Words by Kim West..
I met street photographer Keith Moss in his black and white print-filled studio in Brotton, North Yorkshire – a village on the edge of the East Coast and Yorkshire moors, its roots steeped in history; Brotton was a Roman stronghold, and built its back as a mining village. Originally from Morley nr Leeds , both himself and his wife (and partner in crime) Pat openly admit to being photographically seduced by the area – its rough beaches, dramatic weather and proper northern folk.
Having worked with Keith on a couple of occasions in various guises, I’ve always found him endearingly honest, pragmatic and above all, hugely enthusiastic about people and all their emotions and rawness. It’s funny, I often joke when I go to see him that we end up in a counselling session – we talk about all sorts and everything (usually over a hot drink – sometimes a beer), and from having only met him a handful of times, I feel entirely comfortable. He and Pat are that perfect mix of husband and wife, and friends – they know each other inside out personally and professionally, and in a purely business team, that’s hard to find and difficult to develop. And God does he know his stuff. Photography for Keith is not a job or a hobby – it’s literally a way of life.
I’m here on a miserable day in January to discuss street photography with Keith. His love for it stems from his love of people – through the camera lens he has the ability to observe such variation and yet similarity in human nature and characteristics; the way people express their differences and project their personalities through their dress, their actions and their mannerisms. He has a way of approaching and conversing with people, putting them at ease, and thus is able to capture them in their most open form. It’s uncanny really. You only have to look at just a small handful of his work to appreciate it.
We began by discussing how photographing people in a street setting can offer so much more of a story than in a studio. Yes, studio does have its perks – it’s a concentrated art form, it allows for tweaking and perfectionism and minute attention to detail. Its variables are decreased and the output so much more controlled. Keith has bags and bags of studio work under his belt, he’s shot for numerous famous faces and names, but it’s on the streets where he feels his images truly tell a tale.
Street photography is natural, it’s unassuming yet powerful and it’s everyday, which we both agreed relates to a lot of people. It shows life going on in all corners of the world, all cultures, outside of the little bubble we all, as individuals, live in.
We talked about how he approaches people – sometimes he just hides a little and shoots, other times he’ll approach them with a smile and a genuine compliment – try “you look amazing, do you mind if I photograph you?” to a Hell’s Angel – it’ll get you quite far. This links us back to the blog piece recently which explores the psychology of Mirror Neurons and how it can aid you when approaching people. Fascinating stuff. Keith will start by asking a subject to embrace their uniqueness – he tells me “Often people are proud of what they have, they’re proud of what they have or of their difference, and I want that to come through in the image, be it a guy selling handmade cheeses or an old boy waiting for a bus.
My Hell’s Angel for instance, I didn’t ask him to smile, I just asked him to look straight at me. That piece conveys the guy in all his proud glory, with his wife in the background. I got her to smile – it balanced out the feeling in the picture and added humanity to it”.
Keith shoots on film in the street, and most of the time in the studio. He shoots on digital too, but he believes only on film is that essence of the art of photography maintained. He says it makes you think a bit more about your shot – with digital there’s the temptation to snap-snap-snap away, and before you know it, you’ve 200 disposable shots on your hands. With film, your shots are precious, there’s a specialness to them, which lasts long after you’ve got in from the cold outside; when your images come alive in the darkroom (a craft he teaches in his studio). We discussed the technical side of street photography – travelling light, not overloading yourself, and his favourite cameras to shoot on. I noted particularly the artisan beauty of the kit he works with. A conversation starter in themselves!
I think the humanist side of street photography appeals to Keith so much because he is, through-and-through, a people person. He understands them, he knows what makes them tick and what fulfils them, and he is lucky enough to understand himself as a person, a rare trait. This makes him a fantastic, dedicated teacher and an inspiration to talk to. His motivation and passion to explore is endless – he lists locations as far flung as Tokyo on next years’ agenda – the cultural opposite to his North Yorkshire base, and is at the moment organising a trip to Istanbul to add to his list of street photography courses.
So next time you’re out doing your shopping, keep a ready eye out for a bloke from Morley with a camera. You’ve probably just been shot by Keith Moss…