Bristol Street Photographers

Introducing the newest Instagram based street photography collective… Bristol Street Photographers.

Bristol Street Photographers logo

The group’s aim is to showcase the best street photography coming out of Bristol, UK. Originally conceived by Joseph Yarrow, the group quickly expanded to include a formidable selection of Bristol’s street photography community.

One thing that immediately struck me was the wide cross section of styles and subjects chosen by the members. Everyone has a different take on what street means to them and how they experience Bristol through the lens of their camera.

While plans for the collective may have modest beginnings, it will be interesting to see where the group positions itself over the next year. For the moment the collective has been busy introducing its founding members, with announcements including:

Take a look at the group’s Instagram page for further updates. If you’re a Bristolian street photographer then get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Bruce Gilden

at the Martin Parr Foundation

Bruce Gilden is known for the shock flash photography that every budding street photographer watches with awe on Youtube. For many photographers who aim to observe without being observed, it can feel as though Gilden has little empathy for his subjects.

Yet when Gilden presented his work at the Martin Parr Foundation, I was soon to realise that there was far more depth to this photographer than is often portrayed in online discussion.

Gilden spoke of the connection between his difficult childhood and his work, explaining how he drew on that background when deciding how to portray his subjects and projects. He demonstrated great empathy for those he photographed, and I got a real sense that he knew the backstory for every photo and every person. Gilden spoke about how he was trying to highlight and expose the lives of those who come from backgrounds similar to his own, that this is a depiction of life on the streets of those cities and not an attempt to belittle or make fun of those he photographs.

Selfie with Bruce Gilden, November 2018

When asked a question about his use of flash on the street, Gilden was frustrated by this “obvious” question and staunchly defended himself and his working practices. Was this a necessary question or was it posturing? The book”Face” demonstrates how he has taken the style from the street and used it to highlight people who wouldn’t normally be featured in a magazine or commercial setting. I would be more inclined to ask that question of those who imitate this style for likes and shares on social media.

The problem that Gilden now suffers is that he will forever be associated with pushing a flashgun in the face of unsuspecting pedestrians. Is it possible for him to present his work without having to defend this single aspect of his method? I fear not.

Book Review: Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody

Back in October (how time flies when you intend to write a blog) I had the pleasure of attending the launch of Colin Moody‘s new book, “Stokes Croft & Montpelier“, a photographic documentary of what could be described as the ultimate bohemian neighbourhood of Bristol.

Cover art of photography book Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody
Stokes Croft & Montpelier by Colin Moody

What Colin uncovered during his months of research and photography was a diverse and enthusiastic community. A community with a strong sense of belonging, creativity, nonconformity, transience and permanence. All this within the space of a small village, yet stuck between the centre and suburbs of a thriving city. Stokes Croft is a gateway to the commercial, retail and entertainment heart of Bristol, yet Colin focuses his lens on those who have set up home and business in what to many is just another gridlocked road. In this respect he has succeeded in capturing those who work and play along this corridor – capturing the heart of a community often seen as troublesome and chaotic. This is a happy documentary, a celebration of an area and its people.

Two people walk down Picton Street in Bristol. One has their arm around the other. The photograph is desaturated.

What I really enjoyed about the book is the mixture of candid public street with intimate moments captured within homes, workshops, offices and community spaces. His homage to Cartier Bresson’s bike & staircase was a lovely inclusion, but this isn’t what makes the book. What makes it for me is the pulse of energy that radiates through the movement and emotion captured on almost every page. Perhaps what will come as a surprise to many is that the majority of imagery in the book was captured on mobile phones and GoPro cameras.

The only thing that I would have liked Colin to expand upon would have been a nod to the student population that lives within and traverses through the area during term time. While sometimes not seen in the same way as the more permanent residents, this group have a significantly high impact on the neighbourhood, especially when the weather turns warm and late night street parties throw thumping beats into an otherwise still night and dancers bring traffic to a standstill. But perhaps my view is tainted by my own relationship with Stokes Croft & Montpelier.

At the book launch I overheard one person describe this as an easy book to make. I disagree with that statement. The hardest part of this book would have been the trust that Colin would have needed to gain from those he worked with. To be let into the lives of those he has photographed takes as much if not more skill than pointing the camera and pressing the button.

A person dressed in a pink coat leans against a railing. In the background is a block of flats. The colour of the flats matches that of the coat.

When I asked Colin what he felt he hadn’t been able to include in the book he talked passionately about how he wished he could have included more imagery of the churches, faith and religion present in the area. He talked about the people who wouldn’t agree to be photographed, how he respected their decision but felt it left out important historical and cultural links within the book.

Stokes Croft & Montpelier” is an important part of the history of the area. It is a moment in time and a vision of what has been and what could be.

Street London

London; August 2018

The Street London Photography Festival, now in its third year, brings together enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals for a three day celebration of street photography. Hosted by D&AD just off Brick Lane, the location and venue were perfect for an event of this kind. Run by Hoxton Mini Press and directed by iN‑PUBLiC’s Nick Turpin, the festival included panel discussions, presentations, photography walks and plenty of socialising.

This was the second year I attended Street London. I found it inspiring and energising to be amongst both aspiring hobbyists and established professionals capturing, printing and publishing life on streets from around the world. Highlights for me included:

  • Julie Hrudova showing us that originality is really hard through her Street Repeat Instagram account
  • Charlie Kwai‘s presentation on London’s China Town
  • Matt Stuart talking about his time immersed in Slab City, how he documented the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Root 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Vegas. The imagery was powerful, tender, moving and extremely emotional
  • A surprise appearance by street photography legend Joel Meyerowitz who told us to print our work and not keep everything digital

The theme for this year’s festival was to explore the borders of street photography, examining how the genre extends into areas of art, portraiture, landscape, documentary and reportage. A number of the presentations incorporated this theme as well as an hour long panel discussion devoted to the subject. But I felt that the debate didn’t really get going and it would have been more satisfying to have the festival draw a conclusion, recommendation or definition from the theme.

As was the case in 2017, one of the many highlights of the weekend was the coveted spotlight sessions where six emerging photographers were given 10 minutes to present their work. This year featured Charlie Kwai, Polly Rusyn, Nikolic Bojan, CJ Crosland, Kristof Vande Velde and Ryan Hardman with a fantastic diversity of style, location and content. I particularly enjoyed both Charlie and Cam’s presentations.

Each year the festival showcases a selection of work in a print gallery. Submitted work, reviewed and shortlisted by the festival organisers, is printed and hung within the venue’s reception. I was honoured to have two of my photos included.

Bristol; January 2018
Bristol; May 2018

The things that I took from the festival and will try to incorporate into my own work include:

  • Print my work, publish it, stick it on a wall or in a photo book
  • Take the photo, don’t over analyse before pressing the shutter
  • You are documenting the city and that justifies your work

What was really great about the festival was it’s inclusiveness, diversity and relaxed casual atmosphere. Devoting a section of the event to Women in Street as well as ensuring that discussion panels were not “male by default” demonstrated that this wasn’t a group of affluent middle age white men documenting the world from a single viewpoint. There was little in the way of showboating, with everyone being given the chance to represent their views in a welcoming atmosphere. A few other great aspects of the festival, and why you should look out for it next year, were:

  • Price – with early bird tickets from £100 this really was great value for money considering everything that was included
  • Hospitality – coffee from Climpson & Sons, drinks from Pressure Drop Brewery, Borough Wines and East London Liquor Company, and food from Spittlefields market were of excellent quality and in plentiful supply
  • Location – right in the heart of London’s East End, D&AD is perfectly situated to offer a unique mix of culture, character and entertainment
  • Passion – it was obvious that everyone involved in hosting, presenting or attending the event were passionate about street photography. This wasn’t a money making exercise, this was a deep rooted love of the genre
  • Guests – the invited presenters showed that this is an important event on the street photography calendar and people want to get involved
London; August 2017

How can the festival ensure it stays fresh and relevant in future years, without diminishing what makes it great? Here are a few ideas that could be incorporated:

  • Workshops and talks on
    • printing, framing, and self-publishing work in formats such as prints, zines and photo books
    • specific techniques such as up-close, flash, night, layering, composition, dramatic light or architectural elements
    • post production skills such as sequencing images, approaching galleries and publishers, and the language of photographic critique
  • Challenges and competitions leading up to the weekend
  • Discussion groups and breakout-sessions where a group is given a topic to debate resulting in a conclusion, statement or finding

I feel that this is an important festival with the potential to significantly influence the street genre. The festival is not a money making venture and without its sponsors it would not have been able to go ahead. I can only hope that it finds the financing to return next year. I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

Street Photography: born in Paris, grew up in New York, now lives in London.

Legality of practising street photography in the UK

I have no legal training and shouldn’t be giving advice on the legality of practising street photography in the UK. This article is intended to provide a list of resources you can use to make your own decisions on how to practice street photography in the UK and the approach that I take to a variety of situations. It is worth noting that Scotland and Northern Ireland can have different laws to England and Wales. If in doubt please consult a solicitor.

Broadly speaking if you are standing in a public place and you are photographing people where there is no expectation of privacy then carry on. As is often the case there are exceptions and as a street photographer you need to have an awareness of the following:

  • Children – many photographs that provide a historical record or social commentary of life in the UK have featured children. However, and hopefully for obvious reasons, you may attract undue attention from parents or the police if you are taking photographs of children. Unfortunately this also means that an important segment of our historical photographic narrative is being lost due to the current climate of distrust and fear.
  • Homeless & Destitute – taking photos of homelessness or people begging on the street can be like shooting fish in a barrel. It may be easy but will it result in a good photograph? I have also found that the homeless and the destitute are very observant of photographers, hyper-aware of their surroundings, and often do not want their photo taken under any circumstances. In my experience making photographs of people begging results in two things. 1 – a photograph that isn’t a keeper. 2 – a very angry person who doesn’t want their photograph taken and who will follow you around until you delete the photo.
  • Private Public Space – there are places which may look public but are actually private. This can affect shopping areas even in city centres, pedestrianised squares and footpaths. You may encounter security guards who ask you to stop taking photographs or ask you to leave.

This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t take photographs of the above, but you do need to be aware of how you approach the subject and the situation. Would asking permission help? Would having a conversation first and explaining what you are doing make it easier? This is quite possible and for many photographers this is their modus operandi. As a street photographer who aims to produce candid public photographs, this isn’t how I work.

Simon Moran has published a concise, easy to understand, guide to UK Photographers Rights. It covers issues such as where you can take photographs, what can appear in your photographs, and the subsequent publication of your pictures.

I’m A Photographer Not A Terrorist – PHNAT have published a “bust card” which may be useful as a quick reference when confronted by security guards, police or other official looking people. While aimed more towards journalists and documentary or reportage photographers, the advice can be equally applied to street photographers.

​The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) published a letter in 2010 setting out guidance for police officers on photographers and photography in public places. ACPO was replaced in 2015 by the National Police Chief’s Council who have not as yet issued similar guidance.

The British Security Industry Association (BISA) publish a guide, only available to BSIA members, covering best practice for security personnel when they encounter photographers. It is relatively easy to find a copy of this publication by searching for “Photography and Hostile Reconnaissance“.

Remember that while there may be no basis for preventing you taking photographs, and you are not under any obligation to delete the photographs, ask yourself if the photos you have made are actually good photos. Are they keepers? If you are in a situation where you feel that the easiest way to diffuse the problem is to delete your photograph then will you have a better day than if you stick to your guns?

If someone spots me taking candid photographs then I use a number of tools and techniques to put them at ease:

  • A big, broad, friendly smile
  • An explanation of what I do and why
  • Business cards – with my name, website and email address
  • A way to quickly show a selection of my best photos (since the ones on my camera will be 90% rubbish) such as a portfolio app on my phone

Things not to say (mostly from my own experience):

  • I take photos of people looking weird
  • I take photos of people doing odd things
  • I take photos of people who are doing something funny
  • I took your photo because the way you were holding your coffee cup looked like a beak

Things you could say:

  • I am practising my photography hobby. As a street photographer I document public spaces and try to capture life in Britain today.

Street photography is how I relax and have fun. I don’t find confrontation fun and as such I aim to balance the chance of confrontation with the work I want to produce. I try to know and understand my rights, as well as the rights of the subjects in my photographs. Because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

Best Street Photography Locations in Bristol

Here is a quick run-down of the best candid public street photography locations in Bristol, UK. When writing this article it quickly became apparent that central Bristol has a very different feel during the day compared to at night.

Stokes Croft

Bristol; May 2018
Bristol; May 2018

Stokes Croft is a melting pot of hipster chic, student housing, a vibrant arts scene, restaurant start-ups, clubs, bars, graffiti, drugs, alcoholism, homelessness and destitution. It is these traits that make it one of the more interesting areas of the city to hang around. On more than one occasion I have been asked not to point my camera at people – often when I am not pointing my camera or taking a photo. As a gateway to the city centre, the area transforms depending on the day and time you visit. I spend more time in Stokes Croft than in any other area of the city.

Old City

Bristol; June 2016
Bristol; June 2016

Snugly located between the high-street chains of Broadmead and the entertainment space that is The Centre, Old City gives us historical architectural backdrops, brutalist concrete buildings, a lively covered market, and an even livelier street market. This is another area of the city that transforms depending on the time you visit, with the tourists of the day making way for the parties of the evening. As the sun begins to drop, warm light streams up Corn Street to illuminate faces while the dark alleyways and quieter side-streets can offer dramatic shadows. If you are in need of a caffeine fix then hunt down Small Street Espresso.

The Centre

Bristol; July 2017
Bristol; July 2017

Once a busy commercial port with all that entails, The Centre is covered in bland concrete paving, surrounded by a busy main road and punctuated by modern fountains and the end of the harbour. During the week it bustles with commuters and office workers finding a spot for lunch, while at weekends it becomes a tourist hub and nighttime bringing hen and stag parties. This is the crossroads of the city connecting people with shopping, entertainment, offices and the university.

Park Street

Bristol; August 2016
Bristol; August 2016

Home to many independent shops, pubs, clubs and restaurants this hill is a marathon not a sprint. Starting at the bottom near College Green you’ll find sunbathers and the occasional political protest outside City Hall. As you walk up the slope towards the University buildings tourists and students will be slogging their way up with you. Look out for skateboarders coming down the hill and energetic (at least at the start) cyclists heading up.


Bristol; February 2016

Beginning in East Street and heading along North Street you will find two very different sides to the city. A high street that may have seen better days, East Street consists of pound stores, pawn brokers, charity shops, bookies, vape shops, mobile phone repairers and cheaper chain stores. As you head towards North Street you will find more independents and ‘hipster chic’, denoting the more affluent end of this area of Bristol. Home to Upfest, Europe’s largest Street Art & Graffiti festival, Bedminster is a vibrant and bustling part of the city.

Candid Public Street Photography

I practice candid public photography. As a sub genre of street photography, candid public photography is one of the most challenging and and at the same time most rewarding of the different kinds of street photography. It is also one of the forms that you are most likely to associate with street photography.

Bristol; May 2018
Bristol; May 2018

The essence of candid public photography is that it is not posed, set up, rehearsed or directed. It is a scene that you have discovered and then subsequently used to make a photograph. Your influence on the scene is minimal and you are unlikely to have interacted with the subjects. The scene will have taken place in a public location, although not necessarily by legal definition.

Candid public photography is difficult. It’s difficult because you are removing an aspect of the photograph that is under your control. You can’t control the scene, you can’t control the people, you can’t control the light. The only things you can control are yourself and your camera. You may be able to mitigate controlling the light by going out at certain times of day or when the light is “good”, but you can not force someone to stand in the shadow or the highlight.

99% of candid public photography is luck. The remaining 1% is having the skill, experience and imagination to capture the scene unfolding in front of you. Part of the reason why a great candid street photograph is critically acclaimed is because we know the effort that the photographer has had to put in to be able to make that photograph. We as candid street photographers know how many hours of walking it has taken to not only find the scene but also have the experience to capture it.

By designating photography as candid and public we are specifying how it was made and allowing the audience to judge the photograph on that basis.

Labelling a photograph as candid and public is important because it demonstrates how the photograph was made. If I had used a model or directed a subject, or interacted with the scene in such a way as to significantly influence the final image then I would not be being honest with my audience. Not being honest about the methodology used diminishes the photograph and the photographer. It would be akin to a wildlife photographer using tame animals or a war photographer making extensive use of Photoshop to add or remove objects in the scene.

The concept of candid public photography can not be claimed by any one individual, but it is championed by Nick Turpin’s #CanPubPhoto movement. Nick writes,

“It seems to me that Street Photography as a phrase now lets us down to some extent, it fails to identify the key aspects of our practice, namely that the work is shot without intervention, it is made in a public place (not necessarily the street) and it is a Photo Graph, drawn with light and not with a computer after the fact.”

We could take the idea of labelling our photographs one step further by looking at how artwork is displayed in galleries. Perhaps for every photograph we publish to social media we should include a note about our method. This is why on my Instagram posts you will see:

“This is a candid photo made in a public place. It wasn’t set up, posed or directed. This is life, as it happens.”

I do this to make it absolutely clear how I made the photograph. Equally if I make a street portrait then I am upfront as to how that image was made.