Sylvain, crookbonk, 25_06_15, JPeck .jpg

You shoot a big mix of documentary and skate photography. Can you say which you prefer?


If we’re talking about the final result; the photos themselves, then I’d say I prefer the sort of candid, documentary stuff more. I love skateboarding and still really enjoy shooting it but I think I get more satisfaction from a really good documentary or street or whatever you want to call it photograph. I don’t know, it is what it is – I love both – they’re completely different experiences. Shooting skateboarding is really social – being out in the streets with a group, having a laugh, making loads of noise. Then the other stuff I like to shoot is also in the streets but the complete opposite… I don’t like being with other people, I don’t make loads of noise – I just try to be as unnoticeable as possible. 


How is it shooting now you live in Berlin? Do you still feel like a tourist or more like a local? Does this effect the way you shoot your surroundings?


Well I wasn’t really into shooting my surroundings, or ‘street’ until I moved to Berlin so I can’t really compare it to anything. My photos always used to be proper contrived, like skateboarding, which is a contrived scene anyway, well it doesn’t have to be but if you’re communicating and working with the skateboarder to photograph a trick then it is. And then if I was shooting people, it would be with a tripod, artificial lighting blah blah blah. It’s only since moving here that I’ve wanted to make more natural photos. Um, but yeh, being here in Berlin? It depends. It’s such an international city with so many people living here from all over – it definitely feels like home. I’ve been here over 3 years but I do sometimes still find myself feeling like a tourist. I mean I’ve put effort into learning the language and integrating and that which is more than a lot of English people living here! But yeh, when shooting in the street by myself I definitely try to be respectful of people and I almost feel like as soon as I have a camera around my neck I BECOME the tourist and people look at me differently as if I’m intruding in their city and their life. Then with skateboarding it’s the opposite. I’ve got no time for petty people making a fuss over some skateboards. You get proper busybodies here in Germany – Spiessers they’re called. 


Who are some of your biggest influences ?


Alex Webb. It sounds horribly cheesy but looking through one of his books for the first time really did change things for me. It like honestly gave me this feeling of inspiration that I’d never had before with photography. I’m not saying it’s benefitted my work at all but it’s definitely impacted how I want my work to be! Yeh, Alex Webb blew me away and still does. 


I can see Henri-Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment" mindset in your work. Do you wait for situations to arise in the street scenes or are they more spontaneous?  


Both really. I think it’s important to always have a camera on you and be more or less ready to shoot. I find that the best things always happen when you’re not out searching for them and then it’s important to be in a position to quickly capture it. But when I go out specifically to shoot then yeh, I definitely spend a lot of time on one spot, considering how I want to layer a scene and just waiting and waiting for things to fall into place and something to happen. Most of the time they don’t but every now and then it pays off. 


Do you feel the way in which photography is presented changes the way it is perceived or interpreted? 


Well I think the impact of photography is massively dependent upon the way that it’s presented. For me at least, it’s pointless if you can’t see it as a physical print, or if it is on a screen then it needs to at least be on a decent scale. The optimum format for photography is photo books for me – framed prints are great too, obviously, but when I see a great exhibition I usually end up buying the correlating photo book and then enjoy looking at the work this way far more. 


With the popularity that mobile phones have changed the way people have access to imagery, do you think this has a positive/negative effect?


Well like I was just saying, I think the worst part about it is the format itself. It seems so fucked up to me that the biggest image sharing platform right now – instagram, obviously - is on such a small scale. I get it, everyone is constantly glued to their phones so it makes perfect sense to design products for this medium – they aren’t interested in the best viewing experience, they’re interested in optimising usage… but fuck it sucks! But to answer your question, I don’t think it’s changed much. There’s definitely a lot more shit to wade through now to find anything good but at the same time there are some really amazing photographers who I bet wouldn’t have gotten into photography if it wasn’t for the modern day phones, cameras and apps. There’s this sort of new wave of surreal documentary style photography floating about now. Obviously it’s taking it’s influence from the past, of course, but it has a certain essence to it that I think comes from the practicality of today’s technology. It sounds silly and totally discredits the photographers but I think part of this essence comes literally from the ability to use a screen instead of a viewfinder. With things like swivel-screens and that you can now much more easily shoot from these weird angles to show everyday things from a new perspective. But obviously, it goes far beyond this – this is just part of the aesthetic and has nothing to do with the substance of the work. A great example of this is a guy called Guy Bolongaro, I only know his work from instagram (@bandini3000) but I really hope he puts some sort of publication out soon!


It seems darkroom, hand-printed images are a rarity these days. Do you think it's important that photographers have this skill? 


Hmm. I don’t think it’s a necessity. As sad as it is to say, that’s kind of a dying technology isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it and I think it’s a great skill to have. It’s definitely beneficial to anybody wanting to learn it. But I don’t think it’s a necessity. I spent years developing and printing black and white photos in my bathroom. And then I was lucky enough to have access to a colour darkroom for a few years. I still shoot heaps of colour film and have the romantic idea that one day I’ll have access to a darkroom again and be able print everything that way but scanning and printing is also great when done well. And that’s the thing – with technology, there’s no need for darkrooms – that’s what professional print houses are for! Haha.