Stepping up next in the Through The Lens series is photographer Ben Walsh. From discovering his love for grime music and its culture, Ben hasn't looked back. With portrait and travel photography in his repertoire too, Ben's out here trying to pattern things up from different angles. Here's what he had to say for himself:
Who inspires you now and who inspired when you first started out?
“I think when I first started out with grime, I was already a fan of it. I wouldn’t say I was an early listener, I’ve been listening to it since about 2010/2011. I knew about certain photographers within the grime scene so people like Ashley Verse or Vicky Grout and there’s a blog called Wot Do You Call It which is by two photographers (Marco Grey & George Quann-Barnett) and I was always familiar with their work as a fan of grime music. Photography and grime were two of my favourite things, I decided I might as well combine them and see how it goes to be honest. Those were the people who inspired me, I didn’t really know where it would take me but they were two things that I really enjoyed.”
You got into grime around 2010/2011?
“Yeah which is kind of weird. It’s kind of a strange story about how I got into it. That was like one of the worst eras in grime.”
A lot of guys were trying to go mainstream during that era, trying to secure record deals with big labels.
“Definitely because if you look at all of the artists that were big in grime, Kano sold out, Dizzee did as well, Tinchy Styrder did, Skepta as well, there were very few original grime acts who didn’t sell out. The way how I sort of discovered grime was instead of listening to the current music going on because there wasn’t really much to see, it was quite big in Birmingham and that was sort of taking over from the London scene but I sort of discovered it through watching old school Tim Westwood videos which came out a few years before the scene was popping. I was always watching the Newham Generals video on Tim Westwood TV. That was a huge video, I remember literally watching that video every day and learning all the lyrics to it so yeah, that’s how I started indulging in getting into grime more, watching older videos.”
“With current people who inspire me, I’d say it’s the same sort of people that are around the scene who inspire me. They’re still very relevant in what they’re doing now and I think social media plays a big part because you can always see who is up-to-date doing what. Through my photography, I’ve also got to network and meet people who work for radio stations and other photographers as well. They keep me motivated and you can see what they’re doing and you want to carry on progressing [as a photographer].”
Why do you think music and photography go together so well?
“I think people always love to see what’s going on. Let’s say they get tickets for a main show or when NME Magazine was really big back in the day, they’d always loved photography from gigs they might have missed out on or reliving memories through magazine print. It’s all kind of different now, it’s not that relevant anyone. Now you’ve got live streams of events and internet blog posts. People love to see what’s going on in terms of what attracted them to potentially go to the events.”
Talk about your travels, it’s not just about grime with you, you have travel photography as well.
“Yeah, yeah. With the grime stuff, I’ve been doing it for two years now but before that, I was just doing reportage photography, going around London, taking pictures of markets, old people, just events that were going around London. With travel stuff, I went to India at the beginning of the year for three and a half weeks and I took my old camera with me, not the current one that I’m using because I didn’t have it insured and I didn’t want it getting broken.”
“Travelling is one of my favourite things to do and you can just capture so many moments as well. If I wasn’t doing the grime stuff so much, I’d probably do a lot more travel photography. I like to have a lot of diversity with my photography, I don’t just want to specialise in just photographing grime, I’m trying to do other genres of music, whether it’s at festivals, doing hip-hop or whether it’s travel or portrait photography, it’s something I’m trying to do a lot more of.”
“Taking live shots of the artists is one thing, anyone can do that by going to a show with a camera but once you get into building relationships and friendships with some of the artists in the grime scene, it’s another thing. I’m quite close with Novelist and The Square, I think it’s good to branch out instead of focusing in one area. The photography market is quite difficult to break into if you’re specialising in just one area but then again, if you’re know for just specialising in that one area like it’s kind of hard to explain.”
If you can find your niche in the market to express yourself, people will appreciate your work.
“Exactly, although I feel that this doesn’t happen to everyone, it’s very rare for someone to break through with just a niche.”
How important is networking for a photographer?
“Very important, it’s one of the most important things. I’d say it’s 50% taking photos and 50% networking. One of the main jobs I got from doing photography was Air Max Day, not this year, it was a previous year. I think they held it in Niketown and Rinse FM were hosting and I went there with my camera to get a few shots. I met Logan Sama, SK Vibemaker, Faze Miyake was doing a DJ set as well and I just went there to take photos and I just reposted my photos from that event on Instagram and Rinse FM got into contact with me, a guy called Eugene who I’m quite close with now. He does a lot of the social media for Rinse FM and just from going to that event at Niketown, I’ve got to shot Katy B’s headline show at Brixton Academy for Rinse FM and when they put on Born & Bred Festival last year, I ended up documenting the whole of that festival for them as well.”
“I’ve never really set myself out to go out to network, it would never be my main goal but when you go to the events to take photos and even with other photographers I’ve met or just other people, networking is so crucial. One of the events I went to was at The Den which Frisco put on in Shoreditch, the resident photographer Ashley Verse couldn’t be there on the night so I went there and took photos and there’s a girl called Nicola who works for an American hip-hop blog called Upcoming Hip-Hop and I just met her at this event and then last year, we shot a few shows together and ended up covering Friday at Wireless. I’m hoping to photograph the whole of Wireless Festival this year with her. Networking is so crucial to getting jobs or getting more exposure.”
To be able to achieve what you have, you must have a good personality, it must be important?
“100%, if you photograph the artist and you tweet it the next day, a lot of the time, they don’t know who has taken the photo so they’ll just repost it without crediting you but they don’t do it intentionally, they do it because they like the photo. They might put a different filter on it or if they’ve put it on Instagram, they won’t credit it but from going to a few shows, them reposting my photos and not knowing that’s it me is a really good conversation breaker so if you’re meeting them again, you can be like “thanks for reposting my photo” or “look at this photo I shot of you previously”. It’s a really good conversation opener to get to know some of the artists or even just saying you’re a fan of their music instead of just staring at them, not knowing whether to go up to them or not. When I was interning at a festival last year, Wiley was there backstage and I was so nervous to go to him and ask him for a photo. Jammz, AJ Tracey and Wiley were all backstage, I knew AJ before because I’d taken live photos of him and he actually called me over to get a photo of him, Jammz and Wiley all together.”
“I’d known other photographers who had got photos of Wiley and posted it on social media and he’d tell them to take it down. He’s a bit of a time bomb, he’s ticking, you never know how he’s going to react. For me getting that photo, I just went up to him and I was like “your verse on ‘Morgue’, the Roll Deep tune was one of my favourite ever grime verses” and just chatted to him for a bit. It’s always a really good conversation opener, just going up to the artists and saying you really love their songs. I did it to Capo Lee at Bestival. Footsie too, explaining to him how much the freestyle he did for Tim Westwood meant to me and he was saying so many other fans have come up to him saying which videos got them into grime. It’s always good to build that relationship with an artist.”
How would you describe your style to someone seeing your work for the first time?
“I think with the music stuff, one of my main goals is to capture expressions. That’s the one amazing thing about grime photography, capturing that reload when everyone’s rushed on stage. One of the pictures on my Instagram is Skepta performing Whippin Excursion with Giggs at the GRM Daily Rated Awards, that black and white photo is still one of the best photos I’ve taken just from the expressions of people’s faces.”
“That’s one of the main things I do to differentiate myself from other photographers who document or photograph grime. Another of my shots when I was at a show in Shoreditch was of YGG (PK, Saint P & Lyrical Strally) and AJ Tracey performing, I managed to capture the moment when PK lost his hat in the rave on the flash of my camera. With the travel stuff, the photos from India, I could have gone there as a tourist, taking pictures of landmarks but I wanted to mainly capture portraits, capturing the locals.”
You didn’t want your travel pictures looking too cliché?
“Yeah because there’s this really big photography blog which is another inspiration of mine called Places + Faces. A guy called [Imran] Ciesay would go to music shows, chat to the artists, make friends with them, get a portrait of them and then he started the P + F blog. It began to build a reputation when he released merchandise and he’d give it to the artists and then obviously when fans of the music see that artist wearing the merchandise, they’re gonna want to get involved, he’s made a lot of money through the merchandise.”
Have you ever been outside of your comfort zone?
“When I interned at Bestival last year, I thought it would be literally going to the festival, getting a few shots of the artists and that would be it but when I went there, it was literally 80% atmosphere shots and only 20% music when was a big shock to me because I was mainly just used to shooting live music at festivals. Even though I was interning, I felt it was such a learning curve because I was with other photographers that had been shooting for festivals and magazines for ten to fifteen years, they were all shooting for NME when it was in its prime era when it was the go-to magazine to get.”
“Compared to my style, the other photographers had a different way to promote the festival. Our job was to promote next year’s festival. It wasn’t just live shots, it was going around taking photos of people and atmosphere shots. They were so strict on what could be published, I remember it rained for like a full day and they literally told us to take pictures of fit girls in fancy dress because it was good to promote next year’s festival. If I were to do that and there was even one person in the background wearing waterproof clothing, the pictures couldn’t be used. I had to do night shooting as well of carnivals and laser shows that were going on at the festival, it was a huge learning curve for me.”
All pictures used taken by Ben. Find his website at http://www.benwalshphotos.com/