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A Storyteller and His Lens

A Storyteller and His Lens

On the Couch with Graham Preston (GP) and Gwen Weinberg (GW)

GW: Brad had no idea when he paired me with Graham for our “on the couch” session how fitting this choice was for me, at this point in my photographic journey. When I began shooting last summer I was all about making a strong graphic expression inside the little square, trying to squeeze as much of a first-impression visual punch as I could. But as the months passed, and I’ve been exposed to so much diverse talent on IG, I’ve found myself more and more intrigued by the storytelling possibilities that one small square can hold. Graham exemplifies this for me – each shot is not just about the initial visual impact, but also an invitation to pause, explore and discover the stories in each. His all b&w gallery appears serious at first, but soon you notice his lighthearted sense of humor, not only in the images but also in the clever, concise titles, which always add the perfect clue to the image’s story Graham is conveying. I’m grateful I had the chance to dig deep into Graham’s cool, beautiful and inspiring collection. 

Instead of choosing our own photos to present here, Graham and I decided to choose each other’s – an exercise which turned out to be a perfect opportunity for both of us to get to know each other a bit, through our images, before the interviewing began.

GW: As I went through your photos, I noticed a strong shadow theme and your unique relationship to them: they aren’t just nice shapes or extensions of the subject, nor do they take center stage; instead they’re companions with equal importance to the central figure, which altogether create and complete a little story. I hadn’t seen shadows in this way until I studied your shots (this is certainly likely to be an influence for me, so thanks for that ;) ) In these shots, did you see the shadow potential and sit in one spot awaiting a victim? Or did you quick pull out your gun and shoot as you saw them? The “ages of man” wall has become a friend of yours, no? A frequent guest on your stream…

GP: I have a love affair with shadows yes !! I like to isolate people against a background and shadows really do add an extra element. The shot of the figure with three shadows was a gift really. A woman with a pram had just passed and those are her shadows. I pass this wall on the way to work so the sunlight is low and strikes the wall giving these extreme shadows. I shot once and moved on, only noticing the crazy shadows when editing.

I do have favorite walls and places to shoot – so when driving or cycling around I will always keep a look out for how sunlight falls and how people encounter this. Living in the north of England, when the sun comes out I really get a lift. It has been a long dark winter and when the sun shines we get shadows !! Because I shoot in the morning and evening when the sun is low, I can get some extreme shadows. While editing I like to crop and exaggerate the contrast to give a graphic effect.

GW: I LOVE motion shots – my favorite IGers have plenty in their streams. The best kind of complicated. Yours are really spectacular, these two are favorites – the bike one is genius – the guy in the background, so great (can I print this and hang it?!) I take tons of motion shots, but am shy to post them; am never as confident, can’t seem to feel if I’ve done a good one… (yet I have no problem recognizing someone else’s). Are you as confident about yours as it seems? as you shoot, edit and post? What’s your shooting process, stand in one place and keep shooting away as your subject in motion passes, hoping to get a good one? Or is it more controlled than that?

GP: haha – yes you can hang the bike shot – I would be honored. This bike shot was taken at a town centre cycle race. I stood at the bottom of the hill and the cyclists shot passed at 40mph – so fast that I couldn’t catch a thing. I sat with all these guys, with their big lenses and tripods and there I was with my iPhone. I liked how the man on the other side of the road was framed against the building and I used QuickPix to capture a few frames in rapid fire so I could choose the best. I loved that evening watching the race while papping all the cyclists and then a quick edit walking back to the car and posted to IG all within 10 mins. That’s faster than any journalist. Personally I like the challenge of setting out with the task of recording an event or a walk – it focuses the mind and heightens the senses.

This is one of my favorite places to capture people. I am positioned in a large under-pass of a bridge, in half dark and as people are walking at the other side of the road, they pass from bright sunlight into the dark. Because of the distance and the mixed light, the iPhone can focus on often strange areas whilst often leaving other key parts to blur. Again I shot a few frames at a time using QuickPix.

GW: Instagram has been an eye-opener for me when it comes to shots of buildings. I’d never considered shooting them other than the straightforward “look at this pretty building” but from now on, through the lens I will only see them as potential abstracted shapes. I love these two of yours, prime examples of this, both accomplished mostly through the editing process. You’ve pared down the modern building to its essence, emphasizing and highlighting the lines. Love the negative space here too, the pure white background adding to the abstracted quality. Do you remember the decision making process in editing this shot?

The house (barn?) – love how you’ve urbanized a country setting. As you’ve increased the contrast, the structure becomes less earthy and textured, the shape itself gets outlined and defined, the building abstracted, the shot more graphic. Same question: what was your thought process here? I assume the actual shot is much more detailed and textured?

GP: Its really interesting that you chose these two different images as they show two different styles of edit and two different ages of the architecture.

The ‘barn’ image is actually an old engineers forge in an inner city area. I was looking across a railway line while I rested the iPhone on the top a bridge. It was a grey overcast day and the plain sky and concrete bridge framed the building well. The edit was minimal as the shot was already there, just straightened and tweaked the contrast to separate the buildings and sky.

The modern apartment building was my first shot I posted this year. I wanted it to be light and different from the heavily shadowed architecture I had been shooting up to that point. I was also experimenting with a new app for me, Snapseed, so I was pushing myself. It is another example of going to visit a place, especially to take photos. I had seen this building from a long distance and I detoured on the way to work to check it out. There is a conscious decision to try and not take the same photos, so by approaching the editing process from a different direction I hope to keep myself interested.

GW: Family on the beach: this a most favorite for sure. So much to love, both the story and the artistic qualities. The intimacy, the quiet happy relaxed mood… the composition, depth, quality of light… a stunning perfect photo. I realize the intimacy is achieved so effortlessly because this is your family. I haven’t seen many family shots, (loved your lockscreen one the other day – color!) so it’s nice to get a small glimpse here and there. How did you accomplish this amazing light effect? seems surreal, as if they are lit in daytime, but yet looks like a night shot. Since you post only black & white, I am curious: as you are shooting, do you “see” the scene in b/w… can you tell how something will translate into b/w as you look at it in color?

GP: For me its all about the light and with this image I shot it at the end of the day. We were in a deserted cove, busy in the rock pools trying to catch crabs. As the sun was setting the high cliffs behind us were slowly cutting off the light and casting shafts of sunlight across the beach. It is a little easier shooting your own family but it took me months before I had courage to post any of them. In this image they were occupied with the beach so I had time to play with how the camera reacted to the light, trying to get the exposure dark.

My favorite app has long been Noir and I use it here to add a little drama to the scene. The far cliff is already in shadow so that it darkened easily and the bright sun highlighting the figures is slightly emphasized by increasing the contrast.

All my work is initially shot in colour but I have always had a deep love of b&w images. For me b&w has such a latitude for expression – a single image can be presented in ten different ways depending on my mood or the app I use to edit. I will tend to move from app to app to keep myself interested and I’m not saying all colour work converts to monochrome perfectly so it helps me have different tools at hand. I think I am always trying to add a graphic quality to the images I present – I like my whites white and the blacks, ink black – there needs to be a bit of punch. Ideally I am trying to reproduce b&w work that feels like it is a conventional photographic print – if its a bit contrasty or grainy its because the light dictated it so.

GW: Graham, thanks so much for giving us some insight into the man behind the IG eye, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting an in-depth look into you and your photography. Will certainly view your photos now with a deeper appreciation, and am also very inspired to look for small stories to document and shadows to reveal… and to experiment with new edits and apps (especially QuickPix, sounds very cool). I’m constantly surprised and delighted by the boundless inspiration I’ve found on Instragram, certainly you are no exception! And thanks too, Brad, for the setup – love the idea behind the couch sessions.

2 Comments

  1. Fantastic interview. I adore G’s work and really enjoyed all the insight into his world.

  2. I love GW and GP on instagram and enjoyed reading this. Congrats to both of you for being superb, and I just got QuickPix and Noir. Cheers! – @sarahpdx