Lucy Hamidzadeh is a South East London native and writer with an undeniable passion for street photography. Her first book, Unfinished Stories is published by Trope Publishing, available here.
I’m born and bred in Lewisham, in the South-East of London where I still live. I love this area of London. It definitely keeps me grounded, and street-wise. I’m half Iranian – I get that from my dad’s side. My parents are culturally very different – my mum is a true Londoner - but the two of them make it work, and I think my brother and I turned out alright. I’d love to visit Iran one day, and meet the family I’ve never seen, see where my dad grew up as a kid, and most definitely take photos. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career after I left school, but one thing led to another and I ended up studying Travel & Tourism which in turn took me on a 20-year career in the travel industry working for a tour operator and airline. I got sucked into creating travel content and producing holiday brochures. I looked at pretty travel photos daily, and got creative in my writing. The thrill of sending a holiday brochure out into the world was exciting, and as technology got more popular, content evolved and the web became popular. I started travelling to see more of the world and the places that I was writing and hearing about, and I just wanted to see more. It all ended in 2017 when the airline ceased to operate just short of its 60th year. Those 20-years were invaluable. But, it did kick-start my career now as a photographer and writer. Aside from photography and travelling, books - especially photo books and poetry – a crisp new notebook and a fresh pen are also things that I love…as well as tea.
My style of photography is intimate, yet understanding. I’m fascinated by human behaviour, and how we are all so different. I want to capture something about the people I see, but at the same time I like to create my own version of who I think the person is. I try to stay inconspicuous, which isn’t always easy. I want to own my story, but I want to tell it in a way that I think is more intimate. I observe a lot, and I look for those little flickers which catch my eye; those moments that you may over look, stolen seconds and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them glances, or moments of silence. Candid moments where I can disappear into someone’s story; where I don’t know the person in front of the lens are what I love. And, putting the image together with a narrative is something I started to explore because I love to write too. Sometimes my writing comes from my curiosity, because it’s the way the image makes me feel, or sometimes there’s a deliberate story that’s being told and as a viewer I’m trying to read it.
It’s hard to say exactly when I started photography, but I always remember us having a camera of sorts in the family from a young age. Whenever there was a family holiday, days out or a celebration, my grandad’s camera and cine-camera always came out, and I generally had a little hold of the camera. I remember the element of anticipation and then surprise when the films got developed (we still have a suitcase of some pretty dodgy and over exposed photos with a leg or head missing from a shot!). Back then it was just a way of keeping holidays and family time memorable. I didn’t think much of photography other than it being something I liked to do. But, 5 years ago, I downloaded Instagram. I was inspired and curious by what I was seeing, and all I wanted to do was to get out and shoot. I wanted to create a new world for myself. I was using my mobile phone a lot back then, but at the same time I was starting to understand about how my camera worked, and what I could do with it.
I use a Sony A7Rii which I love for its size and versatility. I believe if you have an interested eye for taking a photo, it doesn’t matter what gear you have. You don’t have to have the latest, fanciest or most expensive, it’s what works well for you. Different cameras suit different people, the same with different lens’ – my preferred lens is my 55mm. Before I started to really get to know my camera, I was shooting on my iPhone. It was easy to pop in my bag or pocket and whip out – and it’s always with me! Mobile phones amaze me with how advanced they have become, and I use mine now for capturing random daily moments. I do think having a camera has taught me to look differently at a scene, light, composition, perspective, subject, how close I am and what it is that what I want to capture. Personally, I’m a lot more considered with my camera, I adjust my settings and I look at a scene and subject differently.
My style and focus have changed completely in the last 5 years. My photographic journey is a bit like a diary of where I was as a photographer and personally. I started by keeping my distance from my subject – that was the shy Lucy, not wanting to get up close for fear of being seen or shouted at. I loved harsh light and shadows – I still do – and was always looking out for magical light. I was just pointing and shooting and not really feeling for my subject. I was looking for interesting characters, but I knew there was something missing. I heard a friend do a photo talk, and soon after I took a solo trip to the Island of Madeira. I had no idea what I was going to do on my own for a whole week and I sure didn’t know what I was going to shoot. It’s a strange little island, but I fell completely in love with the people and wanted to capture them. And, I think that’s where it clicked. I then came back to London and decided to spend time shooting solo. I love shooting the streets alone. I try not to shape my thoughts, ideas or photography to what someone else might want/like, and instead I go on the basis that the most important thing for me is to create something that I love and that makes me happy; hopefully giving it a legacy for years to come.
What I love about London is that it is so diverse. It’s an amazing city which I often have to remind myself. Our architecture is quite amazing – it’s old, rich in history and so quintessentially classical. Yet, it’s new and modern. And, our skyline is constantly changing. I do believe there is no other city like London. It’s home, and I love that I can get into the city centre every day If I want to. We have so many different areas of the city – some pretty and some not so, but all have their own unique personality. I’m drawn to the gritty areas of the city – I feel that’s where you see real life being played out. Our weather is temperamental too, and something we British love to talk about – from sun-shiny days, to torrential rain. Both bring about interesting shooting conditions. Before photography, I would stay clear of cold gloomy days, and now I think nothing of walking the streets on a dull cold rain day.
I favour shooting in cities where there’s a lot of hustle and bustle, and local life on the go. Somewhere where I can blend in and become invisible. There’s nothing better than being in the middle of locals, especially in a busy market, or busy street and simply watching people move about. I love windows too, the reflections and stories that go on behind the glass intrigue me. I use to be such a light chaser; chasing that magical light, I still look for that when I’m out shooting, but I’m also a sucker for getting lost in the streets on a really rainy day. It makes for moody photos; you can really disappear on a rainy day.
What inspires me is an inbuilt need to create. I can’t imagine a time without photography or creating. I often remind myself how freeing it is to just walk in the city. I love drawing inspiration from that freedom. When I’m not in a rush and I can just take in what’s going on around me. If I’m feeling a little uninspired, I take off for a walk on my own. It makes me feel good. I have plenty of ‘feeling uninspired moments’, but I stay inspired by telling myself there’s something around me at every given moment, and that a photograph is waiting to happen everywhere. With street photography, there’s no agenda, it’s a raw portrayal of the way people live and with the least amount of acting.
Listening to the lyrics of the really good song when I’m editing or reading a good book or poem where the words are so raw and meaningful inspire me. They inspire me to be more expressive in my writing, to choose the right words to define something, and have the ability to evoke a feeling if said in the right context. And films. Films have inspired me to look for the detail in a scene, and to keep my eyes open for the extraordinary. A recent film that I found so compelling was Roma. I was so moved by the emotional cinematography in every composition. It was visually beautiful, and I wanted to capture every scene with my camera. I have a photographer friend who is really into films. Talking to him is like stepping into a moving photo book.
Photography is like a companion – a best friend who I take everywhere I go - even just walking down the road I live on. I use it to implore some order in the chaos around me; not that my life is chaotic, but the world in which we live in sometimes feels quite chaotic, especially in London. It’s a form of therapy I guess; a form of meditation. I just feel compelled to it. It’s as simple as that. I do it for me as a way of making sense of the world around me, and understanding the people who live in it.
I think the best advice I can give to anyone is to only shoot subjects that you really want to shoot – and don’t just shoot for the sake of shooting. Do it for yourself. Find something that you love to shoot, whether that’s architecture, portraits, landscapes, people, street scenes, travel, documenting life – and don’t give up. It might not present itself straight away, but keep searching. Practice; find what makes you feel alive, excited and motivates you into getting up and out with your camera. When it clicked for me, I found more meaning in my work, and I began to understand my enjoyment of it. A good photographer has some kind of drive in them, and they won’t stop until they’ve got that shot. And, even if you don’t dedicate yourself to photography full-time, you still have a chance to create something. It could be your journal, your way of framing the world and commenting on something.
The personal growth from discovering photography as an outlet for my curious mind has taught me so much about me. Even I look back on the ‘Lucy’ I once was and I’m shocked. I was a naturally a shy child and teenager – I loved people, but I would rarely talk out loud in a group for the fear of making myself look silly. The thought of talking to a complete stranger terrified me. I now try to talk to at least one stranger a day. I guess I was once trying to please others and fitting into what I thought I should be, instead of being me. I’ve always been a writer, but photography opened my eyes to a whole new much bigger world and a whole new me. I honed in on my intense curiosity of humans, their behaviour and the world I lived in as a way to process and understand the changes I was going through. Without really knowing it I was embracing these changes through photography and words. I learnt to like my own company, and I learnt to love myself. I met people through Instagram who I shared a passion with, and that gave me a whole new confidence too. I definitely step out of my comfort zone a whole heap more now. And, I still have moments where I think ‘did I just do that’.
I know without a doubt I will still be out walking lots, taking photos and creating stories – because there are so many people and so many stories that I want to catch and keep. And, I know travelling will continue to play a huge role in my life for the next five years and many after. I’m always thinking of the next place to visit, especially to places that are less popular. The feeling of experiencing something new continually excites me. I still have so much of the world that I want to see and document through photos and words, and that inspires me to never stop.
I want to be remembered as a genuine, kind-hearted person, someone people can relate to. Someone whose curious mind led her to a place where finding a passion meant that sooner or later we discover who we’ve always known we are. I hope I’ll be remembered as inspiring others even if it’s in a teeny tiny way; to help others see the beauty in the world around us; to allow yourself to get lost in your own sense of curiosity and freedom. That despite everything, the only thing that really matters is what you feel yourself. We are all authors of our own life stories, and I hope that documenting my photography moments in time leave a little legacy that in time will mean something to someone else years from now. I believe we all have a beginning and an end, and what we do in-between is shaped by no-one but ourselves. We are the authors of the middle, so we really should make the middle count.
Lucy Hamidzadeh’s prints are available here.