dialogue with Craig Whitehead // sixstreetunder
How do you post process?
'I like very specific things, I don’t do much but what I do has a bit of a signature. I try and keep to the idea of less is more and tweak colour hues and use curves to control the light but you need a good foundation. I won’t paint things out or try and create light that isn’t in the scene to begin with. Post processing is all polish.
Can you explain your favourite format to photograph on and why?
'If I could afford to, I would shoot only film but not just for the results. Its the process I enjoy, everything is much more deliberate and you feel more involved in the image making. Getting a moment how you imagined it is much more satisfying on film too and that feeling is the thing that keeps me going out to shoot.'
Are there any other art forms influence your photos?
'Absolutely! These days film is a big influence but my background is in illustration. I actually almost studied model making at university, wanting to go into making sets and characters for animation but changed to illustration. I spent most of my time drawing on tracing paper and obsessing about colour and texture so its no surprise it features heavily in my photography.'
Craig Whitehead, otherwise known as sixstreetunder, is an internationally celebrated street photographer who is both recognised in print and on social media, having amassed over 100 000 followers on Instagram. Based in Cambridge, his work offers something different, focusing on colour, characters and a sense of mystery within each scene, which differentiates him from the saturated narratives presented elsewhere.
Do you have a set idea to capture, a location to go to or is it more free flow, a product of impulsivity?
'I work in whatever way I need to at the time. I tend to ‘fish’ a good spot more than just walking and hoping for a lucky moment but I don’t stick to one thing. I would rather take note of the time of day and year and revisit a spot multiple times for a few minutes each time than camp out but if its something temporary I know I won't get [a] second pass at, then I’ll stay until I get what I want or the spot/moment is gone.'
You wrote about the use of longer lenses on a post. Can you further break down why a long lens is a useful tool for street photography?
'I have always wanted to feel like I’m making the image rather than taking it. I feel like that is more true with a longer lens. You can rework the same places much more and introduce more elements between yourself and the subject. A longer lens isn’t for being lazy and negating the need to get close, I’ve always seen it as a way to bring more options for framing and layering into your foreground.'
As a significant amount of street scenes are shot in black/white. Can you explain to us why you chose to mostly shoot in colour, and how does this influence your overall images?
'I really can’t be sure why I’m so drawn to colour but I am. Life is in colour, It’s how I see and what I react to so I never really thought twice about shooting in colour.'
Whether it’s a piece of architecture, an umbrella or a traffic cone, there is almost without exception, a secondary focus in your work. Do you think this is key to the effect you aim to achieve?
'I think a good image has to have a secondary focus, keep people guessing. That extra element gives you something to discover after the initial reaction. I don’t manage it every time but in my most successful shots its definitely present. Lots of photos don’t make the cut due to that missing factor.'
Within your photography there is a suggestion of a focus on a singular person. Is it perhaps a character with a story? Is this something you're drawn to? Are you trying to create a narrative of sort?
'I think that is a product of the focal length Im known for using more than a conscious effort, I focus on details. This year i have been shooting progressively wider, lately using a 35mm and I still often focus on details the same way. I think small elements tell a story about a person more than what they look like. Im
rarely interested in a subjects face, more what’s in their hand or the patterns on their clothes.'
You clearly spend time planning your composition, architectural angles and features of your photographs. How big a bearing does this have on where and what you shoot?
'I could arrive at a composition using those elements from either side. I might find the location first and get lucky with the light and subject or revisit until things are right. Sometimes I might find the moment or subject and then work backwards finding the composition as i shoot. I always start taking photos in case the moment goes, maybe I find my way to a great composition in time and maybe I don’t.'
Your photography is very metropolitan and paints a distinctive style of many urban landscapes. Have you considered going elsewhere Asia or the Middle East perhaps?
'I have been looking into it very heavily lately. I don’t think it will happen now but I was very eager to get to Kumbh Mela next year. I would love to visit India. There are many places on my list to visit. Hopefully next year I will make it to more of them.'