An Interview With: Sophie Harrington
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I am graduating from Bath Spa University with a 1st Class honours in Photography this July. I am so happy and overwhelmed by this, it has really motivated me to go on and do something positive with my photography. I have studied at Bath Spa for three years and thoroughly enjoyed it! Bath is a beautiful city. I am otherwise based in Yorkshire and Cardiff between where my family live and work. As a photographer I like to explore the sense of belonging we have to others or to particular places. I see this as the essence of what influences us as human beings whether it be from our experiences or our observations.
What would be a short description of your project?
This project explores my interest in hearing and documenting the stories of people who inhabit the edges of society. The subject of the project was Richie who was a busker I met in Bath. Richie’s publically perceived self is very different from his private, internal self. In gaining his trust over time I was privileged to discover much more about his beliefs, values and aspirations, which I was able to capture with my camera.
I began with examining what constructs our identity and realised it could be the fear of losing our individuality. It was this which motivated his choice to live an alternative way alongside his connection to nature. This series highlights the way he has gained stability in his own non-materialistic way, avoiding the desire for material things in life, which he believes can result in never being truly content.
What genre do you think your work falls into?
The genre of this project falls under documentary. I applied my way of photographing the world - in an abstract manner also to this project.
What inspires your work/style?
For this project I branched out away from the style I had developed over the previous two years, which was based a lot more on capturing an abstract view of my surroundings and my personal life. Whether it be from my past, present or future thoughts and emotions. I like to invest time into exploring how we respond individually to these stimuli, a place or event in either our past or present. I enjoy analysing and representing emotions and tend to be drawn towards the misunderstood and unobserved. I remain fascinated in how using the camera as a tool, I have been able already to further analyse my own past and how it effects my present. I have also used my own personal stories to inspire my style and work.
What interests you about people living on the edge of society?
I believe most people who live on the edge of society are extremely misunderstood and looked upon differently than those who choose to live in society. I have always felt that to live on the edge of society, something must have happened in your life to push you towards that way of living. They must have a story to be told. Instead of focusing on my personal story, I was ready to tell someone else’s. I have always been fascinated by how other people other than my family live. I feel you can learn a lot more from people that have a less materialistic outlook than someone that has many of the things they need. Their approach to life is one that should be told and I believe photography is an honest approach to represent this.
What problems did you have to overcome to take the more intimate photographs?
I based the series in his home which was his van. This was a restriction in itself as there is only so many photographs you can take of a small van. I also had to overcome the factor of not knowing Richie in the first place. I met Richie as he was busking in the centre of Bath. I was initially interested in Buskers as a collection of people but as I got chatting to Richie and heard a northern accent I instantly felt at home. I didn’t take my camera out for the first few meetings so I could get to know him and not have the camera physically and mentally in-between us. I guess this was the main way of how I overcame the more intimate photographs as he had become comfortable with me. Developing trust is key to this type of work.
Was there any lessons you learnt from making this project you have learnt from?
I have learnt that people as a subject are fascinating and I would like to carry on to push myself out of my comfort zone and meet other people and tell their stories. I would be more inclined to focus on people who do live on the edge of society as I really feel they tell a strong story. Three weeks into my project, I nearly gave up on the whole idea of photographing others as I found myself struggling to find a subject. I have learnt not to give up on ones initial idea and to have confidence within my approach. I also learnt that when working with people you have to be patient and flexible in terms of when to meet them and to be prepared to do a shoot at no notice.
What are your plans for the future?
I have been given a wonderful opportunity to volunteer with Raleigh International where I will be travelling out to Tanzania for three months this September which I am very excited about. I hope to arrive back in England with a whole new outlook on life and bring back experiences which will range from daily life to my photographic work. I will continue to approach my photographic work with in a deeply personal way, even if I am telling someone else’s story.
All images copyright of Sophie Harrington