London Art Spot: Sanja Hurem

Sanja’s personality – her belief in noticing the “little things” shines through her photography. It’s obvious from these images that people warm to her, let them into their lives a bit through her lens. She manages to capture an intensity, a connection, in their eyes. There’s an honesty in her street portraits that I admire.

She tells us in her London Art Spot interview below about how her incredibly international background (living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, US, Czech Republic, Argentina and London not to mention holiday travel) continuously influences her work, why she is attracted to photographing strangers which led her to start the project “A Hundred New Faces” and what the term “urban poetry” means to her.

The cover image on Sanja’s Facebook page is a Friedrich Nietzsche quote: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who couldn’t hear the music.” Just by looking at her photography and reading her answers below, I’m pretty positive that Sanja is one of the dancers. 

LLO: Where are you from originally? Tell us a bit about yourself as an artist.
SH: I was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, but spent the vast majority of my life growing up in Germany. I ended up in photography somewhat haphazardly. I had always had a passion for art but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I picked up camera and just started taking photos I loved. From that very moment, I knew this was for me. I didn’t even think about myself as an artist. I just wanted to take pictures. I distinctly remember the moment – I was at a botanical garden in Buenos Aires called Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays. It just felt completely right, and I wandered the streets of Buenos Aires for weeks and months thereafter, losing any sense of time. Over the past years, I got a better sense of the “it” factor I was seeking. Some very good mentors have helped me along the way and ever since I was not able to let photography go.

LLO: How did you end up in London, studying at Central Saint Martin?
SH: The story of how I ended up in London is probably reflective of my rather unconventional background as a photographer. As I mentioned, before spending time in Buenos Aires, I had no idea how much I actually loved photography. After the epiphany moment in the Botanical Garden, I simply continued taking pictures without thinking much of it. However, having graduated from university just a couple of months earlier I had previously signed a contract and was ready to start working. That job was based in London. It turned out an amazing city for photography. I soon ended up quitting a less fulfilling job and decided it was time to turn to what I really liked. Among other things, this led me to sign up for part-time classes at CSM, where I met some really interesting people.

LLO: You have a very international background. Tell us about the other countries that have been a major part of your life and in which ways this inspires your photography (if it does!)
SH: I think that the countries I have lived in influenced my way of seeing the world, which in turn impacts my photography. Throughout my travels, I learned that the real beauty of a place is revealed in the details. When I went to Buenos Aires, I was impressed with the overall skyline and view of the city, but nothing caught my attention more than the way they serve coffee with a little piece of chocolate, or the way the streetlight softens the edges of the buildings at night. The realization that beauty lies in detail has led me to pay more attention to these “little things”. I think this is reflected in my photography. I focus on individual situations, trying to isolate the random from the larger picture. This is true in particular for my street or urban photography. When I take portraits, I similarly love to see the details of a person’s face. All the little imperfections that others may retouch – l usually leave them as they are. I find them beautiful. Living in the US, on the other hand, lead to entirely different insights. I went through a phase where I really missed the elaborate details in architecture so characteristic of European cities. However, I soon started to revel in the mundane nature of many suburbs. I feel that this appreciation of the mundane was in fact a major catalyst for my photographic practice.

LLO: Favourite places in London to take your camera and why?
SH: This is a no-brainer for me: London markets. Borough market, Camden Lock, Hackney Wick – these are all great places to encounter some beautiful moments. People feel anonymous in the crowd, yet the very nature of a market requires individual interaction and the presence of, well, “little things”. A child reaching for candy, a man eating his food in a rush – all these can make for interesting moments.

LLO: One of your goals as a photographer is to capture the faces of 100 strangers for a project called “A Hundred New Faces”. Why did you start this project? How far have you gotten? 
SH: When I moved to Berlin, I met a photographer who taught various darkroom workshops. I signed up for one of them and one of the assignments involved taking portraits. Since I barely knew anyone in Berlin, I ended up taking photos of strangers. I found it a great way to connect with the people in a new environment. In many ways, it brought me back to my initial draw to photography – using the camera as a means to connect with your environment. After my first attempts, I found out that photographing strangers was a whole sub-genre. Overall, it really seemed like a worthwhile and beautiful undertaking.

LLO: Tell us about the most interesting stranger you’ve photographed so far. 
SH: If I had to pick one, it would be one of my very first strangers. She was a Bolivian woman in her mid-twenties who had come to Berlin for the Carnival of Cultures.  She was wearing traditional clothing as a display of her culture. It was a beautiful event, an explosion of colors. At the same time, it was also surreal to see how parts of culture can almost be transplanted from one part of the world into another.

LLO: Have you ever had a negative experience photographing a stranger? If so, what happened?
SH: I did have some negative experiences photographing strangers. Among one of my first visits to London’s Borough Market, I photographed a lady selling fruits. It made for a particularly beautiful image since her fruits and her face were reflected through a number of metal objects surrounding her. She soon became very enraged and started yelling at me. I still managed to take a couple more pictures though.

LLO: You have another section on your website called Urban Poetry. What defines “urban poetry” for you? Share a photo that you’ve taken that most strongly falls into this category.
SH: Urban poetry is this moment when amidst all the chaos of big city life, an image of simplicity and connection emerges. The images appear almost orchestrated by the flow of the city. It’s as if there’s a rhyme to all the craziness, a rhyme that makes the scenes appear poetic. As an observer to these moments, I feel connected to this beautiful flow, and simultaneously privileged for having caught these scenes. I think the image “Boy/In My World” (below) is a good example of Urban Poetry.

LLO: What do you hope to communicate through your work?
SH: I hope to communicate that people and situations that appear commonplace at first can reveal a stunning beauty when you really connect to them. For me, the ultimate moment of connection takes place when you take the photo. It is in that moment that I get an intense feeling and understanding for the person or scene photographed. This is what makes photography such an intimate medium. The understanding of the other person comes through a feeling rather than a cerebral approach. Hopefully, the viewer can connect to my perception and feeling as they see my photographs.

LLO: Favourite discovery while you were living in London?
SH: That’s a tough one, since London is so full of places to discover. I’d have to say that Pollock’s Toy Museum in Fitzrovia is a real treasure. It’s one of those places that make you feel like you’re living in a magical Harry Potter-type land.

Thanks Sanja!

You can also find Sanja here and here.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Xuesong Liao

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.

French Graphic Artist - "Ozas99prod"
French graphic artist – “Ozas99prod”. He designed his own t-shirt and hat.

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?
 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.
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.

Nothing to read, just looking at floor, thinking.
Nothing to read, just looking at the floor, thinking…

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?
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.

A Rajasthni local worker
A Rajasthani local worker in India

LLO: How and when did you develop an interest in street photography?
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!

Can't face life?
Can’t face life?

LLO: You have some beautiful portrait shots from around the world. How do you decide when to approach someone and what do you say?
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.

Afro hairstyle guy with sunglasses
Afro hairstyle guy with sunglasses

LLO: Have you ever had a negative reaction when photographing a stranger?
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?
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.

Pipe, beer crossword

LLO: Where are your favourite places in London to shoot street photography? Do you prefer to wait or wander?
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.

Nice flower,man.
Nice flower, man

LLO: What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far to get a shot you wanted?
I don’t think I have done many challenging shots so far. Maybe I should do more challenging work in the future.

Cool Britons
Cool Britons

LLO: Which other London-based artists inspire you and your work? Why?
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.

Angry looking old wrinkled woman
Angry looking old wrinkled woman

Thanks Xuesong!

You can also find Xuesong on Flickr.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Justin Sneddon

Justin Sneddon spends his working life exploring London’s streets as a taxi driver and a good chunk of his spare time as a exploring London’s faces as a photographer. He’s recently shed his inhibitions about approaching strangers in the street to photograph them for his growing collection of portraits and as a result, has been able to forge a greater connection with his subjects leading to more powerful images.

In his interview for London Art Spot, Justin talks about who and what inspired him to approach that first stranger, exactly what he said to him and the most negative reaction he’s received so far.  Scroll down and, between Justin’s stories, you’ll see some lovely work and a brave approach to street photography.

LLO:  Give us a bit of background info first. Where are you from and what do you do for a living?
JS: I am a London taxi driver. I grew up in Greenwich and now live in Bexleyheath, Kent.

LLO: How has your photography style changed and developed over the years?
JS: I don’t think it has changed, at least not in the style sense. I have always made an attempt to frame my shots properly, and where possible include some background or foreground detail. The reason I wanted to start getting closer and closer to my subjects was that the more I travelled, the more I saw the world becoming homogenised, thus making getting an unique photo from a particular destination very difficult. Basically it’s all just glass and concrete, no matter where you are. My first trip with my first digital SLR was Hong Kong, and I know it sounds utterly ridiculous, but I was expecting it to look like it did in the film Enter The Dragon. What I mean was I was looking forward to the low flying aircraft coming into land (the airport has been moved further away), rickshaws (gone), and the bustling Junks of Aberdeen Bay (now more a tourist attraction). Then what happens when you point your camera at someone abroad is they either pick up an object to hide their face, or hold their hand out for money.

LLO: When did you start taking street portraits?
JS: I have been doing street photography for a few years now, but it has always been in one of two forms.  The first was “from the hip”, which was putting a wide angle/standard lens on, setting the camera to servo, and taking photos anywhere but up against my face.  I would see someone that caught my eye, then employ various methods to avoid looking like I was taking a photo of them.  This way resulted in some nice candid shots, but I also lost a lot because they were out of focus, or cut parts of bodies off.

The second method was to use a telephoto lens 300/400mm, and take a photo while  maintaining  a  comfortable distance. The problem I have always had with these two methods is the anxiety beforehand, the funny looks I was about to get, and people looking annoyed that I was photographing them.

LLO: What influenced you to begin capturing strangers with your camera?
JS: A few months ago I picked up someone who was a friend of my someone in my family, and who was, how can I say, always extravagantly dressed – usually a leather trench coat, lots of piercings, and dark make-up. I told him about my photography methods, and he said disagreed with that approach, that if someone asked to take his picture, he would gladly let them.  I then heard about the street photographer Eric Kim on The Candid Frame podcast, and listened to his methods.  He actually, for most of his shots, asked people, and they, for the most part, agreed.  After getting my hands on a 50mm f1.4 lens last year, and seeing the stunning results using the shallow depth of field, I decided I wanted to take pictures of people with just their eye(s) in focus.  I preferred this because it meant the image doesn’t look flat due to a person’s whole head being pin sharp.  It also means that photos look like they were taken with an SLR, not a compact.  The final item that I needed, which arrived this week, was a battery grip for my DSLR.  First of all you don’t have to arch your arm right round when you need to turn the camera to portrait, but most importantly, when people see this monster of a camera I am carrying, they take you very seriously.  I remember reading an article about a pro who goes to big events, and he noted that the bigger & more impressive his camera looked (battery grips, flashes and brackets, big lenses), the more celebrities etc would want to to stop and allow themselves to be photographed.

LLO: How do you approach people?
JS: The decider was seeing a tweet that listed Eric Kim’s “102 things I have learned from street photography”, and one was to ask people if you can take their picture – they are usually always very  accommodating.

So off I headed for the Brick Lane area; I parked up just east of it (most places free on a Saturday), and headed down one of the many graffiti covered streets looking for my first victim, err, I mean, model.  My first was a real gem, a guy, maybe in his mid thirties, dressed pretty normally, but, he was adjusting his monocle!!  That was really rare, I had to get him, so I crossed the road and made sure I stopped about 10 feet in front of him; so as not to startle him.  I asked “excuse me, would you mind if I took your picture”, (holding my huge camera up for him to see) he replied “sure”, and the deed was done.  For the next hour and a half I wondered about, just asking this same question to people, and only 1 in 10 said “no thanks”.  I was asked a few times what it was for, and told them I was just a street photographer; this seemed to be enough of an answer for them all.  One thing I quickly realised that I needed to print up some business cards, as some people wanted to know where they could see their photo.  Roll on the next trip out.

LLO: Have you ever had a negative reaction from a subject? How did you (or would you) smooth over the situation?
JS: Yes, from a punk sitting on the canal bridge in Camden Town. I pointed my lens at him, he immediately clocked me and shouted “if you want to take my photo then I want money”. In that situation I just wondered off sheepishly. Hopefully now that I am asking people’s permission, I shouldn’t get any negative reactions.

LLO: Tell us about the most interesting Londoner you’ve had the pleasure of photographing so far.
JS: To be honest, I don’t really chat to the people that I photograph, other than asking them firstly to take their photo, and secondly to not step back as I want a full head shot. If I had to choose one, I would say the first I photographed with my new technique, which was the man with the monocle. Most of the other people that day looked like many other people I have seen around London – various lengths of facial hair, different styles (rockabilly, punk, hippies etc), different ethnicities – but why was this guy in his mid thirties wearing a monocle? I think maybe as I gain more confidence I will start asking people about their look, then I can add it in the description field on Flickr. Also, I have now printed up 1000 business cards to give people after I have photographed them. Maybe when they go on line to see their photo, they themselves may want to add something.

LLO: What do you hope to accomplish through this work?
JS: Why am I doing this? well I like to take pictures of anything that catches my eye, whether it’s a building or a bird, aircraft or a shark, but to be honest, they all become a bit stale after you have one or two photos of each.  You end up looking for that one “stunning” capture, which means you touch your shutter button less and less.  Not only is there always a different number of faces on this planet at any one time, but they change every fraction of a second depending on different circumstances – ageing, disease, emotion, make-up, pollution, location, time of day, lighting etc etc…  You can see whole stories in faces, and you can stare endlessly at one trying to imagine what’s going on in their minds and their lives.  Basically I can now see this being my chosen direction for the foreseeable future – to build a library of “faces”.

LLO: Where do you see your future as a photographer?
JS: I don’t want to become a photographer for a living, as every professional photographer I have ever met or read about, hardly ever lift their camera up for fun.  I am happy as a London Taxi driver, but wouldn’t mind my work being displayed in public – museums, galleries, shops – I don’t mind. One thing I did advertise myself as once was as a “personal travel photographer”. The idea being that someone, a couple, or a family, would hire me to travel with them, and record their trip through both pictures and video. This would then free them up to do what they want to do, and rest assured that all of their adventure would be recorded. Of course this would rely on them being relatively well off, as it would mean paying me not only a wage, but any transport, accommodation, and food costs. I created a website, but only got one enquiry in 2 years, so just let the website expire.

LLO: Which other London-based photographers do you most admire and why?
JS: I’ve always seen photographers being asked this question, and always dreading it being asked to me – because I don’t have any. I think is just down to I don’t spend much time scrolling through the internet looking at other people’s work. I have several other hobbies that take up much of my time. When it comes to my photography, I go out, take pictures for a few hours, spend an hour or so tweaking them before uploading to Flickr, then onto my other hobbies. I rely on suggestions from “Light Stalking”, “photojojo” and “petapixel” on Twitter. These bloggers put up links to cool stuff they’ve found, saving me the trouble, then I have quick scan.

Thanks Justin!

See more of Justin’s work, visit his Flickr page.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

John Kortland Shoots in B&W

Looking at black and white photography makes me want to put some Bon Iver and Sigur Ros on Spotify, light a few relaxing candles and fade into the evening with a lovely warm cup of tea (which is exactly what I’m doing as I write this…).

These photographs are the latest from one of my favourite London street photographers, John Kortland, who I finally had the pleasure to meet in person last week over a lunch break.

A winter cigarette, a passionate public embrace, the play of light and shadows among the crowds, an intimate cafe conversation. Like all of his shots, they tell stories, but there’s something deeper (perhaps a greater sense of emotion) that emerges when the colour is stripped away.

John normally shoots in colour, as you’ve seen in previous blog posts, but I think he has a knack for black and white, don’t you?

Winter Smoker

Love, Actually

Resting Rider

Rubbish Coffee

Winter Rush Hour

How Does He Do It ?

Roll Up

Look But Don't See

Fire Exit Keep Clear


Table For Two

What are your thoughts on black and white photography? 

Catch up with some of the previous entries featuring John Kortland’s work here or if you missed out on his London Art Spot interview, you’ll want to click here.