I don’t think people can be split into those who will respond positively and those who respond negatively to my work. It’s not that black-and-white; people aren’t simple or consistent, and situation and context have too much to do with everything.
SDk: You’re clearly committed to your subject matter, and your pictures are uncompromising; in its own way, would you regard your work as “extreme”?
LF: My pictures are not intended to shock, exclude or to be divisive; I aim to seduce rather than to alienate. I don’t think of my work as extreme though I know it will appeal only to particular sensibilities.
For me to take a picture of something the subject has to resonate with me. I have to feel that it is important and beautiful and deserves to be communicated. Of course I feel those things when watching a sunset or looking out over a wild landscape. The difference is that I don’t think landscapes or sunsets are improved by being mediated through photography. The experience of watching the sky ripple with colour as the sun sinks into the sea can only be made smaller when rendered photographically. It loses something in the reproduction. Landscape and sunset photography would be essential to a housebound person or one trapped between high grey walls, but it would act as a poor substitute for the real thing.
The camera is there to capture the
beauty the eye can’t see. My pictures are depictions of a beauty that is not conventional, but for me that is what makes them worth taking. By the act of turning these moments into pictures I am urging people to linger over scenes that by their nature are often inaccessible or unpleasant to physically experience and to which their preconceptions may have blinded them.
My pictures are not intended to shock, exclude or to be divisive; I aim to seduce rather than to alienate.
SDk: The light you capture in City Shadows 1 is full of actual and implied drama. How did you achieve this striking effect?
LF: I was asked by a local theatre company to take some pictures of the neighbourhood. I only had one afternoon to get the shots and the weather was stormy and menacing. I went out with a film camera and caught this scene as the clouds broke and the sunlight spilled through. Sunlight under stormy clouds is one of the most dramatic of nature’s special effects, and the deep contrast of the film added to the atmosphere in the final image.
SDk: It must be tempting to create drama somewhat artificially in these days of Photoshop. Are you ever tempted?
LF: Generally all of my pictures go
straight from camera to print without too much need for digital editing. If I do process a picture in photoshop it is usually to tweak the levels, brighten up a gloomy area or deepen a shadow. The world is strange enough as it is in my view. There is usually no need to add the strangeness after the shot has been taken.
SDk: The CCTV of City Shadows 2 could perhaps be interpreted as a seductive image: serene, yet hinting at something sinister. The state as voyeur, the camera representing the unseen hand of authoritarianism?
LF: That’s a fair reading of it. The serenity in my work is often there to sooth the bitterness of a deeper message.
On the other hand it’s not all bleak. The shadow of the tree reminds us that we haven’t conquered nature; the roots of that tree could, slowly but surely, pull the whole building down if left to its own devices. Human dominance and power isn’t always as mighty as we imagine, or as permanent. Nature is often reclaiming our world in my work… I suppose that could be seen as a bad thing, but for me it’s a hopeful message.
SDk: Many photographers have stories to tell about some of their shooting experiences; can you recount the one behind Urban Harmonies…
LF: The staircase in Urban Harmonies is in a block of flats in an area of Bristol filled with homeless shelters, drug
counsellors and outreach programmes. The road doesn’t generally get any positive news stories but instead has a certain notoriety that I’ve always felt was unfair (I walk down it night and day and have never been hassled, harassed or harangued). Every time I passed those stairs I’d pause to admire the colours and shapes and I would promise myself that I would come back and take a picture. If I were walking with somebody I would point out the staircase to them, but no-one could see what I was talking about (stupid words, this is what we need cameras for).
The serenity in my work
is often there to sooth the bitterness of a deeper message.
After several years of this I finally found myself on the street, on tiptoes, balancing my camera on the top of the fence and trying to find a composition that could capture the beauty that had been turning my head for years. It was in this position I found myself surrounded by a group of angry young women. They demanded to know what I was playing at by taking pictures of people’s private spaces. I explained I wasn’t looking into anybody’s windows and wasn’t interested in photographing any people. They pointed out that it was intrusive and wrong to shoot somebody’s home without permission. I explained that what a person can see when standing in a public place is about the best definition we have of