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I’ve had the pleasure to shoot with UK street photographer Chris Porsz in London and, more recently, in Paris. He met up with my group during my week long Paris photo workshop last month and enjoyed sharing his love for street photography with my students. Chris has a true passion for people and for capturing the moment . He can roam the streets of any city tirelessly for days with his camera. Paramedic by day (or night), street photographer the rest of the time, let me introduce you to Chris Prosz.
1- When and why did you start photographing people in the streets?
Over three decades ago some creative urge drove me to roam the streets of my city, recording everyday life. I cannot draw or paint but found it very easy to a press a button and, by some magical process, capture posterity in a fleeting expression on a face. I am not technical and not good at formal studio work with flash and posing people so I like the blank canvas of the streets. I set my stage and wait for the right characters to walk on. You will rarely see a picture of mine devoid of people as buildings bore me on their own while people bring them alive and give a sense of scale. I was a university dropout who became a hospital porter and found this a very satisfying and relaxing outlet. For over twenty years I have been a paramedic which involves approaching total strangers, engaging and reassuring them. Ideal for street photography.
2- You spend hours every week walking the streets of your hometown, how do you keep things ‘fresh’?
I think the very nature of street photography ensures that it stays’ fresh.’ I love the total unpredictability and spontaneity of people and never knowing what is around the next corner. You walk for miles and get average shots but just occasionally you capture something special. I am always looking out for someone unusual who stands out from the crowd, pink hair or the elderly battling against the elements with a Zimmer frame. I look out for situations with people interacting and wait to see what develops.
3- What other cities have inspired you the most photographically and why?
Out of my comfort zone I visited many large English cities to be inspired and I was overwhelmed by the potential. I also wanted a more international flavour so I made a trip to New York City. It was also wonderful to be involved in Valerie Jardin’s Paris photo workshop. Amsterdam, Berlin and Prague are on the list to capture. Every city has its iconic buildings but the challenge is to capture them in a unique way and for me that has to be through its people.
4- What was your most memorable experience as a street photographer and have you had any close-calls, such as people becoming aggressive, etc.?
I think it was at 2:00 am when a man called an emergency ambulance for help and, through his oxygen mask, he told me I had taken his picture over thirty years ago. This led to one of my reunion pictures which can be quite emotional and immensely satisfying.
A man in his seventies who looked like Santa Claus was sitting in an armchair in the middle of our Cathedral Square when he spotted me and my camera. Wearing only a white bath robe, boots and a red bobble hat he chased me down the road. What a picture and fortunately no one was around to take it.
In 1980 a recluse was murdered and the only picture available was one I took of him walking the streets. It helped to capture his assailants.
I have occasionally been threatened by drunks and accused of all sorts but usually a smile and an explanation go a long way.
5- Is there one shot you absolutely want to get and will continue hunting for until it’s in your memory card?
I have my railway kiss picture but I am still searching for that Doisneau lovers’ embrace on say the escalators. Or some exclusive photo journalist type dramatic image. So always carry a camera and keep it primed ready. Nothing worse than capturing a great moment that is blurred and out of focus.
6- What #1 tip would you give someone starting out as a street photographer?
Take Robert Capa’s advice and “If your photographs are not good enough then you are not close enough.” I have ditched the artificial compression of telephoto and almost exclusively use a wide angle where the viewer feels part of the picture.
I also try to follow Dave Beckerman’s maxim “Street photography is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.” So walk miles, take plenty, be very self critical and post just the best. Back up your images three times as I have learned the hard way and lost precious memories.
7- You’ve exhibited your work in various galleries in Peterborough, England. What is your next project?
My book New England is out this month and contains my favourite images from the seventies and eighties, many which have never been seen before. It reflects a typical English city of that era. I have been invited to record the life of a large country Park through its staff and visitors during the four seasons. I will employ my street style but with beautiful backdrops instead.
8- Which photographers have inspired you the most?
The list is endless but one of my heroes is Don Mc Cullin a modest, compassionate, brave, honest photographer with his haunting Vietnam images. I was a lousy printer and ruined many but his dark, rich, gritty monochrome printing influenced me.
His colleagues too, Eddie Adams and Phillip Jones Griffiths The ‘gentle eye’ of Jane Bown and the reportage of Chris Steele-Perkins
Over the pond the humour of Elliot Erwitt and Vivian Maier’s newly discovered treasure trove. Jo Wigfall, Dave Beckerman, James Mayer and Eric Kim. They are generous with their time, support and encouragement. Thank you too Valerie for kindly helping me and now sharing my work with your readers.
Find out more about Chris and his work by visiting his website.