“Victoria!” by Annette Johnson
3rd place in SaPP (Street and People Photography) Competition “People commuting through the city)
I currently live in Korat in Northern Thailand having spent most of my life living in London and the South of England. I am retired and enjoy my time photographing the world around me and travelling.
Back in 1982 I bought my first film camera, an Olympus OM10 and progressed through many more SLRs until the advent of digital. I have to say I was slightly reluctant to engage with digital at first, but the lower costs and the delight of getting instant results won me over. A Nikon D70 was my first digital camera, followed by a variety of models including a Sony, before arriving at my current camera a Canon 70D. Funny how I have gone from D70 to 70D, that still makes me smile!
My passion for photography has quickly taken over my life alongside my love of travel. I have combined the two in the hope of inspiring people to go and visit amazing places, meet wonderful people and experience so much more of our wonderful world. If they can’t then hopefully my photography will give them an insight into other people and places and let the creative side of their brain relax and enjoy the world.
I find London a fantastic city; a mix of people, sounds, smells, architecture and culture that makes it a wonderful location for photography.
During 2015 when I was undertaking a photography course, that I started working on a project called “making people anonymous”. I had researched other artists and photographers to get some inspiration and ideas (always a good thing to do). I visited an art exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery in London which was exhibiting the work of Viviane Sassen. I was interested in her as another female photographer and also because she has a great way of using “colour” and “anonymity” within her work. Sometimes this seems deliberate in the way she forms the models in her final images, but at other times it seems almost accidental. I became a great fan straight away and got ideas for how I could approach my project to make people anonymous in my own work.
The second inspiration I found was much closer to home in L S. Lowry, the great 20th century “matchstick men and women” artist from the north of England. I found that anonymity in his images came from the number of people, the lack of features and the dark dress of his subjects. Many of his paintings display a mass all shuffling their way along to work, city or parks.
I wondered how I could mimic this photographically, so I decided to experiment with light and shutter speed in the digital format. I spent the best part of a day in London trying to capture images of people where the subject would remain anonymous or where I could “make” the subject anonymous.
As I was waiting at Victoria Station for my train home, which was delayed by about 40 minutes, I started to look at the area around me. As you come into Victoria station you have to traverse across the concourse to the ticket machines to reach the platforms. On the left are some escalators that lead to a Sushi restaurant and a pub. Outside of these is a gallery overlooks the concourse. You can see almost a football field’s width of tiled floor and the beautiful glass vaulted ceiling that makes Victoria such a beautiful example of the period’s architecture. Mixed in with the brick Victorian walls and door arches are cast iron columns holding up the enormous framework needed to support the vast glass ceiling.
I positioned myself where I could see the whole of the station floor. The gallery is edged with a glass and steel balcony giving anyone an unobstructed view across the whole scene in front of you. Now normally I would have my tripod with me for this kind of slow shutter work, but London streets are not so “tripod friendly”. I started to shoot hand held standard settings just to get a feel for the light and angles of view. I find that I get a better feel for such large spaces this way and it gives me a chance to try to see what works or looks best. I am aware that what my eye sees the camera doesn’t always capture.
As I watched the hordes of commuters pouring into the station, my eyes were looking for colour, shape, pattern, numbers, direction, and most important of all movement! As soon as I saw the right point in the flow of people I shot the first few frames off, this time resting my camera on the bar rail. I dropped my shutter speed until I got just the right amount of blur in the movement of the many commuters. I must have fired of another five or six shots and remember looking at them on my camera screen and feeling delighted that my images were coming out as I had intended. I continued for some ten minutes, catching different groups of people and their movement or lack of movement and the different directions they were moving in.
The next few days were spent going through the many images I had taken before I finally arrived at “Victoria!” This image captured perfectly what I was trying to achieve i.e. making people anonymous. Although you can clearly see that people are present in the image, their features are blurred through their movement. However, there is still a strong sense of direction and colour as people rush to get home. I see this very much as people photography, even though the subjects are not clearly defined.
I noted afterwards how it was ironic that I had spent all day planning and shooting in London and finally achieved what I set out to do at the very end of the day and somewhere I had never planned to use for this project.