A few weeks ago, we did a short, sort of introductory feature on the works of London-based street photographer Ryan Harding. We recently got in touch with him, and so now we present to you our exclusive interview!
We’ve only been able to chat with Ryan through e-mail, but after going through his responses to our online interview with him, we think we could safely say that he is a storyteller. This attribute reflects in the things he does (he juggles photography with filmmaking and a bit of essay writing), as well as in his answers to our interview. We’ll go ahead and tell you now that this is a bit lengthy compared to that of our previous subjects. Nevertheless, we assure you that this feature is well worth your time.
So sit back, relax, and we hope that you’ll enjoy this one! As a bonus, we’re also throwing in a handful of really cool photographs that Ryan has shared with Lomography from his series A Brighter Summer Day, I Think It Will Rain, and Ghosts!
Hello, Ryan! Please tell us a bit more about yourself.
Hello there. Well first of all, I gotta say I always find introductions difficult. I don’t know how people do it. Where’s the cut-off line between saying too much and saying too little? I normally just settle for the classic, “Hey I’m Ryan, nice to meet you.” Job done, sorted, in the can, bon appétit. I never really know what else to say. But for you guys I’ll try to make an extra special effort.
I’m a freelance photographer and filmmaker based in London. I have many interests, but they are very nitpicky and selective. I’m the kind of guy that picks the red and green ones out of a packet of Wine Gums and throws the rest away. Yeah, that guy. Some unhealthy obsessions/passions of mine include chocolate, Wong Kar-wai films, and… oh go on then, give me a bit of Faye Wong if you’re offering. I don’t actually like mentioning my interests, for fear of neglecting others. You can’t say you like Wong Kar-wai without saying you like Christopher Doyle, can you? You can’t say you like Faye Wong without throwing a little Danny Chan into the mix, can you? It’s immoral, an act against God.
We read in a feature on I Still Shoot Film that you’ve been photographing for about five years now, is that accurate? Can you tell us about the very first time you tried your hand at photography? Why did you decide to pursue it?
It’s semi-accurate. I’ve been taking photography seriously for around 6 years now, going on 7 years. Crazy how time flies like that. But my first camera was actually a Polaroid back in the mid-1990s. But I was just a kid, so it’s not something I even remotely considered seriously. And they were just casual pictures, holiday snaps and the like. Only thing I took seriously back then was the Sega Mega Drive. But I think it was my 18th birthday in which I got a DSLR. I can’t quite recall why I wanted to pursue it, it’s just one of those things I had to have. I’ve always been a cinema lover so perhaps it was the closest thing I could get to a moving image camera.
How would you describe your photographic style? What inspires you?
I don’t think anyone can describe their own style. It’s kind of like describing your own personality. You can describe certain elements of it, sure, but you can never fully describe who you are because there are too many elements that make up your identity. And it’s the same for any artist that creates art. But certainly, as far as visual inspirations are concerned, my most significant influences are Wong Kar-wai, Christopher Doyle, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Edward Yang.
Why did you choose to specialize in street and portrait photography?
Street photography came very naturally to me. I had been photographing for two years and had dabbled in everything from macro photography to landscapes. But I found that quite limiting and boring. I started to feel that there was a lack of self-expression in shooting animals or landscapes, for example. With street photography, it’s different everyday. The lighting, the subject, the location, the spot at which you take the picture; it all changes. It’s exciting in its unpredictability. Not to mention the photos will serve as a great social document to look back on in the future. Like looking back on an old diary. As for portraits, I’ve always found people to be the most interesting subjects so it was an inevitable genre to fall into.
Have you ever had any experience shooting with Lomography cameras? If so, kindly share your story with us!
The only Lomo camera I’ve ever had was a Holga 120N. I put a few rolls through it but was never really satisfied with the results, not to mention medium format film costs a fortune to experiment on. Of course, you have the 35mm adapter which you can use but the whole sprocket hole-look is something I’ve never liked the look of.
I love the idea of cross processing but I find so much of it quite stale, particularly on Flickr and the like. It gets tiring seeing so many cross-processed multiple exposures and people thinking they’re great photographers from doing it. I don’t doubt that some of them are. But most need to ask themselves why they’re taking multiple exposures, why they’re cross processing it, and how their Lomo photos are different from the mass of others out there. Fair enough if you’re doing it for fun, that’s fine. But there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a self-proclaimed hipster photographer churning out the same old Lomo crap that so many others are and labeling it “art.” Largely because of this, the reputation of Lomo photography nowadays is synonymous with “amateur.” It’s a real shame actually, because the possibilities of Lomo cameras are actually quite staggering and I’ve seen some impressive work from those who do try to offer something different.
But definitely, I’d like to pick up a Lomo camera again sometime in the future. I’ve been meaning to sink my teeth into cross processing for a few years now.
What are the cameras that you use? What’s your favorite, if any, and why?
I use the following cameras: Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F, Fujifilm Klasse W, Hasselblad 500C/M, Mamiya 645 Pro TL, Konica Hexar AF, Polaroid SX-70. Hard to say favorites…I love all of them but for different reasons. Having said that, the Spotmatic F, Klasse W, and Hexar AF definitely get the most use.
Based on your CV, you’ve held your first solo exhibition called A Brighter Summer Day early this year in Taipei. We’re really curious, do tell us about this project and how it came to be!
A Brighter Summer Day was basically my answer to how I felt about Taiwan and the Taiwanese when I was living there for a month last year. It’s a very surreal island, brimming with energy everywhere you turn. The street photographs I took reflected the journey I was on: a bewildering odyssey brimming with nostalgia, dreams and unconventional candid actions of everyday people in everyday life.
You are both a photographer and a filmmaker, and we understand that you also pen essays. From these we can deduce that you must really like telling stories, and that you still have a lot to share with the public. What are your favorite subjects, or at least those that you frequently tackle, and why?
My essays are all about cinema. They were written while I was at university. I’d like to write more in the future but I’m quite an impatient person and unfortunately for me, essays take a great deal of time and effort to plan and write. I always write about films that I love, so it’s common for me to talk about the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, classical Hollywood films and 1920s-1960s Japanese films. Most of my favorite films fall under these categories.
What’s your dream project?
Directing my own feature film would be the ultimate dream.
Who are the photographers and/or artists and other personalities that you look up to? Why?
I mainly look up to film directors really. Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Wong Kar-wai, and Alfred Hitchcock are great. Christopher Doyle is always a huge inspiration, too. There are others, but these are definitely the most significant. I admire them all for their strong sense of dedication and commitment to their craft, gradually but surely honing it and getting better and better at it. But I also admire them because they’re all courageous in their work, be it Ozu in his meticulousness and strong sense of auteurship, or Wong Kar-wai in his willingness to experiment and discover the film during creation.
What has been keeping you busy these days? Any ongoing/upcoming projects that you’d like to share with us? Exhibitions or new films that you’d like to promote?
I’ve got a new street photography project entitled Jetlag and the End of the World. Similar to A Brighter Summer Day, it is a series of street photographs taken in Shanghai, China during a five-week holiday there. It’s a bit chaotic, more experimental, more abstract – the apocalypse in everyday life. It had to be that way – a jarring clash of everything – because that’s how I find China to be.
Any advice that you could give to fellow aspiring photographers?
Go out there and shoot. Most of what you’ll learn will be through the art of making mistakes. This is only possible out in the field. No one became a great photographer through reading books on the subject. Technical and theoretical knowledge is not enough. You need to develop an eye and a feeling for it. It’s a never ending process. But a thoroughly rewarding one if you stick with it.
Any last words?
Thanks for reading!
All photos in this article were provided to Lomography by Ryan Harding.
Related article: Street Photography by Ryan Harding