You know all those times when you curse, quietly, to yourself ‘I wish I had a camera on me now’? Well, chances are, Jane MacNeil has.
For MacNeil, the streets and public spaces of the city are such a fertile a photographic hunting ground that any excursion has the potential to boost her portfolio. As sometime chroniclers of the city’s less celebrated side, SevenStreets finds MacNeil’s work a far more satisfying, and honest, snapshot of where we’re at (and how we got there) than those hideous, digitally manipulated portraits they try to hawk you in the Met Quarter.
Real life, as we all know, is far grittier – and fare more interesting – than photoshop and filters. And MacNeil’s funny, touching, cringe-inducing project ‘Streets of Liverpool’ captures it all. So, SevenStreets wonders, are you ready for your close up?
(You can select the images to view them larger)
I’ve been interested in photography since my teens. I always wanted to draw and paint, I’m not so good at it. I’d invest a lot of time into drawing something and I’d never be happy with the end result. Photography resonated with me as it was much more instant. I could go out, shoot a roll of film and get 36 pictures, it was a lot less effort then painting.
How did you arrive at this style of candid, documentary style photography?
The human condition fascinates me but I wasn’t always brave enough to take photographs of people. I started to take street photos with my mobile phone a few years ago and was blown away by the kind of photographs you can get when you take that risk and get in close. So I got an SLR and started shooting. Although now, I’m finding, more and more, I’m starting to stand back and take photographs from a distance. I like the idea of taking images with lots of things to look at, lots of things going on. I’ve gone back and looked at a photographs I’ve taken months ago and noticed something new, that’s a great feeling when that happens. I like to use humour too. If people laugh at my photos, that’s a huge, huge compliment.
Well there is an element of stalking to it. Sometimes you’ll anticipate a moment that’s worth photographing is about to happen and you’ll follow people until you get your shot, though of course, you don’t always get it. Music is a must too. I’ll listen to my iPod. It soundtracks my walks around the city.
What, if any, set up is there? Or is it all on the fly?
All the photographs on Streets Of Liverpool are done on the fly. None are set up. Those shots where people are looking at me, are just an indication that I’ve been busted. I’ve been busted a lot.
I haven’t asked permission for any of those shots on Streets Of Liverpool. Maybe that’s rude, not very good etiquette. I like a natural, in the moment feel to the photographs. It’s easier to take the shot first and if need be, apologise later. I’ve had some bemused looks, the kind that says “Did she just take a photograph of me?” But so far, nobody has approached me afterwards.
What do you use? What techniques and equipment?
I used to use an SLR camera but now use a micro four thirds digital camera. It’s a cross between a small point and shoot camera and the bigger SLR cameras. It allows me complete control over exposures but it’s also small enough to let me be discreet (at least, when I don’t get busted!).
Events are always great. The Santa Dash for instance. Plus it’s easily accepted that there’s going to be people there with cameras so you don’t get so many strange looks. Events aside, I think the financial district is a great honeypot. Castle Street, Dale Street, those sort of places. Bold Street is a great spot for people watching too. But it does pay to carry my camera in hand at all times. You just never know when a moment is going to present itself.
How much of your time does it take up?
I work full time, so I have to fit it in between shifts. Often when I’m on my way to or from work I’ll make some time to go for a photo walk around town. Sometimes you get a couple of shots, sometimes you get nothing. Other times I’ll be going somewhere, I’ll just happen to have the camera with me and stumble across something.
Everybody feared the death of Bold Street when Liverpool One opened, but so far, it’s been pretty resilient. It’s nice to see that side of the city thriving. I’d like to think that will be an example and a testament to the rest of the city.
What’s wrong with Liverpool right now?
Obviously the announcement of cuts is prominent right now, we’re all bracing ourselves.
I’d like to make an exhibition of the photographs, although, I’d like to get a bigger body of work together first. I guess in the long term it would be nice to have a huge archive of images. A history of Liverpool, it’s humour and it’s people. I’m really looking forward to the photography festival Look 2011 in May. I’m a member of the FAB Collective. We’re a local group of photographers. We’re putting on an exhibition throughout May. I can’t wait to see what we all come up with. Without the Fab Collective, the Streets Of Liverpool website wouldn’t exist. They’ve been the catalyst for my personal work.