In this series, we’re highlighting and celebrating women in photography. Linda Wisdom is a professional photographer based in London. She specialises in street, fine art, and urban and lifestyle photography. Linda is a frequently featured and exhibited photographer – and her fine art photography sells to collectors around the world. She is currently exhibiting with the British Life Photography Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Marie Gardiner: It sounds like an obvious question, but what is it that appeals about street photography and photojournalism?
Linda Wisdom: The main appeal is the candid, non-posed nature of street photography. The challenge of creating a captivating image from a circumstantial, everyday moment, that will never be repeated, is very exciting and what keeps me on my toes!
Street Photography is very addictive and the buzz you get when all the virtual stars are aligned, the street photography gods are smiling down at you, and you capture a very special image is a great feeling. These moments of course are quite rare, but it is what keeps you motivated to go out and shoot, challenge yourself and grow as a photographer.
MG: Street photography of any kind takes confidence, does this grow over time?
LW: Confidence mostly comes with experience, I believe. I have learnt techniques and ways to become more covert and unnoticed. Some elements of psychology are involved and I use some of this when I’m out shooting.
Over time you find out by trial and error what works for you. From teaching my workshops I notice that every student is different in their comfort level when shooting strangers. I try and teach them methods to build their confidence and overcome any initial fear they have.
The most common fear is that they’ll take a candid photo of a stranger and that person will instantly get aggressive, either verbally or physically. I keep it real and explain that this type of person does exist, but in my experience of shooting street for nearly 10 years, it’s probably less than 1% of the general population. The other 99% a) don’t see you, b) ignore you, c) spot you and walk away, or tell you they don’t want their photo taken, d) smile and/or start acting up for your camera! Once I put things into perspective, they’re not so afraid.
MG: Do you set out to take a picture you have in your mind or is it more spontaneous?
LW: It all depends on if I am working on a series or not. I have a handful of on-going projects: my light chaser set, my yellow theme, rain and umbrella shots, window reflection abstracts and so on, one of which I may have in my mind before I set out. Other times, it’s completely spontaneous and it all will depend on my mood that day, the location I’m heading to, and very often the weather!
MG: Is there a sense of duty in telling the story you see whilst also keeping the integrity of the scene?
LW: I personally don’t like to title my photographs or explain the story behind them. I prefer that you make up your own mind about what is going on in the picture, interpret the scene in your own way. It’s more interesting when different people comment on one of my photos and have their own interpretations of it. Some people will analyse and see something completely new in a photo that I didn’t know existed or wasn’t my intention, which is even more interesting. That’s the beauty of street photography.
MG: Has anyone ever objected to you photographing them?
LW: People generally don’t say anything, or if they do it’s to politely ask you not to take their photo, which I respect. I’ve only ever had two people that I can remember who were a bit verbal – one was drunk and the other seemed high on drugs. Go figure!
The latter happened a few years ago now. There was a woman on Portobello Road who didn’t seem right in her actions. She was in an alley messing around with an abandoned wooden cabinet and she turned and caught my eye. My instinct told me it wasn’t worth a shot and I carried on walking, camera in hand.
A few yards down the road, I heard someone erratic behind me, turned and it’s this woman. She repeatedly asked if I took her photo and said I should delete it! I told her I didn’t take a photo of her, but she demanded to look at my camera. Just to prove her wrong I showed her the LCD screen, though I didn’t have to – she just walked off talking to herself!
MG: With street photography you’re generally on the move a lot. What’s in your kitbag – do you travel light?
LW: These days I travel VERY light, whether in London or travelling around the world. I generally don’t like a lot of baggage anyway and so all I take with me is one small camera (I only use micro-four third models now), one fixed lens and a load of batteries – that’s all I need.
If I know that I’m going to shoot in certain locations or a style that requires a wider aperture for example, I take a spare lens and that’s about it, I’m ready to go!
MG: You’re based in London, so you must see a real variety of people from all walks of life. What are the most interesting photographs you’ve taken?
LW: London is full of weird and wonderful people! It would be very easy to fill a coffee-table book full of street portraits. My favourite, most interesting photos are the ones I come back to time after time and still feel that special something I felt when I initially took the photo.
These photographs usually capture a unique moment, or have a strong emotion or mood. I usually find that black and white photos express the latter the most clearly and so most of my work is in B&W. My colour work is usually more about humans in harmony with their urban environment.
MG: You travel quite a bit – how do you find capturing street photography when you’re away, compared to at home?
LW: I actually find the people in other cities more camera-friendly. If I visit a new place, I often find myself in awe of the stunning architecture and the different urban characteristics of that city compared to London, so I sometimes want to capture some of those elements in a creative way.
Linda Wisdom teaches workshops and photographic tours in London. She also works with Airbnb as a London Photography tour host and tutor. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch with Linda via her website.
About Women in Photography series writer, Marie Gardiner
Marie Gardiner is a photographer and published author (Sunderland, Industrial Giant: Recollections of Working Life). You can see more about Marie at her Website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Missed the previous episode of Women in Photography? Check it out today: Women in Photography: An interview with Victoria Hillman.