Tuesday 2 April 2024

...And now for my next trick?

Last week a line was drawn under my work in Hull. Stories I had begun in the 1980s and completed over the last three years - ‘Rag Bone!’, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Kandy de Barry!’ and ‘Star & Garter’ - all converged in one place. Drag artist Ray Millington, originally known as Kandy de Barry, was performing as Bobby Mandrell in the Star & Garter pub, now called Rayners. Rag and Bone man and long-term friend George Norris was there, not to collect scrap, but to photograph Ray. I was in Hull to show some friends our exhibition ‘You and Me in HU3’ at the Humber Street Gallery, which featured these three stories as well as pictures by George. An opportunity for a ‘happy snap’ too good to miss.

George Norris, Ray Millington and myself in Rayners, on Hessle Road, Hull March 23, 2024. 

Below George Norris with horse Sally and cart, The Star & Garter pub and Kandy de Barry performing in the St Georges pub, all taken in 1983

In two weeks’ time, our exhibition in Hull will be closing. All the books of the show have sold out, feedback in the comments book was heart-warming, media coverage and gallery footfall were terrific, and we’ve just finished a series of talks about it all. 

A couple of the hundreds of comments left by people who visited our exhibition at the Humber Street Gallery 'Wonderful, eye opening, Incredible, important photos'

Exhibiting this work has been as exciting for me as when I was a child blowing up an enormous balloon to bursting point, then letting it go, releasing the pent-up energy, wonderful to watch as it darts around the room. 


But now the hunt is on for the spent balloon. It’s never easy to find. And after going through the story-telling process, I am feeling like that spent balloon. I have to start again, but I need time for a rethink.


The big question – why bother?  


On and off for about the last 18 months and interrupted by the ‘You and Me in HU3’ exhibition, I have been shooting a new story, walking up and down the Lea Bridge Road in northeast London. it’s typically London and ordinarily happy, with business, leisure, faith, food, migration, gentrification, cycle and bus lanes, and 20 mph speed cameras. I want to capture the ordinariness of the changing face of London and I think the Lea Bridge Road community sums up this change perfectly. 


I knew I was going to hit the buffers once the Hull exhibition closed so I decided to take some pre-emptive action. As I was revisiting the stories I’d shot in Hull in the 1980s, I decided to ask my original tutor, respected documentarist Daniel Meadows, if I could show him my recent work and ask for feedback. Despite the passage of over 40 years Daniel hadn’t lost his edge. He asked me all the questions that had been nagging in the back of my mind. In short, why am I doing this? Is the story interesting enough? Are the pictures good enough? Why am I using an old Rolleiflex and shooting black and white film?

I have printed out Daniel’s key point and put them on my notice board. They are as good as they are brutal. Pulling out a few in bold to mull them over, I’ve added images to illustrate them. 


1 - ‘Sharpen the focus of your intent’ tells me I am not fully communicating what I am trying to say. This is true. I am still circling the story and need to find a way in to capture the essence of this community without misrepresenting it. This will take time. 

A woman waits for a bus on the Lea Bridge Road, London September 23, 2023.  


4 – ‘No point photographing familiar things unless you show them in a way which hasn’t been seen before.’ In short, the pictures are boring in terms of content, composition and light. I agree and have still not shot a picture that makes me think, mmm I’m happy with that, but I am getting closer. I have restricted myself to a square format film camera as an entrée to people I photograph on the street and as a visual challenge to my own picture-taking. I am very much struggling with technology, or the lack if it, with the Rolleiflex but I don’t want to do what I did when I was a student aged 23 shooting 35mm format black and white film, nor do I want to do what I did as a news photographer, using the latest 35mm digital technology. I want to struggle with something that is new to me and will, I hope, eventually produce different results from what I have done in the past. 

Boys chat on the top deck of a bus just off the Lea Bridge Road, London September 26, 2023.  


5 – ‘You seem to be avoiding getting too close and I wonder why?’ I know exactly why. I am trying to rebuild my confidence in photographing people and at the same time struggling with the notion of a ‘negotiated space’ in which to take these pictures. As a news photographer there was no negotiation, I just took. Today, I want my pictures to have a feel of ‘candid permission’, so the images will have a look of being candid while being permissioned but without being set up. This is a very small space that I am trying to occupy, which I sometimes fear might not really exist given it’s now 2024.

Girls chat as they wait at traffic lights to cross Argall Way that crosses Lea Bridge Road, London September 4, 2023.  


10 – ‘Justify working in black and white’. I have considered this and decided to shoot black and white for two reasons. The first was to take out the noise of colour that we are bombarded with on the street when composing pictures. Secondly, I wanted to give people actual prints and slow the ‘act of photography’. This I hope will produce an image for them that feels more considered and as a consequence is more treasured. 

A woman cycles down Lea Bridge Road, London, past graffiti on a wall, September 27, 2023.  


12 – ‘Keep going’. And this is what I intend to do. 

A woman vapes and blows smoke as she walks past dumped furniture on Bickley Road just off Lea Bridge Road, London, September 1, 2023.


This post originated as a few notes to clarify my own thinking. But after chatting to a few colleagues I realised that many are going through the same thought processes, so I decided to share some of my thinking. Rejecting the obvious attractions of a comfy sofa and afternoon TV I have loaded up the camera with film and headed out. 


Plucking up all my courage I asked Kelly Bear if I could photograph her and her dog, Dr Nommy, as they headed off to the vets just off the Lea bridge Road. At the end of the day, it’s just a picture of a woman in the street with a dog on a lead but to me it represents the next step as I leave the past in the past and try to use what I have learned in Hull with future work.

Kelly Bear with her dog Dr Nommy who were off to the vets along the Lea Bridge Road March 21, 2024. Kelly, who lives on the Lea Bridge Road, said the biggest change she had noticed is that there are so many better coffee shops since she moved to the area. 


Russell Boyce  

Edited by Giles Elgood  


Monday 6 March 2023

Why bother? Does anyone care?

Last week I was invited to do a talk about my exhibition ‘New Town Youth 1985’ to students studying Photography and Art. I was asked ‘what do you hope to achieve from your exhibition?’ I wondered if this was the veiled question ’why do you bother to take these types of pictures and try to get them seen?’ in short ‘does anyone care?’

This question had been troubling me too. But I think the answer has become clearer to me from a second, smaller outdoor exhibition ‘Overheard in Lockdown’ that is also simultaneously running in my local park. Here is the background.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown February 2021, many had taken to daily exercise which was permitted under the rules. Like me, most of us had slipped into a routine same place, same time and often same conversation. Just about every day I would walk around Wanstead Park with my wife Verity. On one such walk I noticed as people passed the tendency was to give one another a wide ‘socially distanced’ berth and carry on with the conversation. I would often catch a snippet that had no context. I wondered what snippet of conversation others would hear from us. We were living in strange times so I decided to capture it. 

Charlie Collins and Ria Brennan ‘I think I am ready to jump ship’.

When I explained my new documentary project to my family, which was to stop people, tell them I had overheard their conversation and ask them to take their picture and add it to the caption their response was, ‘you’re mad and no-one will agree to that.’ 


Maybe people were attracted to a diversion from their routine or maybe they took pity on this madman with a camera, but everyone I asked said ‘yes’. So, a big thank-you to each and every one of you.

Dorothy Spence  and her daughter Louisa 'Retirement feels like a real privilege’.

Fast forward two years from the government’s February 22, 2021 announcement of the ‘Roadmap’ out of lockdown, so many of our priorities are now a fading memory. The extra care of vulnerable loved ones, daily death tolls, talk of vaccines and anti-vaxxers, social distancing, numbers limited at weddings and funerals, toilet roll shortages, binge watching, no travel and the boredom to name a few. What will never fade is the loss felt for loved ones who died during the pandemic.

Dog walkers Duna Hernandez-Sierra and Simon Bulpin 'Stanley’s the worst, eating dog poo that is still warm and fresh'.  

The concerns of the people in my story ‘Overheard in lockdown’ that were, at the time of utmost importance are now not really given a second thought.  Capturing this period of time was my motivation and the answer to that uncomfortable question.


On the day of the student talk I replied, in its simplest form, ‘I wanted to return images to the community that they were taken in’. A more complex examination of my thinking is that it’s my intention is to document and reflect back to my community an honest account of what might be considered ordinary and mundane to others but is important to the individual in the here and now.  


If you want to see the pictures and read the overheard comments from ‘Overheard in Lockdown’ you can click here or visit the exhibition at the Temple in Wanstead Park, London E11 until March 26, 2023. If you want to see ‘New Town Youth 1985’ you can click here or visit the exhibition at the Peterborough Museum & Art Gallery until April 16, 2023.   

Russell Boyce

Saturday 19 November 2022

Why shoot if you don’t have a target?

 I have a small collection of pictures shot over a couple of days recently. I like them but they don’t really have a home. They cannot be described as happy snaps to be casually shared on Instagram or Facebook, adding to the daily tsunami of images. And if I think about it, the  funeral of a stabbing victim, a dementia sufferer, a memorial service for a 19-year-old, and two off-duty Steam Punks are not images you’d click ‘like’ on. Your finger might hover for a moment, if you actually admired the image, but then you’d swipe away, considering it poor taste to like a picture from a funeral or of an elderly dementia sufferer sunning himself.


I was back in Hull because the BBC wanted to do a piece about my Star & Garter pictures. I arrived two days early to stay with my friend George Norris. There was a promise of informed chat about photography as we walked around the town looking for potential outdoor exhibition spaces for our work. A few pints and certainly a curry were also dialled in. 


With the hour change it got dark early so we decided to pop into the Rayners (formerly the Star & Garter) for a quiet pint on a wet Wednesday night and a chat about the possible spaces we’d looked at.


The place was jumping. Drag artiste and DJ Regina Sparkles was leading a karaoke-themed night to celebrate the life of Adam Smith, who had died four years ago aged 19. For about two hours I resisted taking a picture. I felt like a gatecrasher, but as the evening progressed, George explained why I was there and I was warmly welcomed. Then Regina started to lead the dancing and I thought this is a must-have picture. 

 Just after I took this picture the music stopped and we were all bundled outside for the main event. It was balloon release time to remember Adam, and in true Hull fashion the heavens opened. With no coat on and getting rapidly soaked, I took another picture. But even as I took it I didn’t know what I would do with it.

Next morning George told me he was going to the funeral of his friend Jason Whincup and suggested I should come along. Jason was well-known in the rag-and-bone and traveller communities. He was stabbed to death outside his home. A man has been charged with his murder. 


I decided not to use 35mm digital cameras and took the Rolleiflex. I did this for two reasons. I was not on a news story but I wanted to capture the event and, secondly, I didn’t want to look predatory but I also wanted to get in close. 

I did not attend the actual service and left George to pay his respects. As I sat waiting for him, I reviewed my pictures from the previous night and thought about the ones I had just shot. Although neither set had any real coherence in terms of story value, both were linked by their subject matter. The celebration of a life. 


After lunch we walked back into town to look again at potential exhibition spaces, this time in daylight. The autumn sun had broken up the morning mist and the temperature rose a little. Initially, I thought I’d leave the Rolleiflex at home but remembered I had 10 frames left on the roll of film so decided to take it. 


This is when we met Ken and Jean Carr. Well bundled up, they were enjoying a drink in the sunshine outside their house, which was still decorated with the summer’s Jubilee celebration flags despite the queen’s death. 

All the time we chatted, Jean’s hand never strayed from her husband’s arm. She told us that Ken was out from the local dementia hospital for the day but would be returning shortly. I have posted them this picture. I hope they like it. 


Minutes later we bumped into Ryan Sharman and Marie Buckle, resplendently garbed. They agreed to being photographed, taking the time to pose, with a background they liked only feet away. I was very aware of the colour, so used a digital camera as well as the Rolleiflex. If I had to choose, I’d go for the black and white but for this post I have shared both. I had again shot successfully, but with no real target.

Fifteen minutes later in the centre of Hull I was greeted with a smile and the comment: ‘Ohhh, now that’s what I call a real camera.’ Exhausted from a day’s shopping, mum Tracy Denholm sat with daughter Melissa. ‘If only you’d been here yesterday. We were both fully dressed up as Steam Punks. In fact you’re unlucky, as we’re normally dressed up.’  

I liked it that they weren’t dressed up, but relaxed and smiling with a ciggie on. How could I resist shooting another untargeted random picture. Just one frame. When I sent the picture to them, Melissa quickly replied: ‘We love it. Thank you.’


I made it back to George’s house, four frames remaining in the camera. It was a lesson learned early in my career: always have at least one frame left. Then we had a take-away curry and some beers. Promise fulfilled.  


On the last day, my interview completed, the BBC’s Simon Spark was adding some colour to his piece. He was interviewing Rachel, the landlady of Rayners, and I thought I’d shoot a happy snap for her to keep. But what started as a throw-away snap ended up as a quirky optical illusion as the wall and carpet line perfectly bisects the image. The only thing stopping you from thinking that this is two pictures is the microphone, which breaks the line.  

In the end, I suppose I just have a random collection of images. But Jean, Ken, Ryan, Marie, Tracy, Melissa, Rachel and Simon each have a picture that I hope is important to them. I also hope that with time these images will become even more significant for them and their friends and family.


Maybe that is the target I am looking for: the importance of the person or story that may otherwise go unnoticed.  Who knows? I just love taking pictures and listening to people sharing their stories. 

Russell Boyce


Editing by Giles Elgood   

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Redundancy, two years ago and now

It’s been two years to the day, November 9, 2020, that I received my redundancy notice. ‘Hi Russell, You are required to attend a mandatory meeting to discuss...’ The clue being that it was mandatory and senior HR staff were cc’d. 


What set me thinking about my progress over the last two years is this: last week I walked past the location of my first ever picture story, ‘Bob Carver’s Fish and Chip Restaurant’, when I was an inexperienced photographic student in Hull. 

I have been in ‘transition’. A journey that everyone will make, regardless of their job, a transition from working to not working. I believe everyone will transition in one of three ways:  one death, two life-changing illness or three fulfilling the next stage of life. Sadly many people, men in particular, fearing that they will not know who to be without the status of career, push on far too long in their workplace. I now believe I would have been one of those people.


My colleague Victor, the same age as me and looking forward to spending fulfilling days fishing and being with his family, shockingly died of a heart attack one month after being given all my responsibilities.


Three weeks after being told that I was being made redundant I collapsed watching TV at home, and I came round to see two paramedics standing in my front room. I’d had a stress-related blackout. I took a picture in the hospital, it’s a significant part of my transition, a sort of ground zero from which to build upon. 

I knew I had to move on. The job I loved was taken away, no status, money uncertainty, ill health and sometimes I worried what I would do to fill the hours I spent working. I am no gardener and struggle to see the point of golf. But instead, I quickly discovered that I would not have enough hours to feed my passion for pictures and story-telling.  


Back to November 9, 2020. On the same day I got my redundancy notice I also received a mail from Craig at Café Royal Books. It was the proof of my first ever book, my documentary pictures ‘George Norris, Rag and Bone, Hull 1980s’. A bitter-sweet day. The book was published on December 19, 2020 and sold out. 

I describe myself as being ‘post work’. The word ‘retirement’, like ‘redundant’, has negative connotations. I feel, on the whole, positive.


What took a while to slow down was the roller coaster of emotions I felt in the weeks and months after being made redundant, especially as I was undergoing medical tests after my collapse. I felt fear, anger, a sense of rejection, but also a sense of relief at being free of spread sheets and pointless meetings. There was sadness at letting my team down by not being there and simultaneously guilt that I no longer needed to worry professionally about them. I was missing the adrenalin rush of chasing the news and the beauty and power of the picture file. I enjoyed having time for family, friends and myself. I regretted not spending more time doing that before. There were no more midnight calls and the day no longer started with a 6:30 a.m. planning meeting. I felt the joy of having time to shoot pictures to please myself but the frustration that I had no platform to share them. There was the fear of being professionally invisible, and being overlooked because of my age. But conversely, confidence to do things because of my years of experience. This roller coaster had new twists and turns, day and night. 


My advice to those going through this experience is to accept all these emotions. You’ll need to give it time. Try to do something small that makes you feel you are taking control.


I switched off most (but not all) news alerts and deleted work-related apps.  


At this time, early 2021, it was full Covid lockdown. 


To move on I decided as a first step that I’d listen to online discussions where people were exploring photography. I learned about a new archive being collected by the Museum of Youth Culture. After a quick call with them I rescued my 40-year-old negatives of youth groups from the attic and offered to scan them for their collection. 

I didn’t want to get stuck in all my yesterdays by poring over my old images or shooting black and white 35mm pictures, nor did I want to shoot news feature stories on colour digital. For sure, no one would want work from me: a 58-year-old man recently made redundant. I had to rediscover my confidence and sense of fun in taking pictures. 


While walking in my local park during lockdown I overheard snippets of conversation as people passed by. I decided to start a small project producing a gentle set of images of people I met on those walks, called ‘Overheard in Lockdown’. I emailed the images to everyone I photographed. The response was wonderful, which reminded me why I love photography. My confidence quickly came back to life.

A major turning point came when a friend told me that he had been loaned a Rolleiflex 2 ¼ camera. This was a lightbulb moment, as I thought this would combine learning a new skill, shooting square format on a vintage film camera, revisiting my passion for documentary photography, and using my experience to execute the whole project. My great aunt Ivy had died and left me a small sum of money that I spent on a Rolleiflex 80mm f2.8. I decided to use a tripod and practice on neighbours. The pictures now hang in their homes.  

From this came my idea to shoot the story ‘A Portrait of the High Street’. To push myself further I decided that I’d ask each shopkeeper on my local high street about their hopes and fears post-Covid and record their answers on video. This led to a journey into the dark arts of sound and video editing. Technical help came from another colleague also made redundant.

An equally challenging proposition was getting permission from the council to exhibit the work outdoors and get funding to pay for the printing. With support from local estate agents The Stow Brothers, London City Council, Epping Forest and Redbridge Vision, this all happened.

It was a small project, but the joy on the faces of the people I photographed when I gave them framed prints was as rewarding as anything I have done. 


This gave me the confidence to start my story on the Lea Bridge Road. I wanted to document a moment along a street that I think is representative of London today. This is an ongoing project that you can see here.

The Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery confirmed they wanted to produce a one-man exhibition of my youth groups picture stories that will go on show in January 2023 for three months. Below is a sneak preview of one of 14 wall sections exhibition designs.

In May 2022, Rag and Bone man George Norris mentioned that he was back out collecting scrap, but this time with his 81-year-old father. I spent nearly two weeks with them, and was great to reaffirm an old friendship. I combined shooting colour digital 35mm and black and white film on the Rolleiflex. I interviewed them on video and recorded audio. I also shot some B-roll on the iPhone. I didn’t intend to create combination picture comparing 1983 with 2022. It just happened. The video seems to have caught people imagination and has nearly 90,000 views. You can see it by clicking here . The BBC picked up the story and you can see that here

In July 2022, Café Royal Books published my second book, ‘Star & Garter Hull 1983’.

While I was in Hull photographing George and his father, I had a bit of fun reintroducing prints from 1983 into the pub and photographing them, lining them up in the same place in 2022.  The BBC also picked up this story and ran the images. The response has been amazing with people who saw the broadcast taking the time to send emails to congratulate me on the images. 

It’s not all been plain sailing. There has been disappointment too. Only recently I had three project submissions rejected in one day. My mentor Dave Caulkin died and I regret not making more time to see him. He had been post-work for many years. 


This post has been a way for me to examine my journey since my redundancy notice two years ago. I was tempted, once was written, just to delete it. But I have decided to publish in the hope that anyone facing the same situation might find it useful. 


Being post-work is an opportunity because what you have is the greatest asset: time.  I hope that options one and two are a long way away as I’m now having fun. 


Russell Boyce  

Monday 22 August 2022

Even Captain America is looking me in the eye

 ‘Go on take my picture’ was what I heard a lot during my last few shoots down the Lea Bridge Road. So much so, I abandoned my goal of trying to work on the shape of backgrounds and let the action play out in the foreground. Even waiting for people to pass through a shaft of light ended up with them looking back, no doubt wondering ‘what is that bloke doing?’, their eyes fixing on the camera at the moment of best light. Once I had come to terms with this, I decided to enjoy chatting with people and taking their picture.

A man looks back as he walks along the Lea Bridge Road near the Bakers Arms railway bridge August 13, 2022.  

It’s impossible to concentrate on those elusive ‘fly-on-the wall’ images when you have got three boys, straight from football training, jumping around in front of the camera demanding that I shoot a picture. 

Boys Arron, Tyrone and Kieran act up to the camera as they return from football practice along the Lea Bridge Road August 13, 2022.

One thing immediately sprang to mind: Exchanging the ideal of a fly-on-the wall picture that some people might find intrusive for a warm image that had been consented to was not settling for something of lesser value, but merely adopting a different approach. 

What I did enjoy is talking to and photographing people I’ve never met before. The entrée to these conversations is often the old Rolleiflex hanging around my neck. When I see people looking at it, I catch their eye, hold their gaze, smile and say hello. Sometimes people see me taking pictures and ask me what I am doing. Rarely do people, once we’ve chatted, then say no to me taking a picture.  

So, for now I will just enjoy the eye contact images as I think they are all quite warm and non-intrusive. Even Captain America is fixing me with his knowing gaze, not quite like the 1532 Flemish tapestry of the resurrection that hangs in the Vatican but his eyes certainly feel as if they are following me as I walk along the road.

A woman walks past a figure of Captain America outside the ‘Power Up Nutrition’ shop on the Lea Bridge Road July 30, 2022. 

Owner of Le Chic Hair & Beauty salon, Delise Clarke, stands at the door of her shop on Lea Bridge Road, London August 17, 2022.

Owner of Styler Barber, Kartal Tas and colleague Suliman Jandan, outsde their barber shop on Lea Bridge Road August 17, 2022.  

Zaheer Ahmed sells mangoes on the junction of Lea Bridge Road and Hoe Street July 30, 2022.

Las Imich poses for a picture by the Bakers Arms rail bridge on the Lea Bridge Road, London, August 13, 2022.

What I have learned over the years is that runs of luck, good or bad, never last for ever. Nor do the patterns of picture opportunity stay the same. Maybe next week no-one will look in the camera or talk to me and I will start to get different pictures. What I will do is continue to shoot pictures and work with what I am presented with as the Photography Gods adjust their plans for me. In short, capturing ordinary people’s lives today no matter how they present themselves. 

As a final note on interaction, what has also been pleasing in the last couple of weeks are the thousands of hits on the George Norris, Rag and Bone man video story made up of stills from 1983 and 2022. People are not only hitting the ‘like’ button but actually commenting too. This engagement is very rewarding, not so much in terms of numbers, which are very good, but in terms of people enjoying the pictures. If you're interested you can see it by clicking here or on the picture below, enjoy. 

Russell Boyce, 2022