Vicky Wragg: Freeze-Framing Little Moments

Vicky Wragg, based in the United Kingdom, is a photography enthusiast with serious talent. She brings her images to life with colour and whimsy and is able to combine street photography and fine art into compelling images.

Q: When did you first discover photography and become interested in it?

A: My family has always had a very strong relationship with photos so it’s no surprise that my interest in cameras was one from an early age. There have always been albums packed with memories around the house so it’s natural to me to want to capture so much of life around me.

Also, through my degree in illustration. I converted most of the briefs to include a photographic outcome. However, I take quite different photographs these days than I did back then. My ideas have changed and so have my reasons for taking photos.

Q: Do you incorporate photography into your career, and did you have any formal training?

A: I’m an enthusiast, and I just like clicking the shutter. Photography isn’t part of my working life, which is in the antiques business. Actually, this is something I should really use as a focus for a new project; it’s an old family business that has its quirks and history, which I could quite easily photograph as part of a new series perhaps.

I’m mostly self-taught by interest in looking through books and journals on photography over the years. The turning point in the way I looked at photography was seeing the Annelies Strba exhibition ‘Shades of Time’ at The Photographers Gallery in London in 1998. It was an inspiring slideshow of images from her life and travels. I loved it.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica, and what equipment do you use?

A: I use a Leica M6 with Summicron 35mm ASPH. It was the desire to have a smaller and more discreet camera set-up. It’s also having a passion for using something beautiful. It’s the most intuitive camera I have ever held and used.

Q: The images in your portfolio are delightfully whimsical, presenting odd, jarring and often amusing juxtapositions of form, size, colour and content. Is this your style, your mind set, or would you call it something else, and what is it all about?

A: I have for a long time tried to work out what it is I go out looking for, and I still can’t pin it down. I suppose I tend to look for all the little details, the fleeting moments that pass by in an instant. I am a great people watcher and always have been, observing behavior and finding the peculiar photos that can come out of that. For me, looking at all the small things is as much a pleasure as overseeing a big event. I like to search and find using photography to freeze-frame these little moments that I see.

I also am very aware that I have a fairly poor memory and so it’s become my way of capturing and therefore remembering these small observations, some amusing, some just visually pleasing. I just don’t like to think that I could miss things, and photography gives you an amazing opportunity to simply record what you find.

Q: Your image of a kind of bored, casual contemporary crowd of people lounging in an ornately baroque classical setting really evokes a smile because of the disparity between the setting and its inhabitants. Aside from the humorous aspect, what were you trying to convey with this image? What do you think it says to the people that view it?

A: This photo was taken in Venice, a school party I think. It was beautiful in there and suddenly I see a group of fairly fed up and tired looking students. I particularly like the girl with her head on her hand. She’s painfully bored. The contrast of people verses environment was plain to see.

I remember at the time the whites of their eyes shone out, and in my mind it also had a kind of ‘Last Supper’ arrangement with the line up of characters which I liked.

Venice was a tricky place to photograph differently; everywhere you look is a postcard image. It was a challenge to see beyond the obvious. I want to go back and see it again, maybe in a different season; this was taken during the hectic summer months.

Q: The amusing picture of legs shod in bright red high heels emerging from behind a planted tree in a formal setting has a casual, grab shot feel, but has clearly been composed with great care. Did you set this up or just come upon it, or something in-between, and can you say something about your intention in creating this image?

A: I think this photo was a turning point for me and was taken in Lisbon, Portugal a couple of weeks after buying the M6. Never having used a rangefinder before I was surprised by how quickly it became second nature to use, so on this trip I took only this camera with me, its first proper outing so to speak.

I remember seeing this lady and I took a photo of her from the front, which turned out to be a completely uneventful photograph. Walking away I looked back and saw this second image. I took just one frame and walked away, thinking that if that comes out, it’ll be my best of the week, and to this day it’s still one of my favorites.

Everything fell into place naturally, and it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time. I am still surprised that I took only one frame, but then maybe deep down you know you’ve got what you wanted, and often it’s the first frame of many that’s the more successful one.

I do think that at the time your intentions for taking a photo aren’t always clear, but only when you view photos in isolation and with time you can then attach certain meanings to them. I remember showing this to someone once who I eventually gave a print to; she loved the central tree and thought it had a phallic quality to it, especially with the red high heels and the stockings. People’s interpretations of your photos always fascinates me, quite often you see something completely different, but then you have first hand knowledge of the scene as it was and not just as finished print or image.

Q: The last here images in your portfolio all rely on an astute use of colour. The first two having red as a unifying force linking disparate elements, and the third contrasting the colour of an art museum with the more somber tones of the old couple walking through a modernist sculpture display. Can you tell us something about your methodology and thought process in creating these images?

A: Colour is real draw for me. Maybe that’s why I opted to select only colour images for this collection of 12.

The image taken looking down on the street with a triangle of colour and the lady in the blue dress was just a colour and position thing, nothing more. I believe that photos can just click sometimes with no obvious message or meaning and here is an example of that. The pigeon bottom left was a bonus.

The old couple uses colour to give contrast to the scene and the characters within it. An odd and quite surreal pairing of modern and old. I took a few frames of these two, this one first then I went around and took some from the front. The fact that you cant see their faces and is a capture of their backs to me not a disadvantage, I find its something I often do and don’t put it down to fear of facing someone with a camera, sometimes the photo just benefits from it. It’s like they’re walking through some kind of gate that represents the future and also highlights their long past.

Q: There is a deliberate fairytale element in your striking image of a young blonde woman in contemporary dress seemingly confined in an almost art nouveau castle looking out an asymmetrical window framed by twisting vines, was this a conscious representation of the Rapunzel story or something similar?

A: I think this goes back to my little moments. This was taken in a zoo, overlooking a monkey enclosure. I loved the stage set that was in front of me and the simple colour palate, highlighting her pink nails. I was also very aware of her as this ‘trapped’ female, even if the actual reality was the reverse as she was gazing down on the animals beyond the glass.

Photography is so fascinating because you can isolate and create by simply selecting your frame and choosing to discard the ‘off-stage’ elements. What’s missing here are the families and children running riot, the chaotic noises and the heat of the enclosure. You can capture something far removed from the reality of the situation and give it another story. I’d never have though of the Rapunzel similarities, but it was a surreal stage and she performed perfectly for that split second.

Q: Your surreal image of a man emerging from a car in a suburban parking to gaze up at red kites seemingly falling from the sky is amusing, but it also seems to say something about contemporary society, contrasting the ordinary with the unexpected. Do you think this is correct, and can you give us some of your thoughts about this image?

A: I keep meaning to get this photo printed large as I love all of the small details in it, especially the woman and the dog in the front car. I tend to go pretty unnoticed so I think I was amused that I was being watched for once.

In terms of saying something about contemporary society, I am unsure, although the ideas of contrasting the ordinary with the surreal and unexpected is I think a perfect description of what street photography aims to highlight. The three kites directly targeting the three cars was fortunate, and wasn’t really planned as you see here. Luck is obviously a big contributor in photography, but there’s still something that tells your finger to click the shutter at a certain point, quicker than you can understand sometimes. I find that part of all photography really intriguing, as I think your subconscious reacts quicker than anything else. You can try to work a situation, predict a possible outcome, but then all of a sudden something just ‘clicks’ and it’s an instant thing.

It is also a very classic British photo, the pastime of driving to a location, in this case Crosby Beach in the UK, and staying sat in the comfort of your car amused me. Human behavior is a very interesting subject.

Q: In general the images you have presented seem to scintillate at the intersection of street photography and fine art. Do you agree, and if so what are your feelings about that?

A: I am quite happy to hear that as I don’t think of what I do as purely ‘street photography’. My bookshelves contain a vast collection of different styles of photography, and my background is one of Graphic Design and Illustration with photography as the main working method. I have been inspired by many photographers who would go under the banner of ‘fine art’. Most of what I look at and enjoy has a ‘snapshot’ aesthetic, and normally can be described as a diarized version of events. Wim Wenders book Once is an absolute beauty, and one that can definitely inspire if you are feeling out of sorts.

Street photography is such a broad genre, and especially with more recent exposure to it through inclusions in major photography exhibitions, it has always been a really difficult thing to define and explain. I prefer to think that I just walk out with my camera and find things that more often than not, I am inexplicably drawn to for some reason. Sometimes these things have a narrative within a single frame and other times its just aesthetics, but mostly it’s just a personal account of the places I see and the observations I make, my diary.

Q How do you see your photography evolving over, say the next 3 years, and do you plan to explore any other genres, locations or particular subjects in the near future?

A: I have just come back from Scotland on a break shared with my Mum and Gran. I found myself taking photos of her as a story of our trip, a portrait of her as she is now.  I quite enjoyed having a subject to focus on as well as taking photos as and when I find them. I may well work on more specific photo essays because if this, creating more series as opposed to single images.

Travel is equally important and photography forms the basis of any trip. It’s an escape for me and a complete indulgent pleasure. I’m finding it harder to get motivated by things closer to home, especially in a street photography sense, so travel opens up whole new exciting worlds, and I have severe wanderlust at the moment.

Q:  What are your hopes and goals for the future, and what your plans are for exhibiting and presenting your photography going forward?

A: In terms of presenting photos going forward, I adore photo books and will go on to create some featuring some of the places I have been and things seen. Exhibiting photos hasn’t really been something I have ever got into, although I was fortunate enough to be featured in a show last year at the Grundy Art Gallery in Blackpool called ‘Mass Photography: Blackpool through the Camera’ alongside some good names. I was so used to seeing images on screen that it was a real pleasure to get work framed and presented in a gallery space.

I think what I need right now is to focus on selecting some interesting and personal projects in the near future, eventually creating some real narrative based series. Work on producing stories as seen through my eyes, but most of all, just continue to pick up my camera and enjoy where it takes me and what I can discover.

Thank you for your time, Vicky!

- Leica Internet Team

To see more of Vicky’s work, visit her website and Flickr page.