Stephen, tell us something about yourself, what is your personal and professional background?
I’ve lived in London all my life, first North and now South. I started off making short films, then documentaries for the BBC and now I spend my time writing film and television scripts then trying to get them made…..

Why do you take photos?
Mainly because it’s so difficult to get films made! And because I just love the unexpected nature of street photography. I never know what I’m going to see from one day to the next and that’s constantly exciting to me.

How would you describe your personal photography style?
Point and hope.

“I prefer the mentality shooting film forces upon me. Because I only get 36 – or even just 12 – shots on a roll, I have to think about every frame I shoot and consider it carefully, I enjoy that discipline”

Where do you find inspirations?
Other photographers, both famous and less well known friends and contemporaries. Also cinematographers for features and documentaries. Inspiration is everywhere, in fact there’s so much inspiration it’s easy to spend all your time being distracted and neglect to do your own work.

What was your first camera?
I think it was a Minolta XGE but it got stolen the week before I was meant to start on a photography course and this put me back by several years.

Which camera do you use now?
Mainly a Contax T3 for 35mm and a Yashica MAT 124G for medium format. Sometimes a Mamiya 7 if I can borrow one.

Digital versus analog photography – pros and cons?
I don’t really shoot digital at all, I understand that it’s very convenient and I’m not criticising it but I simply prefer film. It’s not just about the look either, I honestly prefer the mentality shooting film forces upon me. Because it’s more expensive and because I only get 36 – or even just 12 – shots on a roll, I have to think about every frame I shoot and consider it carefully, I enjoy that discipline. I also love the wait before I get the pictures processed, I like not knowing if I got the shot, it means there’s an extra layer of suspense and I think I’d miss that if I went digital.

What makes a good photography in your opinion? Which photographers’ work do you appreciate the most?
First and foremost I think of myself as a street photographer and I like photographs that are candid and unplanned but which also convey a sense of mystery and the suggestion of a greater hidden narrative. So some of my favourite photographers would be people like Tony Ray Jones, Jeff Mermelstein, Saul Leiter and Harry Gruyaert. Photographers who were able to just wander the streets but capture and transform everyday occurrences in to something exceptional.

When and how did you start taking photos?
I bought a Yashica T5 and went to India. That got me hooked. This was in about 1997 so I was 27, I had taken photographs before this but never seriously. A friend of mine, who is a great photographer was really enthusiastic about the Yashica and I liked it because it was small and inconspicuous. So I got one, shot one roll of film and was amazed with the results – suddenly I thought I was a good photographer! Then me and my wife went to India on holiday a few weeks later and I used it every day and got hooked. I ended up breaking two of them through over-use.

“India was just a totally different world, I’ve lived in London all my life and so I thought I was used to cities but nothing in the West could prepare me for the explosion of life that is just everywhere on display in India”

What did you find interesting in India compared to your hometown London?
India was just a totally different world, I’ve lived in London all my life and so I thought I was used to cities but nothing in the West could prepare me for the explosion of life that is just everywhere on display in India. For a novice photographer it’s a great place to be because there is so much going on and people are generally very friendly. So it was a great education. My favourite photo was of a group of men cutting a small kid’s hair, it was a photo that came out of nothing, we were just walking down the street and I saw this, took the photo and moved on but even now 20 years later it still makes me smile – even though the child was crying his face off – and transports me straight back to that place.

“I like photographs that are candid and unplanned but which also convey a sense of mystery and the suggestion of a greater hidden narrative”

On which projects are you working at the moment and what’s next?
For the past five years I’ve been working on a book that combines my street photography with short stories that I’ve written inspired by the photographs, below is a story to go with the picture of the woman sitting on the balcony. I think it’s a unique project and I’m very excited by it. It’s called Sparks and it’s basically my life’s work – so far. It’s currently crowd funding and we’re very nearly there but I still need some help! More details can be found here.

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“She has lived in the house her whole life and has no intention of ever moving. Each afternoon, weather permitting, she carries a chair out on to the terrace and settles down to look. The view of the coastline is stunning and she knows it by heart – the mountains and tree covered islands like vertebrae in the mist…. this is why she now chooses a smaller chair and is careful to position it close enough to the wall so that she can’t see over. She still wants to take the air but has no desire to look at that fucking view ever again.  

Instead, she focuses on the tiles and takes pleasure in what she finds there. The quality of the workmanship, all done by her father. She can stare at the lattice of cement straight lines for hours imagining each tile holds a different memory from her past. Although she’s just as content to switch focus and concentrate on the tiles themselves, follow the passage of drops of condensation or the gradual spread of mould and lichen, a spider doing battle with a fly or a parade of ants as they carry their spoils back home. All of it unfolds right in front of her, an entire myopic world.   

She has no further use for the more conventional view. She has seen it so often that it bores her to tears. If just one more person tells her how lucky she is or mentions the tree covered islands and how they look like vertebrae in the mist again she is going to stab them repeatedly in the face with a blunt chop-stick, she’s not joking. She doesn’t care any more.”

(Excerpt from Sparks)

ALL © STEPHEN LESLIE