“We are fascinated by the past but we tend not to notice what is going on in the present.”
John Gill is a street photographer who lives in the Castleford, a former coal mining area. His recent publications include:
‘After the Coal Dust’ (2020)
‘The Black and White Book’ (2022)
For all the time John has been taking photographs he has tended to included people. As someone who has been brought up with traditional darkroom photography he says he has a preference for black and white, “colour was difficult and expensive to print at home so I concentrated on black and white”.
John is a spontaneous photographer by nature and doesn’t spend a lot of time processing his pictures, “If a picture takes more than five minutes to process it’s probably not a good photo to start with. I work on the computer but I do what I used to do in the darkroom, dodging and burning with lollypop sticks.”
He says on his website, “I do not socialise easily so photography gives me a way to interact with people from a distance”. While Street Photography has tended to move towards Urban Landscape his images focus on the human characters and activities. “The work is contained in just one or two shots and the viewer has to work out what the story is.”
“Most street photographers operate out of the big cities”, but John said he wants to make sure life in the smaller towns doesn’t get overlooked.
Among his influences are Bill Brandt who was famous for gritty scenes of life in industrial areas and a surreal approach to photographing people. He has been inspired by images that capture the urban landscape but also, for example, feature children playing in the street. Something we don’t see much of now. Photographing children now is almost impossible to do these days he says, even though it is often technically legal in public areas.
John explained that when photographing people in the street he gets very close. He said people can become very suspicious so he tries to be very quick and very discrete. He likes to move in using a wide lens which allows him to include the subject and the environment.
There are risks involved in taking the picture, especially in poorer areas. Someone once threaten to kill him and for this reason he recommends going on street photoshoots with an assistant – in his case he’s often out with his wife Bridget who is also a photographer.
In the book, ‘After the Coal Dust’ which he produced with his wife Bridget, he has tried to document life after the the mining industry. “There is not much evidence of mining in Castleford now”. “There was a massive sense of camaraderie in the mines and it bound the community together. There’s nothing that holds the community together now. There are big businesses like Amazon, but people working in these places don’t have much in common with each other. Tired people in tired towns.”
According to his website, one of his favourite images is ‘Leaving the Fair’. “I think this picture leaves enough scope for the viewer’s imagination to create a story. A good picture should be as much about the viewer as it is about the photographer or the subject.”
“We are fascinated by the past but we tend not to notice what is going in the present. If we record what our towns look like now it’ll be a valuable visual resource for the future.”
For more information about John Gill’s work and publications please visit his website. johngill.photography
Ilkley Camera Club meets on Friday evenings, usually in St Peter’s Church Hall in Addingham in West Yorkshire. The club also meets occasionally online using Zoom.
The talks programme features accomplished photographers from around the country and internationally. There are also regular photo trips around the area and specialist interest groups. Membership of Ilkley Camera Club is not restricted to the Ilkley area. More information on the website ilkleycameraclub.co.uk