Shane Taylor: a psychological street photographer

Shane is a designer, photographer and illustrator based in London. He’s worked with many brands in over 10 years of design. He also shoots photos on London streets, sharing them on his Instagram.

What is your study background?

My background is in design. I don’t have a formal education in photography. Everything I’ve learned has been self-taught, compelled by an exaggerated sense of curiosity (the best way to learn anything).

When did you start taking pictures and what camera did you use?

I started in my late twenties with a borrowed Canon EOS 3000n film camera. I had very bad social anxiety and found it difficult to leave my parents house. Through boredom, I picked up my sister’s camera and took a few shots in my grandmother’s derelict house. When I got them back from processing I fell in love with photography. They weren’t technically good photos, but they had some kind of energy to them which completely floored me. I couldn’t believe I’d taken them. A couple of years later I moved to Dublin for design school. I started doing street photography as a way of forcing myself to overcome social anxiety. Every time I left the house I felt better. I used the college library to read every photobook I could find. I watched photography documentaries over and over, like ‘Contacts’ and ‘Pen, Brush & Camera’. I kept shooting and then felt confident enough to post work to flickr and instagram. I didn’t get much engagement for months, but it felt good to put stuff out there.

How did you develop your style? Did you start from Instagram?

I didn’t even realise I had a style until another photographer described me as a ‘psychological street photographer’. I think that’s fairly accurate. I’m fascinated by how photography can describe inner emotion, whether it’s a sitting portrait or an isolated subject in a sea of people on a high street.
I started from Instagram but I’m much more influenced by photographers like Larry Fink, Robert Frank, and Harry Callahan, whose brilliant ‘women lost in thought’ series is a big influence. Like him, I shoot with a long lens while walking through busy streets.

Were you always interested in street photography, even though some of your photos look like portraiture?

I love portraiture but I’m not sure if I have the patience or personality type for it. Really good portraiture takes a lot of time and social skill in getting the subject’s guard down. I get around it by taking the portrait without the subject being aware of me.
Street portraiture, by which I mean, anouncing yourself and asking permission, has never really interested me. I think it’s too stiff. There’s just not enough time to get a sincere portrait of someone within 5mins of meeting them. There’s far too much self awareness and tension. You end up with a lifeless document of the surface; their clothes and the environment.

When do you consider someone or something a good shot?

It has to be a photo that goes straight to the heart and blood and takes some time to reach the brain. I’m not that concerned with composition or many technical aspects, except contrast. If it feels like a good shot I’ll usually know right away- as soon as I’ve taken it.

What is the most difficult part of photographing people on the streets?

The hardest part for me, is making myself do it when my social anxiety gets bad. Sometimes I’ll have my gear packed, coat on and headphones in but I’ll stand behind my front door thinking about all the negative things that are definitely going to happen. Always, always I remind myself that once I go out there I’ll feel better. Never have I gone out and felt worse. Bill Cunningham said — “I go out every day. When I get depressed at the office, I go out, and as soon as I’m on the street I feel better”. I relate to that very strongly.

What subject satisfies you the most?

A stranger in a state of grace, who has let their guard down. They’re unaware of me photographing them and I’m given a chance to frame it before I disturb them.
Just as important, is sharing that photo and watching other strangers relate to them.

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