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Photography of Manchester

Exploring the lens: in-depth interviews with Mancunian photographers

  • NQ's Jack Park caught up with two Manchester-based photographers to find out what it takes to make it as a photographer in the big city

Photography in the city. Such a broad statement and connotes so many things to mind, how do you start? Is it worth your time? If you want to get to know a city, first get to know the people who photograph it every day of their lives. Who document its change from generation to generation and who have, in effect grown up with the city whose streets they know so well.

Here we ask two of Manchester’s best-known photographers how they came into the profession and what it is about Manchester in particular that keeps them here and taking unforgettable pictures of its landscape.

 

Joel Goodman 

NQ: What made you get into photography? Tell me about the initial moment you knew it was something you wanted to do

JG: I studied film and TV at uni and initially pursued as a career but then made a switch back to my previous job. After some time I picked up a camera and started shooting street photography. I went out every weekend taking photos of people in cities. I started looking for events where there'd be lots of people and subjects that looked interesting. Outside football matches, busy shopping areas etc.

First big moment for me: I was in Manchester the day that Rangers fans were invited to watch the UEFA Cup Final against Zenit St Petersburg on big screens in the city. It seemed like the perfect landscape for the style of street photography I liked. Events changed over the course of the day and when riot police were deployed and bottles were being thrown I found I was compelled to kept on shooting. I wasn't particularly good (nor was my camera/lens) but it was the trigger for me to look for more big events to cover

This was still a few years before I started working professionally, I was still a hobbiest, but it was the first step.

NQ: How did you get into press photography? Were you “scouted"?

JG: I started photographing less street photography and more news events and kept running in to the same press photographers. I started asking how they started out. A few were helpful and pointed me towards various training routes, most regularly the NCTJ Photojournalism in Sheffield which, before it was cancelled, was THE training for press photographers in the UK.  – Although, I didn't actually get round to going on the course until 2011/12, after I photographed the riots in London and Manchester in August 2011 (that was probably the final push I needed to quit my other work and give press photography a go  as a profession).

Before then I was photographing EDL demonstrations and had some interest in photos via platforms like Flickr, but I had no means or understanding of the process of distributing and selling my work to newspapers.

A friend told me about a new agency looking for contributors, so I sent them my portfolio. They said yes and then started to send me details of events that would be worth covering and provided me with the route I needed to get my photos distributed to the press.

NQ: How do you feel when you shoot in Manchester? Do you feel like that city is always changing or will there come a time when photography in the city goes dead?

JG: Manchester is ever-evolving - its growth and redevelopment in the last couple of decades has been epic. I think less than 1,000 people actually  ‘lived’  in the  city  centre back at the lowest point in the 1980s (you'll need to look that one up but I've heard it a few times from authoritative sources).

Why would photography go dead anywhere that it isn't proscribed? Even if it wasn't changing, people will always want to take photos. History, tradition - or stagnation and ruin - are all photographs as much as change and redevelopment. It's important that we document our history, our world, on every level. Even if that isn't that motive, just check out a photograph of your street from 20 years ago - as mundane as the photograph might be, the shapes of the cars, the old phone box, the building that used to be a sweet shop and is now someone's home - who lived there then? who's still there? what happened to that building? what was it for? - it's still fascinating.

NQ: What is your favourite type of photo to shoot? What equipment do you normally use?

JG: Photographs with people. Emotional peaks, energy, juxtapositions, happenstance, events of significance, photos that tell stories and that you can let your eye wonder over without tiring, photos that people will want to see forever. That's the ambition, anyway.

I use the Canon system. I wouldn't get bogged down in what camera system people use - once you start buying lenses it gets expensive and unwieldy to switch to another system.  Plus, you get to learn how to instinctively use the cameras you have over time. If you work every day with your cameras, lenses, you rely upon them working right the first time and every time, so you don't miss the moments.

NQ: If you could shoot in any city in the world and get paid for it, where would you go?

JG: London

NQ: What aspects of Manchester don't you like?

I wish I could park for free, anywhere I fancied.

NQ: How has social media impacted your life and career? Is it better or worse?

JG: Outside of friends, family and colleagues, those who have heard of me likely have done so as a consequence of the power and influence of social media. Press photographers aren't "names" that people recognise. One photograph and the amplifier of influential people on Twitter brought what I do to a lot of people's attention in a way that is rare. I was shooting "night-time economy" from 2008 to 2015. My photos were of interest to other street-photographers and, later, were published in newspapers, but it was a smaller audience and more often the interest was in content rather than form.

It still feels too close to say what impact it's had on my career. I'm still doing the same stuff I was, the day before, and I hope to still be doing it next year.

Photography of Manchester

Mark Waugh

NQ: What made you get into photography? Tell me about the initial moment you knew it was something you wanted to do

MW: Christmas 1983. I was 13 and had an interest in photography and my mum bought me a Practical MTL5. I It was like someone has handed me a Ferrari.  I already loved taking picture but from this day on I was hooked. My mum always says it was the best investment she ever made.

NQ: How did you get into press photography? Were you “scouted"?

MW: I had worked for a number of photographers and was getting more into the printing side of the business. As I sat in a darkroom I was wondering what I could do to get back behind the camera.  I was thinking of different jobs I should go for and the press ticked the boxes. I applied at a local newspaper as a darkroom assistant/photographer and pushed my way out of the darkroom as much as I could.  This experience got me my job on the Manchester Evening News:  the paper rarely employed photographers, I think in the last 20 years they only employed two people.

NQ: How do you feel when you shoot in Manchester? Do you feel like that city is always changing or will there come a time when photography in the city goes dead?

MW: I love to shoot in Manchester. A couple of years ago I was shooting in the city a couple of times every day, but these days I tend to be in the city very little. I loved that I knew everything that was going on and what was around every corner. Manchester is a fab city and one I will never become bored of.

NQ: What is your favourite type of photo to shoot? What equipment do you normally use?

MW: I probably like feature jobs the best. I just enjoy meeting so many different people, it’s great to turn a simple job into something special. I use Canon cameras and prime lenses, but I’m no camera snob -  great pictures are taken by people with the best eye for the job, not the people with the best kit

NQ: If you could shoot in any city in the world and get paid for it, where would you go?

MW: I think New York is the greatest city for photography, and a city I’ve been lucky to shoot in many times.  I could very easily spend the rest of my life on Manhattan without every getting bored.

NQ: What aspects of Manchester don't you like?

MW: The part of Manchester I hate is all the people sleeping on the street. It’s getting so bad and is a sad reflection of society failing.

NQ: How has social media impacted your life and career? Is it better or worse?

MW: I remember a time without social media very well and could easily live without it, I’m very busy anyway, so don’t really use it to market myself.

Social media has killed newspapers in many ways.  Sadly, greedy newspaper owners have opted for the cheap option of collecting free images off social media, so now a simple car crash can make it onto a newspaper website just because its free content. But being forced into a freelance career hasn’t been all bad and the pay is a lot better than working for a company.

manchester
Salford Quays by Mark Waugh

Two photographers, two different responses to the same questions. This all connotes how every photographer is different when it comes to their work and working within such a busy city and this has allowed many more creatives to come to the city without fear of doing the “same thing” or being scared of getting recognised. As Joel states “Manchester is ever-evolving - its growth and redevelopment” truly is amazing and this can only be reflected in the work of the ‘normals’ like you and me, the students, the creatives, the hipsters, the suits and anyone else you can name who has the ability to take a photograph. It truly is nice up north.

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