Poles Apart

mae_challis_musicianI believe that the genre of ‘people photography’ can be separated into three distinct categories  – neutral, negative and positive. Neutral photographs are the trivial and meaningless images we see everyday on the likes of Facebook – friends on a night out, snaps of your partner eating the meal you just prepared, selfies… these images neither give anything or take anything away, either artistically or emotionally.

Next is the negative category. Here are the photographs that violate, make lives worse – this can be anything from certain types of pornography to invasive Paparazzi style photojournalism, and a lot more in between. It won’t go unnoticed that I say, ‘certain types of pornography’… pornography, erotic art – call it what you like – in one form or another it’s as old as humanity itself… and I genuinely don’t believe it’s all bad. But that’s my opinion, don’t flame me!

Then the final category… the positive. These photographs make people feel better about themselves, help them realise or release something good in themselves that they felt was absent. These are the photos that empower and enrich people’s lives and the photos that inspire.

Over the last ten years I’ve photographed a lot of humans… I’d estimate the figure to be in the region of about 500, but it’s probably more. Of all those people, I can honestly say that I’ve never published a photograph that I feel would portray someone negatively. People I’ve photographed have told me that my portraits, and the process of being photographed, have helped them to overcome anorexia, body-dysmorphia, shyness and anxiety – even depression. I like to think that everyone that stands in front of my camera enjoys it – not just the finished photograph, but the experience itself. Some people view the images I take negatively, and might even put them into the exploitative category, but none of the people who I photograph ever do.

fuji_instax_film_instant nude_woman_film_kodak nude_woman_portrait_film_1

For the technically curious  –
Mae – Canon EOS 5DIII/50mm f1.0
Kirsty – Canon AE1/28mm/Portra 400
Mike – Fuji Instax wide 300
Shauna & Hannah – Fuji GW690III/Portra 400
Georgia – Pentax LX/50mm f1.2/Agfa Vista 200


  1. I like your approach and definition of the “positive” interpretation. I like to add dignity to my definition (not suggesting that you omit it, BTW). Over the past couple years I’ve become increasingly interested in shooting the streets –defining that is a whole ‘nother post! 🙂 — where invariably you’ll come across many people who live on the margins or society. I’ll never purposely look for a shot in which their dignity is taken away.

    Great selection here, BTW. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well stated. Except for those numerous and meaningless Facebook selfies, the other two categories you describe are a matter of personal taste and interpretation. There are images that can be described as negative or simply embarrassing because of the point trying to be made…and sometimes no matter how positive you think the image is someone will take issue. Too bad, but that’s what makes capturing an image well so intriguing because of the emotions it brings out in each observer… Keep shooting!


  3. I like your approach and interpretation too.
    I find the human body beautiful and 97% of your images creative and artistic.

    It’s all in the eyes of the beholder I guess, but I am constantly amazed at some of the negative comments you’ve received in the past which you’ve mentioned. If people don’t like nudes or don’t like some of the compositions in your images, why in the $%@# hell do these people look at them. If one doesn’t like something, one doesn’t have to view (it).

    I may be in my early 60s, and while I don’t like hard core porn, a little erotica shows a healthy respect for the nude art form. But then I did study art, life drawing and design in my youth in the early 1970s, so perhaps that experience allows me to look at the lighting, curves and composition of photography in a much more open and appreciative way.


  4. A very interesting article. Like you, I firmly believe that any photo of a person should show them at their best, unless there is an overwhelming justification to do otherwise.


  5. Hi Phil, I tried contacting you through the info@ link, not sure if you got it? I’m going to be editing a new magazine called ‘Celluloid’ – it’s a new publication, both print and web, that’ll concentrate on artistic and journalistic film photography, color and mono. The publication is based in New York and will be distributed throughout the US with international subscription available.
    Anyway! We love your work here and would be honoured if you could become a regular contributor – your photography and writing are both superb. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 👍👍👍 for your approach to photography and sharing this one with us, Phil. Very inspiring words and also some great comments here.
    Best regards from the North, Dina

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think these are quite beautiful – I completely understand what you have discussed here and I think that your approach is no where near negative. I really enjoy art that is a bit different – well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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