Dan Boulton: Southbank

Dan Boulton was born in 1973 in Enfield, North London. His work, which crosses the lines between documentary, street photography and fine art has been featured in Document Skateboard and Plus1 magazines and the book “Emulsion Stew”. A collection of his work is soon to be published as a limited edition book by Chicago-based Parking Block Publishing. Recently Boulton’s work was included alongside the work of Ed Templeton, Tobin Yelland, and Dave Schubert in the ‘Film Por Vida’ group show curated by Angela Boatwright at New York’s Fuse Gallery and it will also run at London’s Wayward Gallery in June of this year. From the 6th to the 15th of May, Madame Lillie’s Gallery in London will exhibit a series of photographs by this talented UK-based photographer. Here is Dan’s fascinating story.

Q: What camera and equipment do you use?

A: My Leica M6, a 50mm f/2 Summicron and Ilford HP5 film. All the work for the Southbank project and show has been shot using this setup. I’m strictly one camera, one lens in my approach. I would love another M6 body though, so I could easily shoot color alongside my black and white.

Q: How would you describe your photography?

A: When I’m printing I always tend to think of the work framed and in galleries or sequenced in book form so I guess that makes me a fine art photographer, but the work is essentially documentary in its approach. My background is in Fine Art and that’s what I studied for my degree, but I also feel that over the past decade documentary photography has found more of an audience in galleries than in the printed form such as magazines. Print medium in general is going through some significant changes so it’s only natural that photographers are finding different ways of getting their work out and seen.

Q: Were you a serious enthusiast before going pro? What made you decide to go pro?

A: I don’t recall ever making a conscious decision to go pro or deciding, “Hey I’m a pro now”. It was when I saw my work printed in a magazine for the first time that I began to see myself differently as a photographer. That and flying out to New York to see my work hung in a show next to my idols like Tobin Yelland and Greg Hunt, etc.

Q: When did you first become interested in photography as a mode of expression, an art form, or as a profession?

A: Like quite a few photographers of my generation, my first interest in photography came as a means of documenting skateboarding and the culture, not in any particularly grand way. Just in the taking photos of friends and emulating what we were seeing in the magazines. I would make my own photocopied ‘zines with the photos I’d taken of my friends and sell them at places we hung out. My dad was a serious enthusiast in that he had a Pentax SLR and a darkroom (which later became my bedroom). He would lend me his camera, which at the time was a big deal for me. From then on I was hooked and always had a camera with me. Those early photos of my friends skateboarding have either been lost over the years or weren’t particularly good. Its occurred to me that you might see the work I’m doing now as an attempt to recapture those times.

Q: Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: My Dad gave me a few pointers and then I had an introduction at college covering basics like processing and developing black and white prints. What I enjoyed was not being overloaded with information, being allowed to follow my instincts and experiment. The rest has been self-taught; even just deciding to use a Leica meant another learning curve, you can’t just pick up a Leica and shoot like a Magnum photographer, sorry to shatter any illusions! Early influences were photographers like Eugene Richards, Larry Clark and Jim Goldberg. ‘Raised by Wolves’ was an incredibly influential book; I wish I had the money to get that book when it came out because it’s so expensive now that it’s out of print.

Q: What genre are your photos? (e.g. fine art, photojournalism, portrait, street photography, etc.)

A: It’s funny— I think my work contains elements of all the above terms and I have always found it hard to put my work in one exclusive box. I believe at this point there are two distinct areas of photography: Photographers who tell the truth and those who are more interested in creating fantasy. I put myself firmly in the category of telling the truth. Some would say to the point of obsession in that I don’t crop and still print in the darkroom. What you are seeing when you look at my work is what I composed in the viewfinder window of my Leica. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with Photoshop and the editing capabilities of digital. It’s just not something I choose to explore in my own practice. For the same reason I choose to use the M6 and a single lens. I like keeping things as simple as possible. I like to keep it raw. I’m only interested in what I’m able to create with my camera.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: I became interested in Leica through reading up on the photographers I most admired and finding that the majority of them would mention using a Leica. After going through a ridiculous number of different cameras I finally bit the bullet and scraped enough money together for the M6 and 50mm lens. I did experiment with a 35mm lens at one point but found it too wide for my liking. The M6 and 50mm is my perfect set up. I love its point of view and it just feels right in my hands. It’s also been an icebreaker at times when I approach people for portraits. People either recognize that it’s a Leica or if they don’t; they’re intrigued by this old beat up camera that they can’t see the pictures on the back of!

Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?

A: The work is always personal. Even though it’s documentary in its approach, I see it all as introspective. This interaction between documenting and the personal response is what excites me the most.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book and gallery show?

A: Parking Block Publishing is putting out the book. It will be limited to 100 copies and will act as a ‘teaser’ until I manage to put the whole project together as a larger book in the future. It’s been a fantastic opportunity and through the support of Timothy Pigott at Parking Block, it’s enabled me to put together a focused edit of the work so far. This has, in turn, helped with getting my head around the process of selecting the work for the solo show at Madame Lillie’s. Working on both the show and the book has been incredibly intensive and at points exhausting, but ultimately rewarding in terms of my relationship with the work. My first solo show consists of images pulled from my long term documentation of the skateboard culture of London’s most revered meeting place based in the undercroft area of the South Bank Centre. Originally an architectural dead-spot, the space has been used by the skateboard community since the early ‘70s alongside some of London’s more undesirable residents. I began documenting the skateboarders in 2005 as news broke of yet another attempt to clean up the area in line with the corporate gentrification of its surrounding spaces. As a skateboarder myself up until my twenties, I clearly identify with my subjects, which is why I prefer the documentary approach rather than the established format of skateboard photography.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to the book text to give you some idea of my perspective on capturing the rawness and truth of this street culture:

“Mostly the skaters are sick of photographers. I’m not a skate photographer, I don’t know all the locals, I don’t feel the need to. I’ve been happy to document from afar working with the hostility. Of course I have a history with skateboarding and knowledge of the scene. I wouldn’t be able to work discreetly without it. It allows me a longer time to shoot.”

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Dan’s work on his website, www.danboulton.com. His solo show, Southbank, runs from the 6th to the 15th of May at the Madame Lillie’s Gallery.