How did you get started in photography?
I got into mobile photography through Instagram. I was traveling in California and Hawaii in November 2013 and was taking pictures on my phone and kindof instinctively felt that they didn't belong on Facebook,
but wanted to share them. I remembered hearing about Instagram, but didn't know much about it at all. I downloaded it and started posting pictures and it all happened from there.
What role has your iPhone and Instagram played in it?
My iPhone and Instagram have played a huge role in my becoming
interested in photography. I think I always kind of knew that I was a visual person, but didn't really have an outlet to express myself visually. The whole mobile photography movement is one that is very close to my heart because Iam a direct beneficiary of the democratizing effect that it, and apps like Instagram, have had on photography, making it possible for visually orientatedpeople who don't necessarily have the technical expertise
required to use a 'real' camera to take great, high quality images and share them with an audience of appreciative and creative individuals who are also interested in images and visual language. I don't think it's really possible to overstate how much Instagram has changed the way I interact with people, places and images in a hugely positive and profound way.
How has London influenced your perspective?
London is a great city to photograph because of its fantastic architecture, social diversity and its status as a global, international city that is capable of attracting the best of every conceivable discipline. I photograph a lot of architecture, art and, increasingly, dance, and being in London means that I have access to and am able to experience and capture the best, most interesting and most cutting-edge expressions of all of those disciplines.
Where are your favorite places to go in London?
My favorite places are invariably cultural institutions - museums, galleries and theatres. The Tate Britain and the Barbican are two of my all-time favoriteplaces in London. In particular, the Barbican is just one of those public places where it's very easy to feel comfortable once you've acquired the hard-wonknowledge of its ins and outs. I could spend a lot of time there and always be inspired by different aspects of it every time. I also love semi-public
places like the Royal Opera House, and am sort of obsessed with getting to know it more from an insider's point of view. I worked with the Royal Opera House to hold an Instagram-related event where a handful of Instagrammerswere given exclusive access to a variety of front-of-house and backstage areas, as well as to the Royal Ballet's daily morning class, which is a huge privilege - it's not a sight many people get to see firsthand, let alone to photograph. I love that a social media platform like Instagram, which is probably
the farthest possible thing in most people's minds from centuries-old art forms like ballet and opera, is actually becoming one of the key means those art forms can use to reach out to a younger audience.
So it’s been about a year since you joined Instagram then. Did you ever expect it to turn into all that it has, in this short an amount of time?
At the time I posted my first photo (a shot taken at the Richard Meier-designed Getty Centre in LA) on Instagram I would not have believed you if you had told me about all the things that would come of being on Instagram. I've met so many great people who have become genuinely good friends - interesting, creative people who have totally transformed my social life in London for the better. I've been allowed access to places and people that I would never have had access to otherwise - getting to go “backstage” at Wimbledon in the final days of their preparation for the start of the tournament and the #emptyROH event were both dreams that I would never have imagined coming true.
Didn’t know you were the one who setup that Royal Opera event! How cool. Did you just reach out to them on a whim?
I was really proud of the #emptyROH event, especially as it was the first “empty” event in the UK and quite possibly the first ever involving a major ballet company. I approached the Royal Opera House in May of this year by sending an unsolicited email via their website, marked for the attention of their social content manager. He responded a few hours later, which was my first clue thatthey kind of understood Instagram and were excited about it. I proposed a number of ideas linked to Instagram that could raise the profile of the ROH, and they were most keen on an “empty event.” Lots of meetings and emails later, it became a reality in September, which is really quite amazing when you remember that the ROH is a working theatre with lots of different departments, potential union issues (as to employees accidentally appearing in photographswithout their permission) and myriad public, semi-public and private spaces to navigate. Add a full company of dancers into the mix, and I'm still amazed that we managed to get the project off the ground. A really interesting aspect of the project was that it was allowed to happen because it was “mobile-only” -- all
those invited were informed that only mobile photography was allowed, and that was to help put the dancers at ease and also to avoid a situation in which each photograph would have to be approved before being posted. That says something really interesting, I think, about mobile photography and is an example of where it fills its own niche and is not coexistent with traditional camera photography. I think the ROH was really pleased with the outcome and of course many beautiful images were created, reaching a wide audience on Instagram and raising awareness of these art forms, which are actually a lot more accessible than people expect. I'm a huge opera and ballet fan, so getting that message out was really important to me.
Have you been into dance your whole life? What fascinates you about it?
I danced in high school with some really superb teachers -- not enough to become a good dancer myself, but enough to come to really appreciate the art form. I've been a huge fan ever since and am a little
in awe of dancers. I love their rituals and how into their bodies they are and how their bodies move. The building blocks of dance are almost universal and link back to how we all move through space -- walking, running, jumping. When you see a really great company - classical or modern -- taking those movements to the extreme of what the human body can do, it makes you think about how you move and experience space and whether that experience can be made more thoughtful and meaningful. I think of my love of and fascination with dance as being linked to my love of music (I've played classical piano since I was six years old). They are both, for the most part, art forms that convey meaning without the use of words and so, in a way, the range of what you can “say”and what you can make the viewer or listener feel goes far beyond words.
What are you inspired by?
I'm inspired by other people's creativity, excellence in any art form and intellectual honesty.
What are some of your favorite shots you’ve taken?
I recently went to an architecture photography exhibition at the Barbican where photography wasn't strictly speaking allowed and became kind of obsessed
with the some light and shadows in a corner created by the existing concrete structure of the gallery and a temporary structure built to house a part of the exhibition. I took a couple of shots that were basically slices of light and dark in differing triangular patterns that were super simple compositionally but I thought were beautiful. I felt proud of those.
I was also quite happy with a series of photos I did of a friend's studio in East London. He's a painter / collage artist and his studio was such a direct,
physical expression of his work and his personality. He's used one of the photos I took as the cover for the invitation for his next exhibition in London, which I'm childishly pleased about. Because I don't think of myself as an artist, but am fascinated by art (in all its forms) and artists, it's a huge validation when someone I think of as creative and artistic likes my pictures.
I think the thread that runs through all the pictures that I'm proudest of is not necessarily subject matter, but the fact that I feel most stimulated
when I'm creating images of things or ideas that are related to my non-photographic passions, e.g. visual art and dance.
How important is color to your work?
Color is very important to me, as an almost structural, abstract element in any image. I'm instinctively attracted to blocks of color, and I think that color, especially when you find it in an unexpected place, like a mundane object such as a trash can or a door, challenges you to think compositionally when you're framing an image.
How much time a week do you spend obsessing over your grid? Haha, just kidding. Well, how do you feel about the grid format and taking full advantage of it?
I think the grid format on Instagram is one of its most compelling aspects. I think of anyone's grid as a personal gallery. There are a collection of images, ideas, thoughts, experiences that you've created
and curated and they represent you on Instagram. I'm really interested in the idea of curation as an act and I post images in a specific order very much with an eye on theme, color and subject, either governed by cohesion (e.g. all the same color) or contrast (e.g. different but complementary colors). I probably think about it too much, but it's very much how I judge other feeds rather than by the stream of individual images I see in my feed. I think I just inherently likecollections of objects and collages and so the grid presentation
format of Instagram was always going to be something I was likely to become obsessed with!
Interview by Jack Sommer