As the moment vanishes: Interview with photographer Nicholas Goodden

We chat to Nicholas Goodden about his street photography, from moody film noir style imagery, to candid portraits and abstract architectural shots

Creative Review: Can you tell me more about your background – how did you get into the industry?

Nicolas Goodden: Can I be very honest? I have worked in an office all my life and it does a great job at sucking the life out of me. Photography is my way to get out of it all, it’s what makes me happy. I am gradually making the move to full time professional photography, but I’m very choosy, I only want to work on exciting projects or for top brands. Photography excites me so I don’t want to ruin the fun by shooting website backgrounds for insurance companies.

I started shooting as a hobby roughly in 2008 but I have always enjoyed taking photos. When I am not out shooting in the streets, I run the Street Photography London website and I also regularly work on commissions, mainly creating cinemagraphs and micro video content for big social media campaigns. I recently shot cinemagraphs for the launch of the new Peugeot 208 and of the 2015 Rugby World Cup players for Adidas. I also shot a street portrait series for Match.com of Londoners discussing their imperfections (for the Instagram #loveyourimperfections campaign).

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: What was this that attracted you to street photography in particular?

NG: I’m a wanderer (or Flaneur as we say in France). I like to get lost in the city without really thinking where I am going. Street photography is like a diary of what I see, how I see it. It’s a perfect way to spend quality time with myself, which I sometimes need. It’s quite meditative – the camera acts as a shield.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: Can you tell me about your process? And do you have any rules?

NG: In street photography the more you look for ‘the shot’ the less likely you are to get it. So it is best to just let it come to you. You can’t plan the unexpected, you can’t stage life in the streets. Some of my best shots were taken when I eventually gave up, went to sit down have a coffee and there it is, right in front of me. It’s key to be aware all the time and it’s very important to know your camera well, so that you don’t need to fiddle with settings as the moment vanishes. If you are observant and quick, it’s a good start. Street photography is a great way to understand people better and become less shy.

As long as it’s not part of a commercial assignment, [officially] no permission is required. But if I shoot for a brand then I will get model release forms signed. People think we are not allowed to shoot people in the street but we are. However, photographers should be smart and respectful when possible. If someone objects, there is no point getting into an argument. My only rule is to try to show empathy towards people I shoot, some shots are not ok so sometimes it’s best to not take it. The shots you take say a lot about you and there are a lot of street photographers with very poor ethics.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: Who or what are you greatest influences or inspirations?

NG: Of course classic masters are an influence – Cartier-Bresson (I’m half French, raised in France, so his photos of my native country speak to me) or Vivian Maier but it’s more her incredible story and the context of how her photos were discovered that excites me. But I also think to move forward you have to be careful not to excessively look behind.

My biggest influence is my mood, it will affect what I shoot on the day. Some days I feel super friendly and want to interact with people I shoot. Other days I want to be alone and that’s when people and my street photography take a more minimal angle. I focus on shadows and how they play with lines in the city. I love anything a bit dark in mood.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: Which images would you say have been the most significant for you in your career so far?

NG: When I look at my three favourite images they all link in a weird way. Solitude comes back in all of them.

The old couple was one of if not the first street shot I ever took, I think in 2009. I was walking in Ladbroke Grove and I passed their garden and saw them. I kept walking a bit and thought, ‘no, this is just too good’. I went back and took the photo. This photo was commended in the International Street Photography Awards in 2014.

The man and the scooter is my favourite shot of 2015 [lead image]. I am an Olympus Visionary / Ambassador and this was featured just last week in an article on their website. It’s one of these shots that you craft carefully. I was at the Tate Modern and waited, waited and waited some more until him and his daughter (I guess) were there in the frame, then the girl left him there, standing – she seems a little lost.

Finally the red telephone box is a shot I took a few years back and was exhibited in my first solo show, (sponsored by Olympus cameras), so there is this emotional attachment I have with it.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: What items are in your must have kit?

NG: I travel very light since I am out entire days shooting. I shoot with a small retro looking Olympus digital camera (E-M5 Mark II). Although it’s an interchangeable lens system, I normally stick to a 50mm equivalent lens since it’s a focal length I feel is closest to what my eyes see. A small camera is ideal to stay invisible and get candid shots and the retro styling of my camera always seems to almost relax people instead of a crazy big DSLR.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

CR: How would you say social media is changing street photography?

NG: As a whole social media has been very beneficial for photographers to get the right people to see their work. It works for me since 90% of the work I get from brands and creative agencies is via Twitter or Instagram.

At the same time there is a great lack of self-criticism in street photography. People aren’t tough enough in their selection and tend to post way too many very average photos. It’s fine to post average photos for fun, but any photographer wanting to seriously stand out should always remember that their portfolio is only as strong as their weakest shot. Another problem with social media is that people think ‘likes’ matter and therefore put photographers with thousands of likes on a pedestal. Likes mean nothing, and even if I do have a large online presence, I want people to judge my work by what it makes them feel, not how popular it is on Facebook.

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

Could you tell me more about Street Photography London?

I founded SPL – Street Photography London (@streetphotogldn on Twitter) late 2013 and our mission is simple: an independent website and blog home to some of the best street photography internationally.

It’s not-for-profit and only run by passion for street photography. We may consider some financial support this year from a couple of sponsors to cover costs but we really want to stay as independent and publicity free as possible. 

The blog is really the main focus and has featured interviews with some of the best international street photographers and street photography collectives. It has also been a chance for talented emerging street photographers to get an initial push and increased exposure. 

CR: What are you working on at the moment?

NG: I am working on a very exciting project with my sister who’s an illustrator in the US. It’ll all be revealed soon but it’s something quite new, trippy and unique.

nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk

streetphotographylondon.co.uk

Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden
Nicholas Goodden

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