Gareth Jones is a photographer that uses his camera to transport you to another era – the past times that we all seem to long for in quiet moments. Capturing the natural beauty and raw emotions of his subjects, the connection between his eye for photography and what speaks to his heart is evident in every image. Whether it’s the visions of travel abroad or instances of pure simplicity, Gareth’s photography offers a classic form of wanderlust anyone can appreciate.
The Gareth Jones Interview
Hi, Gareth! We’d love to know more about you.
I’ve had a fairly interesting career as a human being, thus far, taking me from music theatre, to being the lead singer in a rock band, to becoming (quite serendipitously) a professional dating coach. I seem to have this habit of pursuing things with every part of my soul until they bore me, in which circumstance I just kind of keep my head up and look around for something to occupy my interest. It was in one of these ruts that I accidentally picked up a camera (I was making youtube videos at the time) and started taking photos during my travels. I found the activity of capturing these beautiful or funny or ironic moments around us to be an amazing and inspirational activity, and I soon found out that it was a THING and that thing was called “street photography.” I knew I had to find out more so I could live and breathe it for a while.
As a street photographer, when do you know that a moment is meant to be captured?
For me, at this point in my career, I really don’t know at all if a moment is to be captured. Conceptually, I like to jump on the wagon with other street photographers and say that capturing these overlooked moments of beauty in our lives to bring attention to them is the purpose and that I wait patiently for these moments in the kind of shifty anxiety Cartier-Bresson talks about, but really I have no idea. I tend to just open my eyes and look around and, when I see something I love, I grab it. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to happen (a bright alley with a quick moving silhouette or whatever) and other times I can see something might happen (as in the example of my Barcelona Beach Boys shot which only occurred because I was stupid enough to run into the water with my camera and fire off a bunch of frames), but most of it is just wide-eyed awareness. Really, what I like most about street photography for me is that it forces me to see the world differently and snap moments from that world that may be beautiful and, if they’re not, I can just chuck them and people won’t know!
Do you notice that people tend to change their demeanor when they know the camera is on them? Do you find most people become more vibrant or more reserved?
You know, there is so much discussion in the photography community about “being creepy” or what is “bothering” someone and I think that’s so silly. I’ve found two reactions to my camera; either a knowing smile from someone like an old lady feeding a bird, or a frown from someone that is generally because I’ve acted out of the norm (kneeling down or moving quickly for a shot or whatever). There’s never any shouting or yelling or hitting from subjects. No one realizes how close Bruce Gilden actually is to people to elicit those responses. Even then, I would wager those are fight-or-flight responses, not frustration with street photography. Imagine what it’s like to be walking home when a pigeon flies directly in front of your face. You lose your mind! People seem to forget that everyone is so worried about themselves that they pay no attention to the average stranger and most are so self-conscious, they can’t imagine someone would want to take a photo of them. It’s only in the case of the reassuring smile to the old lady that she knows I was focused on her at all. You very quickly learn who to give a smile to and who to take a frame just next to to make them think you were trying nearby and screwed up. To answer it plainly, I find that people only notice my camera after the picture is taken!
What is it you love most about black and white imagery in comparison to color?
Black and white is another world. There are, of course, all the tenets of B&W film that we love like the ability to focus more on the subject and it bringing clarity to textures (which I’m super partial to) but, above all, it’s an entirely different atmosphere. I’m not of a generation that grew up with B&W movies, so color isn’t a novelty. Color is the norm and B&W allows us to put ourselves in this amazingly different universe. Maybe it’s because I love the vintage images from street photographers like HCB and Vivian Maier and Francesc Català Roca that transport me to another time that I want to be a part of that. I think the ability to transport me to another time (a seemingly infinitely vintage era) is so special and can really affect the feeling a picture gives you.
Any tips for photographers when it’s time to shoot in stealth mode?
Not to be contrary, but I would encourage all photographers to stop worrying about it for exactly the reasons I stated previously: 90% of the time people either won’t notice you or think you weren’t taking a picture of them. The other 10% certainly aren’t going to fight your or anything insane like that, so if one just learns not to look someone directly in the eye with the “Oh, no. They’ve seen me.” look or say “Just taking photos for this dumb classroom assignment”, you’ll be golden. The fear of being noticed or confronted encourages people to be afraid of the moment and shoot less and I simply can’t abide by that.
I notice your expert use of composition. Do you try to apply the rules of composition to every image?
I appreciate you saying so, but I’d hardly call myself an expert. I do, however, know quite a bit about learning rules so that you can forget them. My greatest skill as a musician was emulating people by learning and then embodying their rules. Once you grow tired of doing that for a particular person, you move on to someone else and then you’ll find these “rules” that you’re learning become part of how you see the moment. Rather than saying “I need to zoom out because if the child isn’t on the left line of third then the ice cream will be…” whatever, you’ll say “oh I gotta get that ice cream and ooh that’s nice” and then you click because it’s a pleasing moment to you and you love it. That’s why you should be doing it in the first place.
For me, photography is the capturing of ….This moment, now, forever. If you don’t take that picture, no one may see that kiss or that laugh or that flip and, while that’s perfectly okay, you miss the opportunity to give other people emotional responses to that, to stimulate introspection or, at the very least to look back on it later and enjoy the nostalgia and warmth you get from it.
How would you say traveling has influenced your style as a photographer?
Ugh. Travel is a terrible burden for me, not because I don’t love it – I do, but because I have this terrible problem of going to Paris, say, then shooting 20 rolls of film of the amazing new places I’m seeing and the beautiful faces and different architecture, then going to Austin and having the pictures developed and, while I’m shooting my 20 rolls in Austin’s stylish and quaint neighborhoods and vintage shops, looking back at my Paris shots and missing it desperately. Then, I’ll go back to Paris and have my Austin shots developed and feel the nostalgia and sad loss of Austin. The whole cycle continues and it’s forever irritating me. I’ve learned to channel that into a passionate appreciation for places like I have for moments, but it’s hard to spend your life loving moments and then balancing leaving them. Additionally, and I think this is the answer every photographer will give you, travel forces you to pay attention and see new things which is the essence of successful street photography.
What camera/equipment do recommend shooting with on the go?
For street, I find something small and light (vive la revolution de mirrorless cameras) with quick autofocus makes life very easy, but I just as much love my Canon A1 with manual focus or my Leica iiic rangefinder. What I’d recommend is shooting with whatever camera you understand the personality of and that understands you. I had to ditch my collapsable Elmar 3.5cm because changing the aperture was just counter-intuitive and annoying to me. While it was great to tell everyone I shot with a small Leica from the 30’s, I found the Canon from 1981 just makes more sense to me and, because of that, I produce better images (or images closer to what I envision, I should say).
What advice can you offer new photographers when deciding on images to sell and setting the price for them?
I know NOTHING about pricing images. Frankly, I photograph for myself, so I’m not particularly in touch with what ‘the masses’ love but what I will say from my experience in all the weird industries I’ve been in is trust your instincts as to what is good. So many people will tell you that what you may like is perhaps not what your audience may like, but I’m against trying to please people when creating art. You may not become rich and famous by this method, but you will certainly be proud and happy and I think those two things are far more important.
Visit the GRMJ Photo website to see more of Gareth’s photography and to purchase prints.