With a list of clients that cover some of the biggest names in publishing, music and fashion, London-based photographer James Pearson-Howes has snapped big name aplenty; but it’s his personal projects, often focussing on outsider British cultures, that really enthral. From capturing day to day life on culturally diverse Kingsland Road, to British Folk – his study of dark and obscure British traditions – Pearson-Howes documents much that many others daren’t, and his body of work is all the more compelling for it.
We caught up with James to talk extreme traditions, outsider culture, British creativity and more…
Can you tell us a little about your British Folk series – how it came about, what you learnt and so on…
I’ve always wanted to explore more of Britain, and I stumbled upon these shamanic like morris dancers, Hunters Moon in my home town. Then a friend of mine put me on to the work of Jeremy Deller and his book Folk Archive. These events looked amazing, bizarre and colourful, totally not what I assumed folk traditions were like. I wanted to shoot my take on these events. I chose only the extreme, bizarre and weird traditions, and I wanted it to be portrait focused as well. Ben Freeman, (runs Ditto Press) helped me design the books, and the second in the triogly is set for release in September at the International Picture House in Viner St. I guess what I learnt is that these traditions are no longer about exorcing towns’ demons, or getting better crops, it’s about being a part of a community.
Your Kingsland Road project is a great example of cultures colliding – do you think this is what keeps British creativity so fresh and unique?
I think ‘mixing’ instead of ‘colliding’ is a better word to describe the area. That’s why I shot the project because I thought that it’s a place where so many different cultures seem to live together in some sort of harmony. Having a strong mix of cultures within a country can only help its creativity I think.
Your work seems to often focus on British outsiders, who else on the fringes of society interest you, and can we expect to see a series about this?
I’ve been working on a project about young fathers living in London and that’s still something I need to finalise. I’m not sure what form I may show the work, maybe an exhibition. I have just taken up a studio so I’m working on more studio based work at the moment, and commercial work has taken up alot of my time; so once I get a quiet patch I’m probably going to shoot something studio-based next. Outsiders and people on the fringes are more interesting to photograph, it gives me a buzz to meet these people, photography is simply a tool to do that.
Where’s your hometown, and where are you based now?
I was raised in Dorset, Wimborne. But I’ve been living in and around east London for over 10 years now.
Do you think location affects creativity?
Definitely. I moved to Dalston years and years ago because it was cheap and an interesting area to hang out. Now it’s slowly turning into Camden, which I dont like, so I’m considering a move down south. There seems to be an up-and-coming creative crowd… and cheaper rent!
Is Britain’s creative industry too London-centric?
I don’t know about that, I think London has a lot going for it, and why not shout about it. Major cities are always going to dominate the creativity of a country.
Has being British had an effect on your discipline?
Yes, I’m proud to be British. We have our wrongs but as a whole I think we have a lot to shout about. My first project out of uni was a project about teenage refugees living in London. I wanted it to be a positive piece, because at the time there was so much anti-refugee press in the media.
The Swinging ’60s, punk, Hacienda-era Manchester… is there one period of intense British creativity that you’d like to have been a part of, and why?
I guess the mid ’80s for the sheer amount of photography work that there must have been. Editorial photography and reportage work you could still make a living from not too hard.
Where in Britain do you feel most inspired?
London, someone once said that if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.
The top 3 British creatives who have inspired you?
Jeremy Deller, Stephen Gill, and my mate Jiro Bevis.
If you could collaborate with one GB creative, from any field, who would it be, and why?
Jeremy Deller, his work is so diverse, he produces art for the people, and just seems like an all round nice guy.
Will you be watching the Olympics?
Yeah I guess so, not really that excited by it all, but I know I’ll end up watching some of it on the TV.
You couldn’t live without…
Family and friends. Oh and pizza…and probably beer.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever been given…
Never, ever give up.
We’re going to the pub and we’re buying, what are you drinking?
A bruski please dude.