Hello Marie Ilford, we are honored to be able to interview you for our Featured Photographer format!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself to begin with.
I was born in Lille 40 years ago and have been living close to Paris for 15 years now.
I work as an archivist for a city in Paris’ suburb. Among other things I’m in charge of the photographic archives (photographs taken by the municipality photographers over the last 80 years) and of photographing the urban evolution of the city lately.
Seeing your remarkable work, I am curious where your creativity comes from?
My grand-father was a passionate photographer and probably transmitted this passion to me. He had his own photo laboratory to develop his prints and I still have the magic memory of watching him as a teenager. What an emotion when he showed the photographs he took (trhought panes of glass) of my grand-mother.
I had my first camera when 18, and kept it constantly with me. I then left it in a corner for about a decade. 3 years ago I was offered a digital camera by my family (Sony Nex 3) for my birthday. As ceramics and electric guitar turned out to be disastrous experiences I was looking for a way to express myself. Once again, photography came out to be evident. And very quickly analog photography.
Could you share with us how you first became interested in street photography?
I don’t know where it comes from. It has probably always been there. When I got my first camera (Minolta 5000i), I bought my first film and went directly to the street to photograph people. I also loved books and for gifts specially asked for photography books (Doisneau, Brassai…).
Finally, my boyfriend at the time was a photographer and passionate about street photography. I guess it must have helped a bit!
You are Administrator for Street View Photography France Tell us a bit about your experience, how it all started and where do you want to take it.
I opened my artist page on Facebook less than a year ago, only thinking of putting my photographs there. But I quickly discovered what a great place it was to exchange with people having the same passion. Through SVP in particular. And that it was also an opportunity to make real encounters.
I just couldn’t believe it when I was asked to become an admin on SVP France. I wondered if I would have been able to cope with the challenge it represented. I feel so happy to be part of this beautiful human experience: share photographing experiences, meet photographers from all backgrounds, watch photographs every day and train my eye, discover new talents and highlight them… I learn every day.
How has your style changed since you first started?
It’s really weird for just when I started photographing again 3 years ago I was invited to an analog shooting outing through a critic website. And I fell in love again with analog photography. Quickly, without even noticing I was making similar shots in style as I did when 18.
I will never thank enough one of the photographers that was present at this occasion and gave me the most precious piece of advice « find your own style so that when looking at your photographs people know they are yours and not someone else’s ». Never copy, do what you feel, listen to yourself! This is one the best advice I’ve ever been given! Now, and that is introducing the following question, I realize I have more confidence and get closer to my subjects.
What equipment are you using now and with what did you get started?
It has change a lot since the Sony Nex 3. When I bought it a photographer friend gave me 2 pieces of advice I never followed at the time but later: use a viewfinder and a fixed focal lens.
I quickly fell into analog photography and bought a Nikon F65 and a 50 mm.
I really appreciate not having a screen which allows me to concentrate on what’s happening around me and to listen to my emotions. I also love to see the ingredients of my photo getting organized in the viewfinder and get the thrill of shooting at the right moment! I almost never crop my shots. Since then i bought a Nikon F5 which allows me to get my shots full frame as I see them in the viewfinder.
The 50 mm fixed lens makes me move towards my subject instead of zooming. This pushes me to get more contact with my subject and gives me a lot more joy. Finally, I do analog photographs, which is an important characteristic of my work. Films costs are high so i never more than 3 or 4 shots of the same subject. This pushes me to be very cautious when framing (all the more I don’t crop them).
I process my films at home in B&W. I love the waiting between the moment i take the photograph and the moment the film is finally devopped and I discover my photograph, just like a gift! I took some lessons in a photography school this year and learned how to do my prints. Seeing the photography appear in the revelation tub is another big joy you get when you do analog photographs.
Can you tell us about your work flow from the point you first step onto the street until you showcase the developed picture?
This question is related to the previous one so I already answered to it partially.
I often walk alone to shoot. It’s a particular time I am connecting with my emotions.
I also have my cameras constantly with me (one for color and recently one for B&W). It’s on the moment I choose which one I will use. This way I can be there when the light is good or when something happens.
Finally thanks to SVP I discovered something really important. Being rather shy, I wouldn’t have thought being able to shoot with others on shooting outing. And guess what ! The opposite happened. What a discovery for me !
I enjoy the slow pace of analog photography, taking the time to take my photographs while concentrating on what I feel and what is happening around me, the waiting for the film being processed and then for the prints. This wait gives me the time to welcome my feelings about those shots and to make a selection of those I really want to share. It’ during this lapse of time I will know which photos really do count.
Do you see a particular influence, be it a photographer or school on your work? Any subject that attracts you?
When I go out on the street I have no preconceived ideas. I love to see poetry emerging from the asphalt: go towards people, being moved by odd, funny or touching scenes, see the beauty of some urban elements – graffiti, tags, posters, architecture….
I love Humanist Photography but many other photographers too (Saul Leiter, Chris Killip, Harry Gruyaert, Raymond Depardon, Martin Paar…). In an article published in a photo magazine, a photographer told that some days he felt shier and thus more like Saul Leiter, and some others he was more inclined to get contact and thus more like Bruce Gilden! This expresses exactly how I feel.
What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other street photographers?
I try not to compare with other photographers. This is a difficult exercise! And I rather think I’m not the best person to tell it. People watching my photographs would be more able to answer this.
In many of your images it seems that you are exactly on the right place at the right time. If we would split the street photography community into two categories, one is the roamer who walks around to find as many subjects as possible to get good results, and the other one is the camper who rather focuses on a place, camps out to wait until the right subject walks by, what street photographer would you be?
A photographer told me once he waited 7 hours at the same spot to get « the photo »! I’m not among this category. I can wait a little bit in a spot I noticed for something to happen but most of the time I move to something else, go on walking. But I definitely have my favourite spots where regularly come back!
Do you see your personality reflected in your work? And if yes, in what image does that come apparent to you.
Yes, of course! I consider photography as a mean of expression of my emotions. You will find me in every photo I take.
Do you often interact with your subjects?
I don’t specially interact with my subjects and don’t make them pose naturally! But I don’t forbid myself to talk to them. Those beautiful encounters are one of the reasons I love street photography. People often wonder why we take photos of them and are interested by the initiative and feel reassured.
Among your work, which is your favorite and why?
Hummm there are plenty photos I took that I love. This is really hard to pick one ! This photo is one of them. It reflects my own personality perfectly.
Tell us your funniest or most awkward street photography story
I took this dog, Léon, to the Saint-Ouen flea market and he has been “the model” that posed the most. The most “human model” I think!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from shooting on the streets?
Not a lesson but a vital fact. Thanks to street photography I learned again to watch people and things in another and better way. What a delight!
What would you tell a newcomer who asks for your advice on how to start?
Read books, go to exhibitions, not only on photography but on painting also…
Know one’s camera to be able to express one’s ideas and use manual mode.
Forget about the screen and concentrate on what’s happening around.
Learn to watch the light.
Listen to oneself’s emotions and have fun.
FIND YOUR OWN STYLE!!!
Thank you very much for this interview.
Check out Marie Ilford’s personal flick site