Author: Art Republic Newsletter

An Interview with Documentary Photographer John Angerson

To celebrate the launch of four new John Angerson artworks this month, we caught up with the celebrated documentary photographer to talk inspiration, themes, gear and upcoming projects. Read the interview below, and don't forget to check out John's collection here.

Christ Church College Ball, Oxford, UK, 1989

Christ Church College Ball, Oxford, UK, 1989

 

Can you tell us a bit about your journey into photography and what initially sparked your interest in this medium?

I consider myself fortunate to have embarked on my photographic journey at the age of 14. Back then, I was rather shy and not particularly inclined towards academics. Photography, however, bestowed upon me a newfound sense of purpose and boosted my confidence. I feel lucky to have discovered a vocation that allows me to lead a life centred around exploration, akin to that of a professional tourist. I've noticed that many people outside of the industry find it somewhat surprising that I've been able to make a living out of my adventures. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to meet wonderful and intriguing individuals as well as explore unique and off-the-beaten-path destinations that are not typically accessible to most people. 

NASA #12, 1996
 NASA #12, 1996

 

Your portfolio features a diverse range of subjects and styles. How would you describe your overall photographic style and approach to storytelling?

I believe my work could be categorised as documentary, or perhaps a more fitting description would be non-fiction. I operate as a solo entity, armed with nothing but my camera and a spark of inspiration. My approach leans heavily on instinct, allowing events to organically take shape. I often find that the real world doesn't require much intervention or manipulation from my end; it's inherently surreal in its own right.

Your 'English Journey' series retraces the steps JB Priestley took in his 1934 classic book of the same title. What inspired you to undertake this project, and can you share any memorable experiences from your time documenting these events?

The project's origins trace back to 2008 when I was living in Bradford. Fresh out of college, I took a job photographing vicars and steam trains in northern England for a picture agency. My frequent visits to the Photography Museum in Bradford led me to a sculpture of a man in a coat with a pipe outside the main entrance that I identified as J.B. Priestley. After reading his 1933 book "English Journey” I was captivated by its beautiful prose and contemporary relevance. That's when the idea took root. Years later, I secured a grant, transitioned from 35mm to large format photography, purchased an old camper van, and embarked on my journey. However, my initial attempt turned into a rather dull local history project. Upon processing the film, I realised I'd completely missed the essence of the original book. The following year, I tried again, determined to forge my path.

My research shifted to finding places that Priestley would not have seen but would have found intriguing given his age and political leanings. I aimed to spark a visual conversation about England's transformation without resorting to clichés, avoiding symbols of "banal nationalism." Instead, I sought out signs of "banal transnationalism," depicting England as a country marked by transnational ownership, service stations, fast food chains, delivery services, and zero-hour contracts. My photographic journey included capturing quintessentially English scenes, like the hallowed turf at Liverpool's football stadium. Even at Anfield, where I gained access through a sports photographer friend, my focus remained not on the players but on the grass. It was all about the grass.

NASA #11, 1996

NASA #11, 1996

 

Many photographers have a favourite piece of equipment or a go-to camera. Do you have a preferred camera or lens that you often use for your projects? If so, why?

Recently, I found a 1963 Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex film camera at my local camera dealer. After having it serviced, this camera has become one of my favourites. Not only does it take beautifully tonal and incredibly sharp images, but it also possesses an intriguing power – the ability to disarm people in a way that modern digital cameras can't seem to replicate. When I'm wandering through public spaces, I've noticed a profound shift in people's reactions. They appear to be utterly enchanted by this relic of the past, and their responses to me are decidedly distinct from what I'd experience with a contemporary digital counterpart. Could it be that it makes people feel less threatened, transporting them back in time to a simpler, more nostalgic era? It's a captivating phenomenon that keeps me reaching for the Rolleiflex, eager to capture more photographs.

What can you share with us about your latest additions to your collection on Art Republic and are there any upcoming projects or themes you're excited to explore through your photography in the near future?

In this latest addition to the Art Republic collection, I have selected some of my more recent work, with particular emphasis on my "On This Day” project. In this project I have embarked on a remarkable journey through the annals of European history since the dawn of the 20th century, seeking out moments of extraordinary and transformative significance. What sets "On This Day" apart is its commitment to capturing these historical milestones in a uniquely immersive manner. Each photograph has been made and aims to transport you back to the very locations where these momentous events unfolded, on the very day when the history was made. These events, both ephemeral and everlasting, unfolded in the blink of an eye, yet their far-reaching consequences have left an indelible mark on European history. They are fleeting in their brevity, yet eternal in their impact, altering the course of Europe's narrative in ways that resonate even today.

Sir Grayson Perry CBE RA

Sir Grayson Perry CBE RA

 

Many of your projects seem to focus on capturing unique and intriguing aspects of human life. What draws you to these particular subjects, and how do you choose your photographic projects?

The majority of my long-term projects begin with an entirely different initial concept and gradually transform into something entirely new over time. I'm often inclined toward subjects about which I have little or no understanding, using photography as my medium to embark on a journey of exploration. It’s akin to pursuing a university degree in a specific field, but instead of traditional exams and coursework, my education involves making hundreds of photographs. Pinpointing precisely what draws me to a particular subject is hard to work out, I believe it's partly driven by my fascination with the unknown, as well as my curiosity for things that intrigue me. In essence, my photographic work becomes a means of unravelling the mysteries and stories concealed within these subjects, helping me bridge the gap between my ignorance and understanding.

Head to John's collection to get your hands on his work and keep up to date with all of his releases.

 

 

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