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Green Light in the City

Notts Street Photographer Rich Bell Chats First Photobook Life Works & Dreams

25 November 21 interview: Tom Quigley
photos: Rich Bell

Rich Bell’s candid photographs of Nottingham’s streets have graced our regular Notts Shots galleries over the past couple of years and, after checking out his first photobook Life Works & Dreams, we found out how he entered the world of street photography.

You've recently published your first book of photography, Life Works & Dreams. How long have you been working on it?
I've been creating street images for just over three years now, and I think it was over the last Christmas break — somewhere between too many mince pies and festive cocktails — that I decided in 2021 I'd make a book to reflect on my images and the journey of how it all began.

Tell us how a chance encounter with a dog pulled you out of a creative struggle...
A few years ago I was suffering from a serious creative block and actively hiding from it, even going to the lengths of taking time off from my day job as a motion graphic designer. I'd recently bought a new camera (Fujifilm X-T3) for filmmaking, but it sat on my desk collecting dust as I just didn't feel in the right headspace to film anything. Then one night I went out to my local corner shop to buy some Flamin’ Hot Doritos and decided, ‘Right, I’m going to take my camera and film something along the way,’ but the creative block and self-doubt crept in and I didn't film anything.

As I headed home, I saw this dog staring into the shop — he was one of those dogs that looks like he takes himself for a walk. He’s bathed in a perfect light, emanating from within. It’s one of those beautifully mundane scenes we see every day, and I remember I have the camera. I fumble with the settings, while worrying that the dog would move and the moment would be gone. But I get it, and with it comes that rush, that high, that addictive thrill that creativity releases. It was a marker and a moment in time that meant so much. Not only was the dog the start of a new chapter in my creative life and my love for still images and street photography, but it reignited my passion and freed me from the creative rut I had found myself in.

Does your job satisfy your need for creativity? Is it important for you to make time for creativity outside of work?
Working as a graphic designer offers lots of opportunity for creativity, but I think it's important to find passion projects outside of work, as it offers opportunity for experimentation and space to make mistakes. And for me street photography is a time to take myself away from all of life's distractions and just be in the moment.

For those who have never heard the term 'street photography', can you give a little insight into what it is, and what you enjoy about shooting this subject matter?
Well I'm far from an expert, but to me street photography is capturing moments of everyday life in urban environments, and what is so wonderful to me about street photography is just opening your eyes to all of the amazing, unnoticed things happening around us every day, and really celebrating them through images.

Do you have any 'rules' or guidance in street photography, given that it's often about capturing moments of complete strangers?
I think if you asked any street photographer their answers would be incredibly different, as the styles and approaches to it are so vast. For me, I like to try and stay invisible and not interrupt what is going on around me, to get the most natural shots. But often people will come and ask, “Did you just take my photo?” or, “What are you taking photos of?”, so I try being open and honest by showing them my Instagram and explaining, and most people are happy or ask to have copies of the images.

Nottingham features heavily in this first collection of yours — are there any particularly good spots of our city that you've explored with a camera in hand?
Nottingham is such an amazing place to take pictures on the street, it has such an eclectic mix of architecture, people and subcultures, that really no matter where you go you can find something interesting. But specific locations, not too far from the LeftLion office there are some big bold blue and yellow doors to the bus station that are a fantastic backdrop, or Hockley in general, it's always evolving and it's great to take photos there.

Nottingham is such an amazing place to take pictures on the street, it has such an eclectic mix of architecture, people and subcultures, that really no matter where you go you can find something interesting

Are the photos in your book film, digital or a mix of both?
My book is all digital. I shoot with Fuji cameras and a Ricoh GR III, although recently I've just bought an old Yashica film camera, so maybe film will feature in the next one!

What roles do both Instagram and printed matter play in the way you think about your work?
I use Instagram as almost a diary of images I take, but I find it's really tough as you're working with a really small screen space and it often doesn't show the whole story or the image, plus Instagram is very instant. The reason I love print is you get to see everything with so much clarity and take your time to look at each image.

What steps did you take to create a printed book? Any advice for those looking to give self-publishing a go?
Firstly, I seriously underestimated how much work would be needed — but once I got into it, it was a great process. One thing I did was gather all the images I thought were worthy of inclusion and got them printed out as small individual prints. This meant I could lay them out and shuffle them around to start to get a feel for the sequencing of the book, and doing this manually rather than on the computer was not only faster, but has a much nicer, tactile feel to it.

The idea to write a narrative and explain the story behind my work was something that came much later on, after many reworks of the book. But I think my main advice is to just give it a go — not only is it a lovely process to go back and reflect on your images, but also bringing together a body of work in print is something that feels really special to me.

Do you have a favourite pair of images in the book?
I really love the pair of images with the women reading the Nottingham Post about lockdown level two, and the chap eating his crisps on the market selling face masks. I really love the difference in their energy but also I think these images will be interesting to look back on in ten years as they feel like a time capsule to a moment in history.

Where can people pick up a copy of Life Work & Dreams?
If anyone would like to buy the book, send me a message on Instagram and I can organise sending one out.

@richerich

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