The Curator's Question Time is in full swing again.
I am Andy Export...I love to ask the questions.
Today....I find Lisa Dillon and Phil Dillon.
They afforded me the pleasure of talking to them....both of them...for the purpose of finding something about the "world" of photography...in the Medway towns.
On my part...it is a way to talk to people I have known in the Medway scene. I will get back to Phil...regarding his various bands (Drunken Popes,Somersault, Gin and others)
Today I am hearing the thoughts of Lisa and Phil.
Lisa and Phil are unique in that they champion, appreciate and inspire many others. They also give much credence to the people around them...to the point of modesty.
I hope you enjoy their thoughts. I also hope to meet some of the people that Phil and Lisa talk about in this revelatory expression of our dear Medway scene.
Q How did your interest in photography start? At what age?
Lisa: My dad was very into photography when I was a kid. He bought me my
first camera when I was 10. That's long gone now, along with a few others
that I've had along the way. I became less interested as I got older and
didn't own a camera again until I became a mum, just over 10 years ago.
When Phil got into photography, I rediscovered my photo mojo.
Phil: In my thirties, when I could actually afford a camera with a decent
lens in it. I got into the habit of snapping my walk to work every day and
learned about the light at different times of the day and year. Then I
found a bunch of archive shots of Medway online from roughly 1900 to the
present day and set about recreating them. I've got a Chatham Then And
on Flickr, some of which were exhibited in 2007.
Q Mixing music and photography with Medway…tell us some of the bands and
solo acts you have captured?
Lisa: I love local music. Traipsing out to London to see big bands can be
a soulless experience sometimes, and all well and good if you've got
tonnes of money to spend. Going to local gigs is a much more realistic
option for most people. The atmosphere is better, the price is definitely
better and, in Medway, we're lucky enough to have loads of fantastic
musicians - more talent per square inch than anywhere else on the planet.
I'm always saying that, but it's true.
Phil: Too many to name them all. One favourite subject is Ben Jones of The
Lovedays <http://www.thelovedays.net>. He's a very expressive performer,
and I never know what he's going to do next. I also like to photograph
Burn Paper Tigers <http://www.myspace.com/
Austin moves in a very angular and unique way. It goes without saying that
I love both bands' music.
Q Is it easier to work with a solo performer or with a band…for
Lisa: I think there are pros and cons with each. Obviously with bands
there can be more conflict if ideas vary too wildly. The ease of a shoot
depends far more on how set in their ideas the musicians are. Some have no
idea where there image should be because they've been focusing on the
music and that can make it hard to decide what kind of photos to take.
Some have very strong ideas which can sometimes inhibit the photographer.
It's swings and roundabouts really. Ultimately, they do the music, I do
the photos. They can tell me how to take photos when they invite me into
the studio to master their sound.
Phil: For bands, the dynamics between the individual members help a lot.
With an individual, the trick is to stop them feeling self-conscious about
being in a location and then, if you can, make them forget you've got a
camera. This is probably a good place to point out that I dislike studio
photography and always shoot on location. At very reasonable rates ;0).
Q Do you get more scope with a band?
Lisa: You can generally do a lot more with a band, and because they can
bounce ideas off each other it tends to be a lot more fun and usually much
Phil: Yes. That's what I meant about the dynamics, only Lisa said it better.
Q Live concert shots or photo-shoots? Which do you prefer?
Lisa: Live is great because the music is the soundtrack of your shoot, but
there are obviously limitations with lighting, but that's just an added
challenge. It always amazes me how such hot lights manage to be so
ineffective in illuminating the stage. Photo shoots can be much more
leisurely, but lack the dynamic elements of live music. So I guess I
prefer live. That's not actually the answer I thought I'd give.
Phil: Live. Live. Live.
Q Have you ever seen a picture that one of your local peers has
staged/taken….and thought “Oh…I wish I’d come up with that” ?
Lisa: Not really. I see a lot of photos I love, but they don't tend to be
of things that I normally photograph. One of my favourite local
photographers is Rew Oates <http://www.rewoates.co.uk/>. He has great
ideas. I'm more about the ideas than the technical aspects of photography
so I really appreciate his work.
Phil. Rew is one of my favourites too. I also really like the work of Alex
Turner. He's on Flickr as Monaxle <http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Check him out.
Q Never work with children and animals. What about punk rockers?
Phil: I've never been asked to do a butter
Q Who influenced you?
Lisa: Everyone, I guess. I'm inspired by people who are passionate about
what they do. I don't really strive for a style in my photography. When
I'm processing, I tend to do whatever works best for that particular
photo. There are photographers I admire though; Bill
for instance. His work has great variety to it, although his subjects were
fairly consistently working-class people. He had soul and humanity and a
huge sense of social responsibility. He was passionate and brilliant - how
people are supposed to be. I also love the documentary photography of
Henri Cartier-Bresson <http://www.
It's real broad stroke stuff, very impressionistic. In real life, Phil
constantly amazes me by being totally brilliant. He has a great eye for
composition and a real knack for reading the light at gigs. It's all very
intuitive for him now, which makes his gig shots the best I've seen.
Phil: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Keith
Eric Hands <http://www.erichands.com/>, Kevin
I'm not hugely influenced really.
Q Is there such a thing as “photographer’s block” ?
Lisa: Sometimes I lose my mojo, but that usually happens during editing
and not while I'm actually taking photos.
Phil: No. Mind you, I haven't finished a song in eight years.
Q How much do you use “photoshop” in the final process?
Lisa: I don't use Photoshop at all. It's too technical and I'm more of a
curves person. Details are less important to me than the over all feel of
the image. I use Picnik and Picasa mostly to get the effects I want on my
photos. I think it's important to remember though, that you need to take a
good photo in the first place. No amount of tweaking can bring a fuzzy
photo into focus. Some people try to polish up things that really ought to
be abandoned. I used to do that, but eventually it's something you grow
out of. Phil: What Lisa says. I will often underexpose a shot on purpose,
in low light, in the knowledge that I can tweak it during processing.
Q Any interesting “missed opportunities”? (Changing the film when a
drummer exploded? Leaving the lens cap on whilst snapping Morrissey
munching on a Rodeo Burger?)
Lisa: I've yet to get a good picture of Ben Jones doing one of his jumps.
One night I watched him jump three times, each time checking where his
head came up to on the wall behind him. I waited and waited, then I knew
he was about to jump and my camera was waiting. The bugger leapt a foot
higher. And I cut off his head. I'll catch him one day though.
Phil: I've only really got one picture of Didi
her, and she says she doesn't recognise
herself in it!. That's not what you asked though. I sometimes miss shots
where the light is too low for the camera to automatically pick out a
focal point. I try to focus manually, and this fails because a) I really
need glasses now and b) cider.
Q Phil, cite three great Lisa photos?
Phil: Red Meat <http://www.flickr.com/photos/
is genius. Slap Alice at Sounds of
really well seen.
Q: Lisa, cite three great Phil photos?
Lisa: Punk's Not
The Lovedays at the
On A Swing <http://www.flickr.com/photos/
Q Any memorable accidental successes to share with us?
Lisa: There's this
taken from the back of a taxi. I had to post it on Flickr just so I could
give it a terrible pun name.
Phil: Nothing as good as the time my daughter, then a toddler,
accidentally photographed her own hair. We used that for an EP cover.
Q Do you accumulate cameras like a guitarist will often collect guitars?
Lisa: Er, yes. We have lots, most of them old film cameras.
Phil: Yup. Guilty of both, I'm afraid.
Q Any favourite Medway venues for capturing bands in full swing? (past or
Lisa: Most venues have awful lighting, and neither of us are fans of using
flash, but The Barge <http://www.thebargepub.co.uk/
great. It's a proper pub with a lovely atmosphere. That's why we have most
of our gigs there.
Phil: The Barge is Medway's best venue by a mile. Best sound. Best
lighting. We love Tim. The Nag's Head will always have a place in my
heart, and I'm glad they're putting on gigs again, and that Simon Bunyan
looks after all that.
Q Medway Eyes <http://www.medwayeyes.co.uk>? What’s all that about then?
Lisa: It started last October when Phil was offered two exhibitions. He
decided to use one of them for a joint project, and Medway Eyes was born.
We ended up exhibiting 19 photographers, we did all the PR ourselves, and
it remains the most visited exhibition they've had at The Brook. We felt
proud that we'd achieved that without any outside support. We feel that
support and funding for the arts in Medway is repeatedly channelled into
the pockets of just one or two places; where dwell the art elite, leaving
others to fend for themselves. These "others" are often unable to do so. A
disabled group called Art for Life were recently turfed out of their
central premises by the council to make way for one of the elite. What
happens in situations like these is that, even if offered new premises,
many of the group won't go any more, because to them it's just too
different; too much change for them to cope with. So a group that relies
so heavily on art as a means of making sense of the world; as a kind of
therapy or just an exercise in social interaction just ends up missing out
to make way for another career vehicle. Arts funding should be available
to all those who want it, not just a privileged few. Medway Eyes doesn't
want funding. We do everything on our own terms. We're fans of the DIY
punk ethic. It's not about careers. It's not about money. It's about art
and music and giving a fuck about where you come from.
Phil: I'm certainly not going to let anyone tattoo Made In Medway on my
arse and then hang it in the Emperor's New Arts Centre. Let's put it that
Q Have you had good support from some of the people of Medway? Any
Lisa: People have been very supportive. The musicians have come up with
the goods every time we've asked them. We've had a good turn-out for every
event so far, and had some great feedback from the public and the venues,
so we must be doing something right. And thanks to all of them, we've even
managed to raise a bit of money for Oxjam. We're working on a project at
the moment called Desolation Row, it's an ongoing thing, involving lots of
creative people. It's a sort of protest about the ill-conceived
regeneration plans for Medway and shows that we all care about our towns;
care enough to do something. We know deep down that it won't change
anything, but none of us are afraid to try, and if you don't make yourself
heard, you can hardly complain if nobody listens. We've had a few
bewildered expressions thrown our way when we've turned down various
collaborations; as though we should be grateful for even the gnarliest
bone, but we haven't had any opposition. Not yet. I suppose if the council
finds out about us, they might bring out the demolition crew to knock us
down. They're good at that.
Phil: We've been fantastically well supported. Just look at the Artists
page on our website. It's astonishing.
Q What are the hardest aspects of photography?
Lisa: That depends on the kind of person you are. The technical aspects of
photography don't interest me much, so although I know the theory, I tend
to ignore it and just go for the feel. I think the technical stuff can be
taught, but if you don't have an eye for composition, you're basically
fucked. There are some that do put a lot of emphasis on 'mastering' the
camera, technically I mean, and would totally disregard my views about
needing to have a good eye. I say man made the machine, he should expect
to master it. A camera cannot be subjective, that's where the eye comes
in. Photography is a human endeavour, not a scientific one.
Phil: There's quite an art to being unobtrusive at gigs, finding places to
stand without being in the audience's way for more than a minute or two at
a time. I try not to invade the performers' space, too. I will only use
flash if I absolutely have to.
Q Do you see a social value in photography?
Lisa: Absolutely. Taking photos is a way of reminding the world that you
were here; that you lived and you saw. It makes us real, even after we're
gone. Looking at old photos gives us a sense of nostalgia and security. It
makes the past solid, which seems to give us hope that the future will be
too. Documentary photography really does it for me so I think photography
has enormous social value.
Phil: Which is why you shouldn't naturally assume that the photographer in
the street is a terrorist, even if he's got a beard.
Q Name three famous rock pictures that made you go “Wow”?
Lisa: We're kind of known for our music photography but it's only a part
of what we do. I don't tend to look at other people's music photos and get
wowed, although I do think Phil's are excellent. I'm more likely to be
impressed by something I don't do myself. One of my favourite photos is
Nick Ut's "Vietnam Napalm" - the image of the naked little girl running
away from a napalm attack, a very famous photo. It's terrifyingly potent,
and makes me cry every time. I'm not sure I'd have the guts to take
something like that. My instinct would be to pick that girl up and run,
run, run. Yet, without photos like that, the world could never know of the
horrors people have to suffer for the misfortune of being born in the
wrong place at the wrong time. That knowledge is very humbling.
Phil: It's not usually music photos that grab me, but to give you a
straight answer: Pennie Smith's photo of Paul Simenon on London
Annie Liebowitz' photo of Pete Townshend with a buggered
and Alex's down-the-barrel shot of Lupen
Q Shooting from the hip? Any good results?
Lisa: Haha. That's always a bit hit-and-miss. The
good for that though. It doesn't have a proper viewfinder so you have to
Phil: Sometimes. You get better at it the more you try it. It's a
technique you should practice on a digital camera before you try it on
film, of course. Here's
Q If you could be invisible for one day…with your camera…where would you
go? (distance no object)
Lisa: Easy. And entirely predictable. Harry Potter film set. *whispers*
And dressing rooms.
Phil: The past. I'd like to see Hendrix at the Marquee, or hang about in
The Grapes in Mathew Street, Liverpool. Maybe Blondie at CBGB's in the
late Seventies. Of course, I wouldn't need to be invisible if I had some
sharp togs and a nice Leicaflex <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Q One piece of good photography advice please?
Lisa: Work on your composition. Try to forget that cropping tools exist -
they're bad for you. Frame your shot properly. If composition isn't your
strong point, take a little frame out with you, the kind artists use to
frame a view and just fanny about with it. Sure, you'll look like a pleb,
but you'll take better pictures.
Phil: Learn how your camera works before calling yourself a photographer.
And don't limit yourself to one style. That's two pieces!