Photographer Michael Walker-Toye has been announced as the winner of the professional photographers category in the London Open House photography competition. We took time out to speak to Michael about his work and the winning image below.
Q: Michael, congratulations on being awarded winner of the professional category, London Open House photography competition. Tell us more about the winning image, and how you came to capture it.
A: The premise behind London Open House weekend is to allow the public access to privately owned buildings whose doors are usually firmly closed. There is wonderful architecture to be seen up close; however, for me, the principal attraction are the visitors. They are all there to see the architecture and that’s what I wanted to capture. I had wandered down the virtually endless spiral staircase to the ground floor auditorium and then walked the outer edge. I liked the symmetry of the inner circle of chairs with the end of the ramp in the background and thought to wait. It wasn’t long before a father and son made their way down the final ramp into the auditorium. The boy’s face was full of wonder and I watched as they both lay on the floor to look up between the spiral ramps above. I only took one frame, concentrating on the boy with his dad, so I was very lucky with the other people and their placement in the composition.
Q: You regularly post on your blog about using the Leica Monochrom. In fact, your winning image was shot on the Monochrom. How long have you been using this camera, and what inspired you to start using it?
A: I love the simplicity of the black-and-white image and relished the opportunity to try a rangefinder built for just this task. As a tool for street photography, the Monochrom is quiet and unwaveringly honest at capturing light. Essentially, I wanted a camera that would not get in the way of my street photography. One year ago I sold my entire DSLR kit for a Monochrom and a 35 mm Summicron-M ASPH. and it has been an entirely rewarding experience.
Q: Your work focuses on the streets and urban landscape of London, looking closely at people and their relationship with the environment around them. It seems as though you go unnoticed to the subject, which allows you to capture quite intimate and private moments. Is this the case, and what particularly interests you about this?
A: Londoners are suspicious at the best of times, so I don’t sneak around. I observed years ago that tourists are unashamedly pushy when they want to take a photograph, so I try to be bold. Move in, lock in focus, shoot and move on. If I’m caught I’ll smile or wave, but I still walk on! I try to be prepared, even pre-focusing, to ensure I can capture any scene quickly. For the most part, people are engrossed in their own thoughts or conversations. I’ll wonder whether a couple realizes they are having their heated discussion framed in the doorway of a 17th century building. They’re lovely moments and the M camera’s shutter doesn’t intrude.
Q: What inspires your work, and which other photographers do you admire?
A: London is an amazing place full of iconic architecture and wonderful spaces and, as you already alluded to, I am greatly interested in how people interact with these environments. This dynamic varies so wildly with tourists and locals there’s rarely any balance, so I am always eager to step back onto the streets to capture more images. If I didn’t already admire the work of Cartier-Bresson, I might not have decided on my Monochrom. There’s an intensity to Vivien Maier’s work that I aspire to and the inky black emotion in Jacob Aue Sobol’s work is amazing. I follow many excellent photographers on Flickr, mostly Leica shooters too, so there’s a great deal of inspiration on a daily basis.
Q: What is next for you? Are you working on any projects at the moment or anything exciting upcoming?
A: I’m in the initial stages of compiling a book of London street photography. I realize there are so many street photography books out there already, but I intend to feature the talents of at least a dozen London-based photographers who are each inspired to photograph this City’s streets and describe their own view of London. Additionally, myself and fellow street photographer Ian Brumpton are running regular street photography sessions in and around the City, so anyone who is interested please get in touch!
Thank you for your time, Michael!
– Leica Internet Team
See more of Michael Walker-Toye’s work here.