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

Thursday 14 July 2022

Inspired and intimidated: Feeling the power of pictures

I have been trying to decide what to do with the black and white pictures I shot with my Rolleiflex of George Norris, a rag and bone man from Hull. Using the vintage camera, I felt like I’d stepped away from the safety net of 35mm digital raw files, the ability to shoot multiple frames, and checking the back of the camera to see if it all looked okay. 

As well as being square format and black and white, the ‘pace’ of image was slower, with everything shot on a 75mm lens (that’s a 45mm lens in 35mm format). I was acutely aware that there was less action and fewer ‘caught’ moments in my pictures as I struggled with focus and ergonomics. I was also concentrating on shooting digital colour 35mm, which you can see here,  and didn’t want to miss pictures using that format. It was a sort of a fun visual experiment as I try to get better with the Rolleiflex. I felt like an overweight trapeze artiste hanging upside down in badly fitting tights, a lot of glitter and no visual safety net, but putting on a big smile as I hoped that everything would be okay. 

I processed the film and put it to one side while I struggled with the other issues that were worrying me with the colour pictures: whether I was guilty of just looking back and getting trapped in all my yesterdays - please see previous post. 

Just under a month has passed since this shoot and I’ve been able to immerse myself in other pictures. Vivian Maier: Anthology ‘Grown Up in Britain – 100 Years of Teenage Kicks, Gustav Klimt at the Schloss Belvedere, and Egon Schiele and Koloman Moser at the Leopold Museum - all in Vienna - to name a few. Thrown in for good measure: a Covid hangover to muddy my thinking. 

I found Maier’s work inspirational and intimidating. Although using the same camera, I would never be able to match her ability to capture moment after moment. Using my Covid infection as a boxing ring, I spent a week beating myself up over this brutal realisation. 
Vivian Maier – Chicago 1957

Coming to, my self-loathing fug cleared and I vowed to review my film processing to improve technical quality. The gelatin silver prints at the Maier exhibition at the MK Gallery are of amazing quality. And secondly, as a photographer I have never sought to capture that defining moment like Maier. My interest has been in telling the story through a sequence of pictures. I accept that some of my pictures will be more beautiful than others and could stand alone, while a few remain merely visual story-telling tools. I am aware that for the story to be understood, the pictures need to be seen in the context of one another, and with text. 

I looked again at my negatives and decided to use what I had and apply my own mantra: ‘You only need six pictures to tell a story but if you don’t have all six the story can’t be told.’ 

So, what are these six pictures? 

A General View - Sets the scene. 
A Portrait – Shows what the person,  or people, look like.
The Action – Shows what the story is about, what does the person, or people, do? 
Why or Impact – Shows why they do what they do.
A Detail – Reveals a small but important detail that if not looked at carefully would be missed.
Wow Factor – The hero image that captures the eye and makes the viewer want to know more.

Different stories have different visual priorities and you can have more than one of each of the six basic pictures. If the story is about a person who paints miniature portraits, you’d probably need several ‘detail’ pictures. If the story is about free solo climbing, you’d want more action or general views. 
So, as I swing out over the abyss on my trapeze, here are my six pictures from the George Norris shoot. I’ll let you decide if I crash to the sawdust on the big top floor or not.

General View

Rag and bone man George Norris takes a sink out of mixed scrap tipped off his pick-up truck at Griffiths Group Metal & Waste Recycling yard in Hull, May 6, 2022. 


Rag and bone man George Norris waits for lunch in Neise’s cafe in Hull, May 6, 2022.


Rag and bone man George Norris lifts a tumble dryer onto his pick-up truck as he collects scrap in Hull, May 10, 2022.


Rag and bone man George Norris stands in front of a ‘mountain’ of scrap at Griffiths Waste and Recycling Yard in Hull, May 6, 2022.


Rag and Bone man George Norris Snr reaches out for scrap metal left on a wall for collection in Hull, May 12, 2022.

Wow or lead image

Rag and bone man George Norris walks up an alleyway as he searches for scrap in Hull, May 10, 2022.

Thankfully, life’s decisions are not linear and rules can be stretched and broken. So once you have the six basic images why not include a few more? You can even play with the notion of what it is, and what is not, one of of six pictures. Can a general view be an action picture? I think so. Or, how tight does a portrait need to be to get a sense of the person or what they look like? How about an alternative, wider edit? Or does a detail shot need to be a close up? Maybe the detail that’s revealed can be a closer look at an incident? Or maybe I could simply swap one image for another, keeping the edit tight for a basic six picture story? Below are some more choices to my original set of six.

General View

(Left) Rag and bone man George Norris takes a sink out of mixed scrap tipped off his pick-up truck at Griffiths Group Metal & Waste Recycling yard in Hull, May 6, 2022. 

(Right) Rag and bone man George Norris calls ‘Scrap Iron! Rag Bone!’ along Wakefield Avenue as he looks for scrap in Hull, May 12, 2022.    


(Left) Rag and Bone man George Norris waits for lunch in Neise’s cafe in Hull, May 6, 2022.

(Right) Rag and bone man George Norris enjoys a cigarette in his back garden after a day collecting scrap in Hull, May 9, 2022.


(Left) Rag and bone man George Norris lifts a tumble dryer onto the back of his pick-up truck as he collects scrap in Hull, May 10. 2022.

(Right) Rag and bone man George Norris is offered a shovel as scrap by a one-legged man in a wheelchair in Hull, May 10, 2022.

(Left) Rag and bone man George Norris peers through a garden fence along a back passageway as he searches for scrap in Hull, May 6, 2022.  

(Right) Rag and bone man George Norris wheels a scrap washing machine from a house on Woodland Avenue in Hull, May 7, 2022.


Rag and Bone man George Norris stands in front of a ‘mountain’ of scrap at Griffiths Waste and Recycling Yard in Hull, May 6, 2022.


(Left) Rag and bone man George Norris Snr reaches for scrap metal left on a wall for collection in Hull. May 12, 2022.

(Right) Rag and bone man George Norris waits at a tyre repair shop as his father, George Norris Snr, sits in their pick-up truck while a puncture is being repaired in Hull, May 10, 2022. A nail was probably picked up in the scrapyard, their first port of call.

Wow or lead image

Rag and bone man George Norris walks up an alleyway as he searches for scrap in Hull, May 10, 2022.

And of course, there is always the impact of design on the use of image on the page. The use of scale, or cropping, can change the emphasis of an image on the story-telling. For example, George spends most of his time walking the streets of Hull calling ‘Scrap Iron! Rag Bone!’ so why not use the symmetrical shape of the square format and make something a bit striking in terms of graphic shape? But then one has to consider: Is this a one story-telling wow image or a combination of 9 portrait images? Or maybe even both? 

Finally, there is the cutting room floor: images that might be good enough on their own but don’t add more to the story. These are edited out and consigned to the spike. It’s these pictures that often cause the biggest disagreements between photographers and editors. This problem is magnified tenfold if you are both photographer and editor. Editing your own images is tough as you are emotionally attached to each picture. The easiest way to deal with this dilemma is to reduce the problem to numbers. I think if you use the rule that most people won’t look at more than 12 images in a story you have your guideline. Now you need to make the cruel cuts.

Here's my cutting room floor and your chance to get subjective on the edit.

Russell Boyce, 2022