Harold Lloyd
June 4, 2019

My photo group was recently set a challenge to choose our Desert Island Pics. If you're not familiar with the phrase it's based on there's a nice summary here.

As I'd be thrown by choosing 8 pieces of music then 8 photographs was I'd say even harder. The format of the show is to tell the life story of the guest and the music often relates to particular moments so I chose to pursue that approach rather than select a set of fantastic images that really didn't mean anything personal to me.

That said I did look at family snapshots as very much part of my story. An interesting point of departure from the music route as I've rarely heard home recordings selected.

Anyway. Where to start?

Well as I've mentioned before growing up in front of a black and white TV gave me a particular perspective on the world. I do remember old American comedies - excuse me movies - broadcast on Saturday mornings: Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton etc so I've chosen a famous still from a film by Harold Lloyd. I love the view of the city below. It obviously adds to the drama but for me it's a window on the everyday world below. In retrospect - I'll be doing a lot of that here - it plants a seed for my interest in America and cities in particular

I can't leave this period with acknowledging film noir. There are so many to chose from but this is a memory from a Sunday afternoon. We're in front of the telly again. Turned down low while my mum and dad rest after their working week. On comes a film set not in Chicago or Pittsburgh but in Belfast. The atmosphere is tense. We're following an individual in real time with odds stacked against him. The city has a personality of its own, Swaying passionately from violence to humour. I'm transfixed. It's called Odd Man Out by Carol Reed starring James Mason. Watch it.

OK so now I'm a little older. My first time living away from home. I've a bedroom wall to decorate. What do I put on it? Pop stars? Political manifestos? Family photos? Nope. Pictures of sports photography cut out from the newspaper and mounted neatly on card. Yep. What can I say. Eamonn McCabe was the premier sports photographer of the time and I remember looking forward to seeing his pictures in the Sunday paper. Here's one of Bjorn Borg that was on my wall. although I must admit to fancying myself as more of a McEnroe.

Doing this exercise now it's interesting how significant photography was in my upbringing but how I made no real effort to pursuing it as a career. Put it down to an academic education, absence of any peer support or simply lack of self belief. Anyway next pic. Sorry for the self reflection but hey it's my blog. We're now in Leeds and there are two images I've chosen to represent that period in my life. Apologies still back and white. We're going back a bit but I believe colour had been invented by now.

I never saw The Clash (although Mick Jones played an important part in my later life) let alone any bands I should have done in that tumultuous era. However I did buy the album! Two in fact as the were selling for 99p each in a bargain bin and I gave one to my friend Paul. This is getting very Adrian Mole. Here's the cover photograph by the great Pennie Smith.

I remember the university library at Leeds had two photography books, Minamata by W Eugene Smith and the other was I think by Don McCullin. By now I'd started taking photographs around Leeds with my first proper camera a Zenit and my style evolved with what I saw around me. Bradford wasn't far away and at the time the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television had recently opened there so my self-education continued inside those walls and outside on the streets surrounding it. McCullin's work had particular resonance and I devoured his work to the point of forfeiting my fare home to London to buy his book on Beirut.

So my life took another turn after Leeds and the fulfilment of a dream to see New York City. Music was again a stimulant. Seeing Stop Making Sense at the Hyde Park Picture House wasn't quite Buzzcocks at The Free Trade Hall but the spectacle of David Byrne propelled me to go.

I've chosen two photographs to represent my time there.

The Village Voice became a staple read for me every week and the work of one photographer in particular stood out. Sylvia Plachy's Unguided Tour column eloquently captured the energy, madness and passion of the city around me.

At the time I still really hadn't discovered the canon of street photographers that are now so well known. My education was browsing book stores and going to see exhibitions and at that time there wasn't a great deal on offer. One day a book called Invisible City caught my eye. The photographer was Ken Schles. As Plachy represented an exuberant exterior life of the city Schles refracted an underground perspective that I was also conscious of.

Oops. I've got to 8 and I'm just into my twenties. I knew this would be tough. So what's this telling me? Well after that period I settled into developing the style of work you see today and is actually picked up at the start of this blog. Would I choose some of my own work - public and private - to represent that later period in addition to other photographers? I certainly think so.

All the pictures - except one - are black and white. I need to keep breaking that up. In addition only two pictures are by women and they're all from a white western perspective. I think my later selections would have a range of far richer source as I keep learning about new photographers and practices. So I could have picked the most influential, well known photos over the same period but I think sitting on my desert island, wondering what on earth I'm going to cook for supper, looking at these particular images will kindle some important memories.

Excuse me while I choose the next 8 and see if I can smuggle them with me too.

Sean McDonnell

I've been pursuing a style of photography now called street for a number of years. A south Londoner by birth I am pre-occupied with the West End and spend too much time there taking black and white pictures on film. I nurture a hope that one day London will be recognised like Paris, New York and Tokyo as a great city of street photography but secretly like the fact that it is still the underdog. For someone who enjoys the solitary practice of his work I am surprisingly talkative about it - although not at the same time. Here's a collection of idle musings and distracting links.

These posts are a sample of my current blog PORTRAIT OF A STREET PHOTOGRAPHER. There are 10 years of posts so please visit!

Portrait of a Street Photographer archive

link to Portrait of a Street Photographer blog
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