Meet the Leica Meet: Stephen Cosh, The Old City

This interview is part of a series in which Olaf Willoughby talks with Leica Meet members about their photographic projects, their stories, goals and learnings along the way. Here Olaf interviews Stephen Cosh, a photographer from Scotland who, inspired by a book, has embarked on a long journey to capture the humanity of the city of Jerusalem.

Q: Tell us about your project. What’s its title and main theme?

A: The project is simply called “Jerusalem.” I came up with the idea after reading Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Once I finished the book I knew I had to get out there and shoot it, so I booked a four day trip in February 2014, packed two cameras and two lenses and lots of film and got on a plane.

What I am trying to capture in the project is the humanity of the city — how its history has shaped the town and its people.

I’m not sure I’ve succeeded yet. It will require many more trips out there and I’m determined to make that happen.

Q: How does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?

A: The theme is fairly loose. I never planned any development and story; rather I tried to take key photographs that would speak for themselves. I’m probably not far enough into the project to link each shot to the next just yet. Currently I’m fascinated by how people fit into the architectural depth of the city and I’m expecting that to evolve over further visits.

Q: Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause-related end in mind?

A: I don’t consider the project finished as such. I’m going back next year and plan to add to it. I don’t shoot anything for commercial reasons. My photography is just that: my photography. I feel it’s important to keep it that way right now.

Q: What photographic choices have you made (i.e. color palette, composition, use of flash, etc.)?

A: I shot most of the work with a Leica M7 and a little with a Leica M. I decided on film for the bulk of the shoot as it would help portray the grittiness of the Old City and its people.

Jerusalem is a harsh city. The architecture is harsh, the history is harsh, the people are harsh, and the atmosphere is harsh. I figured that film would be the ideal medium to capture this and shot Tri-X 400 for the majority of the project.

Q: What is your vision for the project and how will you determine if you’ve been successful?

A: I’d like to keep working the project up. I’m not sure it will ever be finished but I wouldn’t be averse to exhibiting it as a body of work just now albeit that I only had four days on the ground. I would like to get into the more outlying areas of the town which are not as busy and probably not as safe to walk around photographing people.

As far as success goes, I’m not sure I’ll ever see it as successful. I don’t think Jerusalem will ever be explained through pictures alone. Jerusalem is an ideal as much as it is a place. It exists in ones head as much as on a map — trying to capture that in images is a big ask.

Q: Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?

A: Oscar Marzaroli! I really admire Marzaroli’s street work in Glasgow and I’d like to get the same depth and feeling in my shots in Jerusalem as he managed in his work in Glasgow.

Q: Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what were your learnings?

A: Plenty! Jerusalem is a very sunny place and much of the city is underground, so managing light and dark is very tricky — especially with film. I lost more shots that I care to think about merely do to bad handling of light. I also lost a lot of shots by bottling out. Street photography is a tricky genre in most cities, but in Jerusalem it’s actually quite dangerous and there were many occasions when I didn’t have the guts to put my camera up to my eye.

Q: Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?

A: I suppose I have a strange workflow when it comes to film in as much as I don’t print my shots. I only publish digitally. This makes shooting film a slow and laborious process, especially at the scanning stage.

Q: What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?

A: I shoot solely with M bodies: M3, M7 and M240 and almost always with a 50 mm attached. I have various lenses at various lengths but I tend to shoot mostly with a modern 50 mm Summilux ASPH. and a 40 year old 50 mm Elmar. In Jerusalem, however, I shot the M7 with a 50 mm Summilux attached and the M240 with a 35 mm Summilux attached.

Thank you for your time, Stephen!

-Leica Internet Team

See more of Stephen’s work on his website or blog.

Stephen Cosh is a 43 year old photographer and graphic designer living in Scotland. He took a five year hiatus from photography after getting bored of shooting landscapes and seascapes. Picking up a rangefinder style camera led him to street photography and, eventually, Leica. His work takes him all over the world and he feels very fortunate to be able to shoot street in some fantastic places such as London, San Francisco, Murmansk and of course Jerusalem. He founded The Leica Meet in August 2013 along with Gavin Mills and Olaf Willoughby and it’s been an amazing journey for him so far.

Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to over 2,000 members. In June, Olaf will be co-teaching a creative photography workshop with Eileen McCarney Muldoon at Maine Media College in Rockport. If you have an intriguing project or body of work, completed or in progress, that we might feature contact Olaf at: olafwilloughby@gmail.com and www.olafwilloughby.com.