Lucy Hamidzadeh is a South East London native and writer with an undeniable passion for street photography. Unfinished Stories, her first book, is published by Trope Publishing Co. and is available here.
In your photography and writing, we sense a lot of vulnerability, nostalgia and intimacy. How do you manage to express this and how did it all start?
Photography started off as a hobby when I was working a 9-5 office job for a UK-based airline and tour operator, a career that lasted just over 20 years. As much as I’m super grateful for those 20 years, I was stuck in a routine, and needed something that was mine. I had a fair few ups and downs during my career on a very personal level, which I know now made me into the person I am today. I believe this also influences my way of reading people and my photography.
During the latter years I was coming of age, I felt I was missing something. I had a voracious appetite for understanding people, and I wanted to tell stories. Because, let’s face it, we all have a story to tell, some of us are just too shy to share that story openly. I think people are happy to know that someone cares, that someone will listen to them and try to understand their story. I just wanted to get out into the world, and photography and writing is such a good excuse to do that. Both stemmed from me knowing I needed a little coaxing to get out, meet people and form relationships. Although some relationships (between me and a subject) were forged through photography, I think that they went deeper. It was a mentor kind of relationship; they would bring me into their space and teach me about the world around me and I would learn from them. Through this process, I would make images and tell stories. We were sharing an experience, so perhaps because of this process, you can sense that intimacy, and with that intimacy comes vulnerability.
As for the nostalgia element, I think during the process of creating work, all kinds of matter gets mixed up in our unconscious and conscious mind. I think one of photography’s great assets is the ability to subconsciously illustrate emotions as an atmosphere or feeling. My work is my interpretation of what I think or feel the person in the photo is thinking or feeling – or it’s my own emotions and memory. I’d love for someone to say they share my curiosities or feelings about the person or mood in one of my photos, or maybe disagree and feel something completely different, but still sparking a feeling. And that’s the beauty of it. We’re all different. What I really love about photography is that, without explanation, photos cannot be read by any two people in the same way. It’s up to the viewer. Each person will use their own experiences to interpret the image into emotion and then words.
As spectators, we are immersed in people’s lives; it seems casual. What is your process of taking a photo like? Do you capture moments spontaneously, or do you think about the composition beforehand? Or is it a bit of everything?
My process is all very spontaneous. 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 heck of a lot. Quite often I’ll stand at a street intersection for an hour and just observe without taking a single shot. I believe as a street photographer, it’s important to read your surroundings and the people going about their daily lives. Then, once you’ve weighed up the area, you can start taking photos. I think this is so important, especially if you are in unfamiliar surroundings. I look for those little flickers which catch my eye in such an overwhelming way that I feel it – those moments that you may overlook, stolen seconds, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them glances, or moments of silence. I live off those candid moments where I can disappear into someone’s story, where I don’t know the person in front of the lens.
Initially, I overthought and was overcritical of my work, walking for hours but returning home with hundreds of images I didn’t feel were any good. I was searching for these absolutely perfect, observed moments with a unique atmosphere that could not be replicated. You know, the one-in-a-million kind of image. These moments only reveal themselves after spending long periods of time in a position to be open to them and allowing yourself that freedom.
I don’t overthink shooting now. The more you overthink, the more you actually miss what’s going on around you, and it becomes less enjoyable. And I love the process. 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 draw 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 tell myself there’s something around me at every 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, with the least amount of acting.
In addition to social behavior, what is your inspiration in general?
I am very inspired by the space around me. I love drawing inspiration from new places, new cities, cultures and the people in those places. It’s really important for the way that I create. I thrive on that feeling of heading to a new city full of the unfamiliar. It makes me so happy. I think that could be a part of the reason why my approach is so immersive.
But I do like to draw on all kinds of things: film, writing, poetry and other photographers. My biggest photography influence is Vivian Maier; her work and her photographic story is so raw and incredible. When I started seeing the bodies of work by Vivian and also Saul Leiter, I really saw how the creation of images can come together to form different experiences and layers of emotion, feeling and understanding, and be a powerful way of documenting life. Even the way someone talks or moves will inspire me. I read a lot too, which inspires me to be more expressive in my own writing, to choose the right words to define something, and have the ability to evoke a feeling if said in the right context. But perhaps more than anything, I just like to look at the world around me. I’ve been a people observer since I was a little girl – just ask my mum. There’s a quote by American photographer Walker Evans which I love: ‘Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.’
Find more of Lucy's photographs in two of our meticulously crafted ongoing series:
Unfinished Stories, the first in our Emerging Photographers Series, is an extensive collection of photographs that capture the daily lives of people: on the streets, in trains and at cafés, going through their day, often without much thought or notice, but captured in an indelible way by Lucy’s eye and camera. Their “unfinished stories” are the inspiration for her first solo book of words and pictures, making for a lasting glimpse at the fleeting moments she encounters on the streets of London. Unfinished Stories, with more than 100 photographs in both color and black & white, is hardbound with a unique black raw edge and printed on high-quality uncoated paper.
Lucy Hamidzadeh’s prints are available here.
Lucy Hamidzadeh’s previous interview (May 2019) can be viewed here.