together. Print this out and make a rough pencil drawing sketch placing all the main elements on the page. Once that’s done I’ll start working up the drawing, with either a fine liner, or ink and pen. Once I’m happy the drawing is done, I’ll either add shading with marker pens, or I might scan the drawing and colour it in Photoshop.

The next stage is to determine which drawings may have the potential to be worked up as paintings. The whole painting process is a lot more involved and time consuming. Unlike drawing where the work can be finished in one sitting, a painting can be very much a stop-start affair, gradually taking shape, depending on the free time I have available. But it’s really rewarding when you finish with something that you’re pleased with.

Oceanic Leather Wear

LLO: What do you get up to when you’re not drawing/doodling/sketching/painting?
MH:
Aside from work which takes up a large part of my time, I have recently started gardening. For the first time since moving to London I have a garden, and have really gotten into growing my own vegetables; there’s something really pleasing about eating food you’ve grown yourself. I tend to go to a lot of galleries. One of the great things about London is that there is just so much art going on; wherever I happen to be, I can usually take a bit of time to check out whatever galleries are around. Being Welsh, I also often end up in the pub watching a bit of rugby.

LLO: Is there a place in the capital you’d love to sit for a day with a sketch pad but haven’t had the chance yet?
MH: Actually having the luxury of a day to sit sketching is not something I’m used to. Maybe it’s being a Graphic Designer, where everything is driven by deadlines, but there never seems to be enough time to fit everything in. I’ve never done any drawings on the tube; maybe I could sit on the Circle Line going round and round drawing people. Perhaps I should try that.

Smoking Man

LLO: Any impressive up-and-coming London-based artists we should keep our eyes on?
MH:
Print Club in Dalston (www.printclublondon.com), has some really good illustrators and artists. I like a lot of the work they produce.

Sundae, Sundae

Thanks Martin! 

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.