With his love of hip-hop music and street culture alongside a burgeoning career in photography, David Townhill is managing to combine his talents with the camera and his love of the urban culture that London has on offer. With his wonderfully crisp style, David's portrait photography in particular is impressive to say the least. Here's what the photographer had to say for himself about his work and his aspirations:
Who inspired you when you first started out?
"When I very, very first started, the first person who caught my eyes as a photographer was Nabil Elderkin, he's a huge favourite of mine. He photographed Kanye West's very first press shots and has shot many musicians since, including the album cover for The Weeknd's 'Starboy' album. I also like Jonathon Mannion, his work is really cool, old school, it has that grainy, New York, Brooklyn look about it. It made me think what if I could shoot UK artists like that. To be honest, I'd love to go to America and shoot some American artists."
East Coast? West Coast?
"I dunno, I don't think I'd pin it down."
So no preference?
Yeah, I'd just really go for it. It's a very distant plan of mine but from Nabil, Jonathon and a few others who inspired me, it made me think how I can do this over in the UK, that's what made me move to London."
Who inspires you now as a photographer?
The first names that come to mind are grime photographers so people like Vicky Grout, Ashley Verse, Courtney Francis, I love all of their work, they've got their unique looks but I feel like mine's something a little bit different.
I'm broadening my work to include more fashion and ad work now, but still keeping a similar style to how I shoot grime because that's the style I've spent so long building up. I shot Fekky for Complex a few weeks ago which was a massive personal achievement of mine. It's been one of my huge aims to shoot for them since I very first started and is a good marker to show how far I've come in a short time since moving to London this year."
What is it about your work that makes you happy?
"Ah man, I cannot explain the feeling when a) I finish a shoot and I know I've got some killer shots in there but b) apart from getting to meet with some great people and going out to all these amazing places, I'm doing something that I don't even consider is anything actually close to work, taking pictures is just fun for me, I still don't feel like I've worked a day in my life doing photography, I genuinely mean that.
The real thing that gets me is when I know I've finished a shoot and I'm looking at my shots at home, I'll go through a process where I'm narrowing my selections down until I've got one or two that I'm really happy with but then, I might give it a few days and look back through them and find something that I've missed. When I know I'm finally finished with a shot to the point where I can print it and put into my portfolio, the satisfaction I get from that is amazing, it's like when I cook a great meal at home which isn't a frequent occurrence but when I do, nothing comes close to that feeling.
I feel like I've created something that's completely mine. It's a unique piece of imagery and after that, I get to put it out to the world, whether it's on social media or it's on my website, showing my family and peers, the reactions of people telling me they really loved my work makes me feel amazing."
Who have been your favourite people to work with?
"P Money, he's such a good guy to shoot with. I photographed his and Little Dee's cover for Back To Back which was great fun. Reggie N Bollie were two of the best people that I've ever met, they were so much fun, I spent two and a half hours with them in Shoreditch, walking around getting stopped for photos every ten minutes and they did not care at all, they were totally cool. They were just down to earth, just amazing people.
Basically everybody I've photographed in London since moving here, no-one's been a struggle, I've not had any difficulties photographing anyone, they've not had egos about them. Double S was great, I've really stayed in touch with him, his management company signed a deal with Sony and I was there when they signed the deal."
Have you ever been outside of your comfort zone and if you have, is it important for photographers to do things they haven't done before?
"Yeah I think so. I personally think I've kind of got a rhythm going on where I turn up to a shoot, psych myself up before I go and I used to get quite nervous. You're working with new people all the time and you don't know what to expect, I've turned this into something that frightens and really excites me. A lot of the time I'm just turning up to shoots and it could just be me, occasionally I might have someone there helping out but it's kind of just me, them and one or two others.
I guess you could say every shoot is out of your comfort zone because you don't know what to expect. I could turn up to a shoot with any artist and if it was outdoors, I could have my shots planned for some sunlight or some really harsh light but it could be cloudy and I'll have to totally change the shots, it happened recently with P Money and Little Dee, the shots I had in mind for that weren't going to look that way, it was super cloudy, almost raining so I had to improvise.
Being able to think quickly makes you a good photographer and I think if you were to stick with the things you're comfortable with, you would get really good at it but you wouldn't necessarily develop. I say definitely go out of your comfort zone."
What are the things you look for in terms of the settings of your camera and your environment in order to get good shots?
"With the settings, I've spent so much time learning the technical side of it that I end up doing it on the fly."
So it's like second nature to you?
"It really is. Don't get me wrong, I don't take one shot and say we're done, no photographer does that. You only see the best of what people photograph, you don't see the hundreds of other shots that have been taken. Having that eye to pick the right shot from your reel is what separates a good photographer from a great one. Admittedly, I get it wrong sometimes and I'll look back through my shots and find a better one, that's why it's really important to keep that focus, even if there's not a similarity or a consistency in all of your shots in terms of who you're shooting, I think eventually your eye for what makes a shot work will eventually come through."
Something that differentiates the good photographers from the great ones is the ability to see the spark in pictures that you wouldn't necessarily see straight away after shooting them.
"That's massively important. I wouldn't take a shot and post it on Instagram the same day, I probably wouldn't post it that same week. A lot of the time, I'll sit and look at my pictures, go through them and think what I'm trying to achieve. I feel like with a lot of work some photographers put out, it slightly separates myself from them because they're so keen to post on social media every day to show off their work-rate, especially on Instagram.
I can tell without even knowing a few handful of photographers that they shoot, edit and post within a few hours. Not only are you probably not posting the best shot you've got, you're not doing the best job in terms of editing. Some people will just take a picture on a Polaroid and just throw it up onto Instagram. It's not done, all you've done is press a button, you haven't had any creative input on the colours or the imagery.
You can tell between the different qualities of work from looking at the first 20-30 shots on someone's Instagram whether they rush and not think it through. That's what separates people, picking the right shots. With mine, I'd like to think you'll get a vibe that they are all polished and finished. Social media is a lie, you're not showing all of your work and some people don't get that. You have to be really disciplined with your thought process."
What emotions do you want people to feel when they look at your work?
"It'd vary depending on who I'm shooting for and what they want to use it for but as a general idea, I can't shoot a lovely female singer in the same way I'll shot a really hard grime artist because neither of them are gonna want to look the same.
With certain artists or models, it really does change from shoot to shoot but as a general feel, I like to make people look cool. I kind of hold back a lot of time when I shoot, I let people do their thing depending on how comfortable I can see they are. There's nothing worse when a shoot looks so staged and you can tell they're super uncomfortable, you'll never get to see their personalities through the shots if that happens."
I photographed Youngs Teflon a few years ago, I photographed him thinking he wanted to look mean and menacing because that's the vibe I get with his music but he didn't like them, they were too dark and moody for him."
So what did he ask for instead?
To be honest, I didn't really get asked for much, he just said just come and take pictures. He used one or two of them but for him, a lot of them had a negativity about them."
How would you describe your style?
"I wouldn't go into too many words. The first word would be urban but also a little bit commercial. As a fan of urban photography, I love looking at other people's work and I don't mind if it doesn't have that slick look to it because I like it for it is but when I'm making my own, it needs to have a certain finesse to it. Urban, polished, slick, maybe gritty, all those words spring to mind."
What are your future plans for this year?
"I'm still trying to develop my style, there's a lot of stuff I've shot this year that I haven't put into my portfolio because I don't think it quite reflects the vision where I want to go. I'm working towards putting an exhibition on too but I'd really like to get more than photography involved in it, it would be cool to get some of the artists I've photographed come and do some live sets, maybe get a little pop-up done.
Something else would be to maybe collaborate with other photographers. It would be nice to maybe join heads and see what we could do together, I think that would be interesting, different styles coming together to photograph people."
All pictures used taken by David. Find his website at www.davidtownhill.co.uk/