Here’s the recent interview I did with photographer Sam Bush.
If I sound like an old git, it’s because I am one.
Interview with Pete Millson.
Photojournalist Pete Millson started out photographing his friend’s bands in the late 80’s. By 1993 he was photographing bands for The NME, he hasn’t looked back since. We met up for a chat about his work, his obsessions and his opinion on the digital age.
Pete started photographing new, up and coming bands for the NME in 1993. His work took him all over the world, including a trip to America. Although he says it’s not as glamorous as it might seem. “In the end you basically lost money because you were there for so long. All the money you were paid, you’d spend” After working for the NME he became employed at a local paper. He says that this may seem like a step down in terms of employment, but it enabled him to hone his photographic skills properly “I saw it as a chance to re learn loads of techniques in a safe environment. The editor there wouldn’t know a good picture if it fell on him” When he was happy he had exhausted working for a local paper he and some journalists he knew from his NME days started to work at The Guardian. Pete was assigned to take portraits for ‘Home Entertainment’, a section about well known singers and songwriters and their record collections. He says it was brilliant to work and meet such interesting people. This became his regular job for five years and from it he went on to do more freelance work and portraits for The Times ‘T2’ publication. “Portraits are it for me; I’m just obsessed with people watching. It’s a chance to learn about how others tick, do you not just sit in cafés and stare at people?” In 2008 a book packed full of the feature portraits he took for The Guardian during his time there from 2001 to 2006 was published, called ‘Home Entertainment’. “When I meet someone for the first time and have to photograph them. I usually find there’s something about them that really bugs me, something I cant work out, I want to catch it in the photo and if I don’t I think why not, why haven’t I managed that, it’s a constant puzzle” This constant struggle to really capture the subject the way he sees it is something that drives Pete and helps him think of and see pictures before they happen. “I think you should take the picture with your eye first, instead of wondering around with a camera attached to your face, if you do that you can only see half of what’s going on around you” This way of thinking about the scene he is photographing as a whole rather than just where the subject is lets him think about other factors, such as where the best light is coming from. “The other thing I got obsessed about a few years ago was light, just noticing light; it just solves so many problems.”
Pete is a fully paid up member of the film generation “I like the discipline of black and white, especially with film”. He developed his skills in the dark room but in the late nineties was forced to switch to digital “It happened in 98 or 99, suddenly we all had to buy digital cameras and it got very expensive” Although when shooting assignments he works almost solely in digital he says that it’s “just because no one will pay you to shoot film anymore”. Even with the massive digital wave that changed the face and the practice behind newspaper photography Pete still manages to find the time to use film in his personal work. “About 5 years ago I decided to go back out and shoot a roll of black and white film, when I took it off the reel my heart stopped. It was just so exciting.” Since then he has gone on to host numerous exhibitions of his work and is currently working on his newest collection of photographs from the past year.
Although he’s far from stuck in his ways, he has a very traditional view when it comes to the impact that the digital age has had on photography in general. “With portraits, if it’s something that’s going to be my statement forever, I don’t want it just sat on a hard drive. You can take a really good file, and tell yourself you’re going to frame it or put it up somewhere but you don’t, you never do, it rarely becomes anything you can get your hands on.” This idea of photographs becoming something tangible is appealing and he says that’s why he loves film so much “I have a big bag of films I have to process, it’s not quite as depressing as a folder full of files though, because the bag is almost bulging with potential, you can see them there, just not what’s inside them. There’s also something to be said for learning from the process of not being able to see your images, because if you’re not looking at the back of a screen, what you are looking at, is your subject”.
The digital age has revolutionised photography and made it more accessible to the general public than ever before, with digital cameras becoming cheaper by the day photographers are wondering how this will affect the future of photojournalism and photography as an art in general “Everybody and their dog is a photographer now, it is slightly depressing. Also nowadays thanks to things like Flickr there are so many more images around, I find it’s just an information overload; it’s the ultimate people’s art. Anyone can join in.” He also thinks that the digital age may hinder peoples creativity and understanding of photography as a skill itself “It’s slightly dangerous to pick up a digital camera that can produce these razor sharp images and perfect exposures when you’ve done nothing to earn it, you find that you haven’t learnt how to put some of yourself into your final piece of work.” Like most people in the profession Pete is concerned about its future and the idea of anyone being able to barge in on the position and craft that he has worked so hard at is unnerving, but Pete remains undeterred “It’s like with any craft, in order to make a statement or create a feeling or touch somebody through you’re the work you produce you have to work hard at perfecting it, I’m working day in, day out to become a better photographer, I don’t know why, I suppose it’s what I’m compelled to do. I just hope others are making it as important.”