"I'll carry on doing this because it gives me more than anything else."
- Harry Conway
Harry F Conway is not your usual, run-of-the-mill photographer. Capturing the soul with a single click of the shutter, he showcases an unconcealed picture of London's less glamorous ends with revealing portraits of those marginalised from mainstream society. We asked him about his work.
When did you realise you were an artist? And why, above all, was photography the one for you? I think the term artist is a big term, but I think calling yourself a photographer is even more problematic. What makes you a photographer? Everyone has a camera on their phone and the ability to digitally manipulate an image to make it nice on the eye. I guess I never knew I was an 'artist’, I just knew I couldn't carry on working that 9-5 office life anymore. Photography has always been there. I started with a Chinese rip off of an Olympus SLR, it was basic but that’s all I needed. I fell in love with the mechanical cogs and workings of a fully analogue SLR. There was a magic in allowing light to hit emulsion and creating something so fleeting at the time but something you couldn't wait to get developed. I wanted to see every frame, however poor they came out, I hadn't created these moments but I had captured them.
You have a unique ability to capture compelling and evocative images displaying the darker side of London life. How do usually go about engaging the subject? London can be a dark place. Well the side I see and feel people miss. I think with my work its easy to say: "Oh he's exploiting them they are homeless blah blah blah". Let me say this right now - walk around the streets of London and ask people for a close up intimate portrait. I'm not talking about using a telephoto lens while someone’s smiling. I’m talking about stopping someone in the street, breaking up their day, engaging them in conversation and gaining their trust to the point they allow you to access them and let their guard down. To let a complete stranger put a 50mm lens in the face and capture them without ever having met them before.
In the past, graffiti writing was your chosen form of self-expression. How has this medium impacted upon the way you approach photography? I used to write graffiti all over the capital. The trains stop running at a certain point in the night so you learn the geography of the city real quick. You spend a lot of time on the street tagging or walking to the next plot, so you pick up on certain areas of interest. I didn't really document painting much - I wanted to experience it first hand instead of through a viewfinder. Sometimes I kick myself for not capturing some truly memorable nights, yet, the fact that our generation sees the world through an LED screen is lost on me at times. For all its perks, it saddens me that instead of playing in the park, cutting their knees, kids are sitting in Westfield on their iPhone 7's. Go outside and experience the world first hand, yes document, but actually live, breathe in what’s going on around you, instead of letting someone else show you on their insta story.
How do you see your work evolving in the future? I will continue to approach strangers in the street and form connections. I'll attempt to make beautiful portraits on the street for no money. I'll carry on doing this because it gives me more than anything else. There’s a moment of clarity just before I trip the shutter, where eyes are locked into the lens and everything is perfect - the light/composition/look/focus and those moments are what will continue to get me off my arse, walking about all day talking to strangers.
Your aspirations at the moment as an artist? My only real aspirations at this moment in time is to put out a photo book I've been working on for the past year and to take care of five dogs with my girlfriend Sofia.
Finally, any messages or words of wisdom for any young photographers reading this? Straight up, never take a boring picture. Even if the picture might be overexposed and badly composed - DO NOT take boring, dull, uninteresting photographs. The internet is full of them. Everyone is chucking out images faster than people have time to process them (if there's anything to process). Slow down. Film allows you to slow the whole process of shooting down. Take time with your work, spend more time working on a series and stop catting the latest 'in' photographer. Try and find your niche.
You can enjoy more of Harry's work on his website: https://harryfconway.com/Harry-F-Conway