You may have spotted Lamar Francois around Nottingham BC (before COVID) shooting a multitude of events, people and scenes with an approach that combines mindfulness in photography with a keen eye for getting the perfect shot. Alex Kuster caught up with the writer and photographer over Zoom to see how he’s been doing during lockdown, and what his future plans look like…
How have you been throughout lockdown?
It's been an interesting period for me. Going into lockdown, I was very busy trying to prepare for the year and then, all of a sudden, everything changed. I've used the period to step back a little bit and reflect on my work and what I've been doing so far. A lot of what I've been doing has been in and around where I live and Bilborough. With things locking down I haven’t been able to be out making images or travelling to places for a few months now – like everyone – and I look forward to picking that up.
I wanted to keep busy by focussing on things in and around the home that I usually see. I live in a shared home and I've just been photographing little bits and pieces, trying to find the beauty within the surroundings that I have. It is quite a mindful approach, just trying to be in tune with my surroundings.
How did you first get involved with photography?
I think I was always curious about it. My mum would take a photograph whenever I achieved something and we had lots of albums. I first got the chance to practice my skills about twelve years ago when I started my astrophysics course at the University of Nottingham. In my first year, they had a photo society, and as part of that you can borrow a DSLR camera. It gave me time to understand the technical and the artistic sides. For me, it's always been an experiment. So this might seem very counterintuitive, but when I was first practicing photography, I would always use manual modes, rather than using automatic modes because I'm always interested to see how everything built up together.
How do you combine mindfulness and photography?
Photography gives you those opportunities to be mindful. For example, one central part of being mindful is not to make judgements. There’s a lot of freedom in photography, and it can be an expression of how you feel in the moment. There is something called the ‘beginner's mind’, which is something I first discovered with meditation. The idea is that you don't bring your own biases and pre-judgments into a new situation. You're looking at the world through a box. You can control what is in that box, and how various elements play together. And that's very, very different to how you see and perceive things in normal, everyday life.
Finally, the idea of being non-striving, although this differs based on the fact that I shoot commercially as well. But when it comes to the personal side of things, the whole idea is that a photograph is just a moment in time, and you will get many of these moments presenting themselves. Are you making the most of them? A lot of it is about letting go of the idea of trying to be perfect every time.
How did you make your hobby your profession?
A lot of hard work and a lot of time! I've also been quite lucky; back in 2012 I was given a prize at the Young Creative Awards. After I graduated, I needed to find paid work and I was lucky enough to find work with the University. They were very understanding, flexible and accommodating, but it is hard work. I maybe didn't realise when I first took up photography that there were very few obvious pathways in, and a lot of it is about networking and finding those soft ways in.
Photography, in a lot of ways, isn't really employable. So there are no people posting jobs that say: ‘Hey, I need a photographer. I will pay you £20,000 in a year’ or anything like that. You have to be known for something and gradually build things up. I've been able to put myself into a position where I've got a base of ten to fifteen clients, and I've been lucky to work with some fairly high profile organisations along the way. For example, I photographed the Nottingham Caves for the Cave City Festival last year, which was for Nottingham City Council.
You're looking at the world through a box. You can control what is in that box, and how various elements play together. And that's very, very different to how you see and perceive things in normal, everyday life
What would you say to someone just starting out?
The first thing I’d tell them would be to just see what happens and what you’re drawn to. Once you start looking at things you get an idea of the sort of images that speak to you. Also, it’s important not to worry about whether the particular technical details of the image are right, but rather to just explore, use the camera and dig deeper.
What projects have you undertaken during lockdown?
I've been photographing the view from my bedroom window for the past year and a half. I found I can make a really interesting scene with it, looking across the window with a very, very wide lens. Also, with there being so many different weather conditions and times of day, there are so many possibilities. I want to show that you can get completely different results out of what may look like the same mundane piece of scenery.
Who are your favourite fellow Notts photographers?
I think Nottingham has got a very interesting, wide and fervent creative scene with a lot of interesting people. Probably one of my favourites is a chap called Peter McConnochie who goes by the name of UrbanScot. His style is very personality-led portraiture, which is very different to what I do. He's been able to keep that project running for a while, and it's been thoroughly captivating.
I guess my favourite, and the photographer that influenced me the most, is a chap called Scott Wilson. He used to live in Nottingham, but is now based in Denver, Colorado. His take on the urban landscape was something that really inspired me, and proved pivotal to my growing up and developing my work. He has a really bold style which is similar to mine. He actually became quite notable for overcoming stage four cancer, and in going through that he’s been able to produce a lot of fabulous wildlife work that’s quite well publicised in the United States.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to see if I can use this time to grow my business further and take on new clients, but I'm also expanding what I do in terms of offering prints. I've been selling them on my website, as well as my Nottingham calendar project, which in recent years I've used to raise funds for Autism East Midlands. This is a cause that’s very important to me because I'm on the autism spectrum. It's very important to be able to show those of us on the spectrum can do well and find our way.
And finally, I've got a photo book coming out, which is like a pocket guide to Nottingham which showcases some of the quirky things that have happened within the last two or three years.