“Life is full of moments that come and go in an instant” – Interview with local photographer John White
By day John works for a charity that helps cities around the world to address challenges such as climate change, sustainable resource use and inequality. He is also a father of two “wonderful girls”, “part-time explorer” and “photography nut”. John grew up in the Midlands, but has lived in Brighton with his family for about seven years now. He has had an unusual career, which has seen him work in places like the Atacama Desert, rural Kazakhstan and the Jungles of the DRC.
“Travelling to some of the most remote places in the world really opens your eyes to how beautiful, and vulnerable, it is”.
When did you first become a photographer?
I wish I had some kind of crazy story about how I found an old Fuji on the floor of the jungle and had to use it as a means of communicating with a local tribe of apes, fashioning a bond until my extraction team were able to find me!
In truth it’s been a slower journey – I’ve always been quite creative visually, but it was when I first picked up a DSLR a few years ago that things really clicked into place. I had finally found the tool that helped me express myself in a way that I wanted, and as a bonus, it gave me an excuse to get out to all kinds of unusual places and do some exploring too. Great shots don’t just happen in front of you!
Were you formally educated in photography? Or are you self taught?
“I’m 100% self taught; well, maybe 95%”
I work up in London most days so have plenty of time to gorge on YouTube tutorials and there’s so much great content out there. I have also been fortunate to make some very talented friends in the industry who have shared a tip or two here and there. But most of all I’ve put the miles in. There really isn’t any shortcut in this game, and I’m still learning for sure.
What inspires you to take photographs?
Some days everything, some days nothing; photography is as much an emotional thing for me as it is the physical act of picking up your camera and shooting. I really need to feel connected to what I’m working on for it to work. I love experimenting with light, and have a few unusual tools I can use to create interesting results. The world inspires me – one of the secrets of photography is that there is almost always a shot to be taken somewhere if you know how to look and can think creatively about how to make the shot a reality.
How would you describe your personal style of photography?
Experimental, perhaps exploratory. I’ve taken loads of nice landscape shots, but I feel like there are already enough of them. I’m always after a different take on a subject. Sometimes to get it you have to go through the normal takes first and that can produce some cool results – but for me, if it’s not pushing the boundaries of the art form or getting me out somewhere unusual and fun I tend to lose interest pretty quickly.
Why do you think taking photographs is important?
“Life is full of moments that come and go in an instant.”
A great photograph doesn’t just capture what happened, but it captures the atmosphere, the emotion, the smells and tastes, the sense of anticipation, the solitude, the magnitude…
Photography is a means of sharing experiences with people who aren’t able to have them; I have given my work to schools to help teach children about the weather and I have worked with some other super talented local professionals to use our work to raise money for Brighton’s young homeless. On a more personal level it helps me share the places I have been with my parents who are no longer able to travel to the remote places I go to.
Which photograph are you most proud of?
That’s a tough question! When you take a shot that becomes successful you have to spend so much time with it that by the end of the journey you can’t really face hanging it on your wall for a year or so. Some shots mean a lot to me because of the place I was at (personally as well as geographically) when I took them – but they wouldn’t mean anything to someone else.
If I had to narrow it down I’d say that I have three shots that have helped me along the way more than any other. A couple of years back I took a shot on the streets of Manhattan that won a National Geographic competition and was placed in the top ten street shots in the world in the Sony World Photography Awards. The same year I shot a panorama of cars leaving Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge which placed in the top ten in the world in the Epson Pano Awards and was published all over the place. My first taste of success came the year before that with a shot of our very own Bandstand!
If you could tell yourself anything when you first started, what would you say?
“Enjoy the ride, slow down.”
The greatest photographs happen at unusual times in unusual places. If you’re not careful you can spend the entire time looking through the viewfinder and miss it all. Arrive early, set up, put the camera down and just take it in.
How do you think photography has changed with technology?
Some will argue that new cameras bring more dynamic range, greater levels of detail. I think that this is true to some extent, although I would say people were taking incredible photographs fifty or a hundred years ago too. To me that shows that what makes a shot truly great is what is behind and in front of the camera, not inside it.
Where technology has changed the game for better and worse is the internet. It costs a *lot* to buy and maintain the gear needed to take great shots; to keep your website up to date, to find the time to learn and practice, to travel to these great locations and produce great work. There is sacrifice in terms of the other things you would be doing with the time, the late nights you put in to curating your portfolio, the cost of entering competitions and many other factors. But so much of this hard work and dedication is unseen in the end product, and as such people struggle to associate value with it in a world where anybody can pull a phone out of their back pocket, snap a shot, throw on a filter and upload it right away.
A good photo will be cheap and look nice on your wall, but a great one will make you smile every time you look at it. Photography costs me much more than it makes me, but I would never stop as I do it for myself and for all the people who enjoy seeing my work.
John would love to be contacted about anything photography, whether that be for a simple chat, or if you have an idea for something commercial and need a photographer to make your idea a reality. You can find him on his website: www.john.media, his Instagram: @Johndotmedia, or on Facebook: John Dot Media