1. I first came across your work on twitter, what impact do you feel social media has had on your photography? Do you feel that social media is playing an increasingly important role in the life of a photographer, how do you feel about this?
With a lot of hard graft, social networks can be a great way to build an audience for your work as a photographer. They can also be a colossal waste of time, so occasionally I’m bored with them, but most days I enjoy them.
I love to see other photographer’s work develop over time too. However, I don’t have much truck with ‘diary pictures’ as some people call them. I’ve probably had my fill of ‘my office for the day’ type shots or ‘here’s me boarding a plane’.
2. When wandering around a location, what is it that draws you towards a person to take their portrait?
Every portrait I take has a different circumstance so there is no template. But in general I’m drawn to people of interest, people who are different, people who show something about the make up of a particular town.
3. I once got told by a tutor at University, that if I took photographs half as well as I chatted to strangers then I’d have been onto something. What is your approach to engaging and photographing strangers?
It’s the most common question I get asked and sadly there is no real answer. I often feel people think I have a standard phrase I come up with when I stop people - maybe I have a card with the sentence printed that I pull out and rehearse. In truth, I just tell the peoplewhat I’m doing and ask them for a photo. Sometimes they say yes, but many times they say no. But I’ve done it enough times to not take it personally and move on.
4. Have you stayed in touch with any of the people you have photographed on your travels? Or is it all about that fleeting moment for you?
I keep in touch with many, but my main aim is to be a photographer and present a visual story. Although I have great interest in the people I meet, I don’t set out to tell their individual tales or write about them.
5. One thing that really strikes me with your photography is the use of colour. What is it about colour that appeals to you?
I didn’t set out to use strong colours, it just developed naturally. Often when I take a photo it’s just an instinctive feeling that there are matching or clashing colours, patterns or shapes, and it’s only when I’m editing that I see what’s happening in the image. I’m sure if I spent a long time trying to conjure up colour co-ordinations or set people in complicated situations, it would all look forced and unnatural.
6. When you arrive at the editing stage, how do you approach it? Do you dive into it head first on your own, or do you invite the opinions of people who's judgement you trust?
Mostly I edit myself for social networks. I try to bring an interesting flow of work that comes from different areas of the country and varies between people from different backgrounds, ages and genders. I also develop projects that don’t have portraits at the same time and weave those shots into the mix.
If I’m working on a book, I tend to involve other people. Firstly it’s family, then I go wider if need be. However, I don’t want to get bogged down with editing. It can really knock your drive to get out and make new work if you spend too long contemplating which photo should go where, who should write the foreword etc. That’s time I could use being out on the street.
7. Does the reaction to an image on social media play any part in your decision as to whether you include it in a final edit?
To a small extent, but I often forget how well an image was received and rarely go through what I have posted.
8. You have self published two photo books to date, what was the thinking behind self-publishing your work? Did you enjoy the process and would you recommend it to other photographers?
Self-publishing is a great way to tie up a project, present a series of edited work, make a statement – all sorts of things. It can be expensive or it can be cheap but one thing it always seems to be is very hard work.
I enjoy the process, but it’s not for everyone. It’s harder than you might imagine to sell 500 books and recover your printing and designing costs. There are many late nights trying to spread the word about your book, pack up those you have sold and make endless trips to the Post Office.
9. If the opportunity arose, would you like to take the format of ‘Crossing Paths’ abroad?
I would love to go abroad, but I have a busy family life and I don’t have deep pockets so as yet I have no plans. Maybe one day...!
10. You’ve been travelling up and down the country taking street portraits for over five years now. What motivates you to keep going? Do you have an ‘end goal’ in mind for this work, or are you going to keep going as long as you enjoy it?
What motivates me...quite simply I enjoy being a photographer. Aside from a few student, part-time jobs, it’s all I’ve ever worked at. I also enjoy the hustle of being on the street making new work, meeting new people.
I’m very wary of setting ‘end goals’ because maybe if I met those goals, I wouldn’t have anything to do. So I’m happy to let the work develop naturally and see where it takes me.
11. I noticed recently that you posted about a new photo book purchase on Instagram. What photo book are you looking to add to the collection next?
I buy photo books as often as I can afford which sadly is not that often. So if anybody fancies buying me one, here’s one of a few thats caught my eye.
Martin Parr’s upcoming book, Think of Scotland. I’ve got to know Martin a little and he’s been very friendly and encouraging, so I’m excited to see his take on my homeland.
With regards to books I have bought, and would recommend: Janet Delaney’s book South of Market, I think it may be out of print, but you might catch a copy somewhere, it’s a fantastic body of work from San Francisco. I’m always a fan of Craig Atkinson’s Café Royal Books, recent ones I liked were Barry Lewis’s Blackpool and John Bulmer’s Hartlepool 1960s.
12. You’ve got an exhibition coming up at the Museum of London in May, tell us a bit about that?
The exhibition is to be held in the Rotunda space at the entrance to the Museum and will feature more than 30 images from across the capital. They will be printed up large scale with some over 5ft wide – larger than life size. The idea is to present London as a modern, multicultural, international city. I’m excited and daunted by it at the same time. It runs from 18 May through till the 15 October. It’s free and because it’s in an outside space, it’s open 24 hours of the day. So as Leslie Crowther used to say, ''Come on Down''.
If you want more information on Niall's upcoming exhibition visit:
To keep up with Niall's work, you should check out the links below: