Words by Kim West..
I’ve talked at length with Keith about his Street Photography style – his ethos, his way of working, his way of approaching Joe Bloggs – but I’ve not seen it in action – until today. I’ve also never seen a photographer chase a Filipino in Elvis sunglasses before, but there’s a first time for everything. Oh, and please don’t think Keith chases people down the street – he really doesn’t, but sometimes an opportunity is too good to miss.
So here we are; Keith, Pat, myself and Scott (our Manc tour guide for the day), two cameras and a notepad – we’re on a recce mission for the upcoming Manchester Street Photography Courses. Our target is the Northern Quarter, namely Tib Street and Oldham Street, leading through into Ancoats, the next up and coming area in Manchester. Its history lies in cotton milling, which is evident in the converted apartments and office spaces born out of these giant industrial shells. It’s a chance to scout out the area, get a feel on the vibe of the people, the atmosphere of the streets, a flavour of the culture – and it doesn’t disappoint. The area is a hive of activity for the cool kids – it was developed as recently as the 1980’s and provides a blank space for the creative, the alternative. “Madchester” grew here (for those not familiar, this was the birth of gritty, Northern music courtesy of The Stone Roses, James and The Happy Mondays); old gig venues of legend and famous bars owned by famous people are still evident. In no time at all Keith is in touch with the Northern Quarter. He’s like a Keith in a Camera Shop (more on that another time) – within ten minutes he’s noticeably buzzing. In his own words “I’ve been ‘ere ‘bout ten minutes and already I’ve shot three amazing people”. He’s fascinated by situations and the people within them.
The area is made up of a few streets that run parallel to each other, but linking these is a series of edgy side streets, their paths a patchwork of old cobbles, crumbling stones and tarmac. Buildings are a mixture of industrial revolution reminders and modern cityscape structures, and it’s down these streets that we begin to meet our first characters. An art student photographing his own work – printed graphics which he’s shooting perched in bricked up windows on the side of a building and an old geezer outside the dodgy video shop is to Keith is like nectar to a bee. Some of his subjects are shot following a conversation with them, some are shot unknowingly. If you’re subtle in your approach to shooting someone in stealth-mode, and Keith is, you really can capture an un-posed, completely honest moment in time. Unfortunately he’s unable to shoot a pair of Community Support Officers taking five minutes rest sat on the step of a Church. It’s likely the juxtaposition of their uniforms against the old stone would indeed look fantastic and tell a story, but their Rules and Regs don’t permit photography – and that’s fine. This highlighted to me the importance of making that connection with people if you’re wanting to shoot up close.
The Northern Quarter just doesn’t stop producing. A chef taking his cigarette break in his apron and whites out the front of his restaurant. A woman in a Habib serving behind a coffee bar. A delivery guy in high-vis chatting to the girls in a shop with all the ease of long term friends. It’s like a playground for street photography. I asked Keith if he ever found it overwhelming; there seems to be something to excite him every ten yards, but he tells me no, never, and if ever there’s a missed opportunity, there is always another corner to look at. I heard him use the word “inspire” numerous times throughout the day, and it quickly started to rub off on me. I found myself suggesting backdrops, explaining to him why it struck a chord with me, hanging back to study the front of a shop I normally wouldn’t have looked twice at. Having never really taken the time to study small-hold shop fronts in detail, I found a whole new appreciation for the details.
Keith walks like he tells a story; plenty of tangents, stopping and starting, darting down alleys and delivering the punchline via ten other tales. His passion is unquestionable and the day evolves. We take a short break in a trendy eatery for coffee as we plan our next move – a visit to the famous Affleck’s Palace.
Here is some information on Keith’s Street Photography Course in Manchester..