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Simon King
By Hilary Barton
Posted: 2022-01-18T23:00:00Z

Simon is a British photojournalist and street photographer who teaches at UAL and at the Leica Academy. He started with digital photography but now almost exclusively shoots in black & white on film, describing himself as a narrative-based documentary photographer.

Simon began by showing us some of his most iconic images which demonstrate his photographic style - being close to the action while using selective focus to direct the viewers attention. He tries to fill the frame with action, with a strong foreground caught at the best moment, with many layers of interest behind, in order to show both the "truth" of the situation and the context. His stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and either develop a character or explore a subject. He likes to use symbols in an image (semiotics), which gives more meaning for the viewer to unpack for themselves. His shots are not necessarily what would look best but what makes more sense in the context of the narrative. The use of black & white means that less is being described so that there is more emphasis on what is happening. Simon believes that his best images say more than could be described with words. Nevertheless they have factual captions to remove the possibility of ambiguity. All of which is vastly more amazing when you realise that he shoots on film without the possibility of making a multitude of images from which to choose.

Paul and Gerard had briefed Simon that we intend to produce a Society photobook this year to include portraits or self-portraits of the photographers included. Simon himself publishes many photobooks and believes that his work has its best life in prints. He gave us some advice particularly about self-portraits which he believes are harder than portraits of others. He thinks that self-portraits are often exaggerated, for example, with acting or posing or the use of props, in order to communicate something about ourselves that is not otherwise visible. He believes that the best self-portraits have some narrative detail, for example, eyes or hands, or something specific to a photographer such as optics, lenses, glass or a mirror. Some of Simon's examples are shown below. We need to think before shooting and ask ourselves or one another what traits we want to put into the image. With respect to photobooks, when Simon is shooting he is subconsciously looking for images that will pair with other images, for example, with similar subjects or forms or themes or colours, whilst still sequencing the pages in line with the narrative. He is a minimal user of social media and prefers, for example, to give away tiny 'zines of his work, as something tangible that people like to keep.

When Simon is working on a project, he starts by brain-storming some ideas, but then goes in the direction in which that leads him when he finds something personal and special to himself. Ask yourself, why do you love it. Find your own voice. Do not try to say something that you are not. He then gave us a virtuoso demonstration of creativity in action when Paul asked him to consider how he would go about a project on Columbia Road Flower Market. Simon said that he would shoot the "obvious" subjects first to get them out of the way: the road itself; the East End; stall holders; flower lovers; gentrification... Then he would start to explore: is it under threat in any way; what is the council's attitude; what is its relationship to other areas and markets; what do the locals think; who are the visitors, where are they from and why; does the shooter have an affinity with any particular plants... Start general and then drill into a personal exploration, outward to the community and inward to my personal reaction. If an aspect means something to you, follow that aspect as far as you can. You do not know where it might lead you, but you must find a beginning, a middle and an end. So much food for thought!

Web links for further research into Simon's work and the resources that he uses:


Leica camera blog

Street Dances

The Summer of 20 article

Mixam (publisher)

New Exit Group (collaboration)

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