Chris Porsz on photography
In the early seventies my wife Lesley and I hitched hiked to Africa and all I had was a Kodak Instamatic which made camels look like dots in the desert. My hobby really took off with the birth of our first child Simon in 1978 followed by Adam and Emma. I progressed from Pratika to Canon and turned over my front room in Alma Road to a darkroom and burned the midnight oil.
I cannot draw or paint so like to express myself through a lens. I guess my photos say something about me and how I see and perhaps would like to see society. It is why my photo of ‘Good Neighbours’ in Gladstone Street speaks volumes. I know from my parents' experience where racism and hatred ineviatably leads to. In the eighties I walked the streets for hours, days capturing unique snapshots of Peterborough and its characters. Then I rushed home excitedly to develop and print but was often disappointed by blurred, mediocre, out of focus, under and over exposed ruined images.
Occasionally though a little gem has stood the passage of time and made it all worth it. So take plenty of anything and everything as digital is cheap and take several different exposures to avoid disappointment. Auto focus is a great boom especially with my poor eyesight. It suits my candid photography well and I have great respect for the masters who had no such luxury. With modern cameras most people can take a half decent photo. A good camera helps but the trick is spotting something different and unusual just at the right moment. Many photos are ruined with that white van or polythene shopping bag fluttering in the background.
My favourite style is candid, that is natural and unposed where possible. Mainly people, old characters with weathered faces, walking sticks up against the elements and adversity. Forgotten special moments captured for posterity. I would mainly roam the city centre, Gladstone St, Eastgate, where there was lots of activity. Much like Millfield of today with its great cosmopolitan mix, rich with characters that make great photos. I feel a great affinity with the new Poles as they remind me of my parents' struggle and I just wished they had taught me Polish as a child.
A lot of my subjects of social deprivation suits monochrome much better as colour can distract the eye from the person behind a face. Humour is very important to me too and I would wait ages by a big billboard for the appropriate person to go by. Try it, that juxtaposition shot. I do hope my pictures make you smile. It is true to say we can make photos rather than just take them. Sometimes I would ask if I could take someone's picture and most people did not mind. Even better when walking through town groups of youths would invite me to photograph them.
My regrets are not taking more of old Peterborough before it was covered up by Queensgate and other developments. So get out there and take more before it is a distant memory. Buildings at the time were incidental to me and it was the characters I was searching for. If I took a picture of a building I usually had a person walking by to give it life and scale. You will rarely see a photo of mine devoid of people.
I have changed my style now and mainly use a wide angle lens to get everything in so as to place people in their context. Some of my favourite images are when people react spontaneously to me and my camera. It is often the eye contact, or some gesture that separates the mundane from a special photo. Something you do not get with the artificial compression of a telephoto lens. A wide angle draws you in and makes you feel part of the photo.
My heroes include Henri Cartier-Bresson the father of candid photography. His Decisive Moment, the fraction of a second when you press that button. “Oop! The Moment, once you miss, it is gone forever.” Robert Capa of course and his very relevant advice “if your pictures aren’t good enough you aren’t close enough”. So don’t be shy, ditch the telephoto sometimes and get in close and interact with your subject.
Other heroes include Elliot Erwitt, Jane Bown, Chris Steele-Perkins and the brave photo journalist Don McCullin from Finsbury Park to Vietnam, to his seeking peace in Somerset landscapes. His powerful photographs enhanced by that grainy, gritty rich monochrome. They can all inspire us to take better photos.
Relaxing from work, I still love wandering the streets, chatting to complete strangers, listening to their potted life stories and recording everyday life in the changing face of our city.
Whatever you do, back-up your photos. I have learned the hard way and lost fond memories. I am treading the streets again, making up for lost time after a twenty five year gap to photograph my city and its people. I hope my photos will continue to fascinate and provoke mixed emotions to unique moments of time, captured in fleeting expressions on a face.