Bryan Mollett is a 27 year old freelance photographer from Vancouver. He specializes in street photography and photojournalism and began his career in 2007. He has had several exhibitions in British Columbia and below, describes his recent trip to New York City and the future state of street photography.
Q: Hi, Bryan. Tell us a little bit about yourself like where you’re from and how old you are. And overall, how did your love affair with photography?
A: My name is Bryan Mollett, I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC. I fell in love with photography back in high school, so about age 15. I knew I had to get involved with a camera somehow. My family didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so I found a job while I was still in school and started work to save up as much as I could so I could buy a camera, which ended up being an Olympus e-500 DSLR kit, and a flash. I started shooting photos of my friends at the skate park and around Vancouver and I was instantly hooked on photography. Everything about it inspired me. The thought of being able to freeze time for that split second fascinated me. I signed up for a film and darkroom course we had in high school and took it during my senior year. After high school I took a break from photography for quite some time while I was in a serious relationship. When that ended for me, I had the sudden urge to pick up my camera and begin to make photographs again. I went out shooting a few times with my friends who were avid street photographers at the time and I absolutely fell in love with the genre. The streets were so full of life, and amazing moments were happening all over the place! I had never looked at the streets this way before. A lady waving for a cab, a child crying, a couple embraced in their love, everything about life unfolding on the street was beautiful to me. Street wasn’t much different from shooting skaters, freezing time and capturing an incredible moment. The fact that these interactions would otherwise go unnoticed fascinated me to no end, and still does to this day.
Q: Where were you trained as a photographer? Do you have a formal training or you are a self-taught photographer?
A: Well, after getting out of a long term serious relationship I enrolled in an evening photography course at Vancouver’s Langara College. I was working 40 hours a week, shooting on all my days off, and after work I just bombarded myself with as much stuff to keep my mind occupied. I only ended up finishing two sections of the course and dropped out. To be honest, sitting in an environment like that just wasn’t for me. I thought it was worth a try. It honestly felt like they were teaching everybody to photograph the same and for some that’s alright, because schools have to teach multiple students, but what was being offered just wasn’t for me. I knew I had to keep working and shooting on the street on every day off or in the spare time I had.
See the thing about street photography is that it always had me going out for more and more, and that every day is different. People out one day weren’t the same people out the next, the constant changing of light, and the subtle moments that I would have missed if I had not been downtown. I became addicted to it really.
Q: What are the differences between photojournalism and street photography for you?
A: I find when I go to an event, or rather, to cover a event it’s a lot like street photography to me just with massive amounts of people in one place. I treat it the same way to be completely honest, waiting to capture those perfect moments of some significance.
Q: Do you think your approach changes when you are doing photojournalism? And street photography for you can be an approach useful when you are doing a photojournalistic work?
A: No, not at all. Well maybe a little, it kind of gives you this rush, I can’t really describe it. Almost like you’ve had three cups of coffee just before heading out or something. Street photography is definitely a huge help if someone is trying to lean into photojournalistic work.
Q: How much luck does a photographer need?
A: I was about to say I really dislike the word luck, but I guess there is some chance or luck involved in street photography. They way I look at it is you have to pay your dues. If a photographer is out all the time shooting as much as possible every day, things will start happening. I mean, there are some days where I’ve gone out and have not taken a single frame, and then go out the next day and only take three, and some day where I almost fill a roll with frames. That’s the part I mean about paying your dues, things will happen with time. You just have to be patient.
Q: What are you trying to say with your photography?
A: I just look to a capture a moment of significance to me, personally. I guess you could say I’m trying to tell a story, I leave that up to the viewer, that’s the beauty of street photography. People can look at a photograph and all have different views, or feelings on how it appeals to them.
Q: Why is Leica so special for you?
A: When I first started shooting street, I shot with a Fuji x100. At that time a lot of my friends were shooting traditional 35mm film. One of my friends had an M6, and let me put a roll through it while he tried my x100. I absolutely loved it! I think what got me was the feel of it in my hands, a nice solid piece of machinery. The rangefinder focus was interesting to me, as I had never had the chance to really try it out before. A month or so after that I put my x100 up for sale and bought myself my first M camera. The Canadian built Leica M4-2.
Q: What is your equipment right now?
A: Currently right now I am using the same Leica M4-2 with a Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 color skopar pancake lens, and from time to time dust off my Yashica Mat 124G. I am a basic necessities person so I don’t feel the need for all the latest and greatest. As long as it’s cheap and works I’ll use it. I’d like to dip into a digital M down the road though, that’s something I am working towards in the near future.
Q: What do you think about Leica Monochrom? You had a chance to try it? Would you like to use this camera or do you prefer the new M?
A: It’s really not for me. I mean, I shot a lot of black and white when I first got into film, but I also love shooting color too. To handicap one’s self to shooting strictly black and white seems a little silly to me. I am sure there are people that absolutely love the camera, and to each their own… But again, it’s just not for me. If I had the choice of a digital M at this point it would be an M9.
Q: I want to talk with you about the Vancouver to New York City project. Is it difficult shooting in the streets of your city? There are rumors about a certain closure towards street photographers in the French part of Canada…and what is the difference with the other city included on the project, NYC?
A: To be honest I felt New York to be a lot like Vancouver. We have a huge influx of homeless in our city, but as a whole it felt very similar to me. If I am caught making a frame of someone, I find that people are generally very accepting in both cities. New York though was a much busier atmosphere for me; even in the cab to the hotel I hung my camera out the window and was making frames, and pointing out frames to my friend “look at that shot!” – “look at that one!” I was just blown away about New York from nearly the second we got off the plane. Coming back to Vancouver took me honestly a few months to wind down again and respect the atmosphere of our city for what it was. I feel in Vancouver you have to be a little more aware of your surroundings then in New York because I mean things are happening all the time there, on every corner. When I was on the east coast, it was the Jewish holiday for Sukkoth, so down at Coney Island and in Brooklyn there were an abundance of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews about the city, which is unheard of in Vancouver. Walking through Manhattan, you can turn a corner and there is a huge Korean parade. Hit the next corner, there’s four fire trucks and a ton of firemen putting out a fire. New York is crazy like that. How every corner has an ‘event’ going on. Vancouver I feel provides a greater sense of patience, as our streets aren’t nearly as busy as they are there.
Q: What lenses did you use on these images?
A: While I was in New York my first two rolls I put through my camera were shot with with a Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 color skopar then my friend I was traveling with had a 35mm Summicron that he allowed me to use for the rest of the trip.
Q: You had the amazing opportunity to meet Joel Meyerowitz and learn from this street photography icon. Do you want to share with us your thoughts about this master?
A: I had the pleasure of meeting with both Howard Greenberg and Joel Meyerowitz not even a few hours after landing in New York. I was signed up by a friend of mine for a reality television show called “Operation: Vacation” which will air on the LOGO Network in the U.S., and was surprised at work with a trip down to NYC for a week based strictly on what the producers saw in my photography.
I was taken to the Howard Greenberg gallery, which at the time had an exhibition for Gordon Parks on. Howard showed us around the gallery explaining in great detail the work of Mr. Parks, an amazing photographer as well. Joel had an exhibit scheduled to go up a few weeks after our visit, but Howard led us to a back office for a sneak peak of what was going up in the upcoming Meyerowitz showing. Joel has long been my favorite photographer, and I definitely look up to his attitude and impressive body of work. I had no idea he was going to be showing up at the gallery to meet with me, it was an amazing surprise that I will always hold close to my heart. It was one of those moments in life that you just can’t forget.
Joel came in, introduced himself to me, and asked if we would be interested in going out to shoot with him around his favorite spot in the city on 5th Ave. Even jet lagged and running on little sleep, the experience was simply exhilarating and woke me right up. Just listening to what Joel had to say while we were out making photographs was just how I pictured him to be. Just the way he moved out on the street was incredible. So soft-spoken, knowledgeable, and informative. Like anyone who meets someone they look up to, it was an amazing experience that I won’t ever forget.
Q: How do you see the future of photojournalism? And what is your wish instead?
A: Well that’s a good question. It’s definitely not what it looked like in the past, and I guess we can thank technology for that. Everyone that has a phone has a camera, and with Instagram being used by photojournalists now it kind of puts a damper on the genre. It will be interesting to see what the future holds, that is for sure. If I had one wish, it would be lose the Instagram.
Q: Do you have particular projects or goals in the next future?
I do, yeah. I am currently working on putting together two projects. I won’t say exactly what quite yet, but keep your eyes open.
Thank you for your time, Bryan!
– Leica Internet Team
To learn more about Bryan, visit his website, tumblr and Facebook.
Alex Coghe , the interviewer, is an Italian photojournalist currently based in Mexico City whose professional activity ranges from editorial photography to events.