We see hundreds of people every day, but how often do we take notice of the characters around us? Caerphilly street photographer Ceri Vale explores this question in his first exhibition ‘I to Eye’, which takes photography to the streets of Cardiff. The exhibit will be held in Cardiff Bay’s Pierhead building until November 30. Freddie Holmes caught up with the 44-year old IT worker to see what inspired him to get behind the camera.
When did your interest in photography begin?
It was a case of buying my first digital camera. Once I did that, it started growing from there. I found that my style started to grow from looking at other photographs.
I was looking for something for a long time, and it was a relief to actually find something I really enjoyed doing. I love photography, it gets you away from the drudge of everyday life. It’s taken a long time to get to the stage that I’m at now, but it’s paying off.
What makes a good photograph?
Well, I’m always looking for the faces that tell a story, for character, that’s the ultimate goal. When walking around Cardiff, every now and again I see someone that stands out from the crowd. Once I’ve found the character, I can build on that and try to capture what originally spoke to me. If I succeed it’s great, if not, I move on.
What is it about Cardiff that allows you to find such character?
Well for a start it’s convenient. I started out in Bath, London, and around Wales, but it’s never quite the same. I don’t know if it’s because I empathise with the locals, but I keep going back to the same places around Cardiff. The Hayes, the market place and the stretch from the museum down to the Bay all interest me. And because you’ve got the streams of people coming in from outside of Wales too, there’s a wonderful mix of character to work with.
Where did the title ‘I to Eye’ come from?
It was me trying to be clever to be honest – trying to convey the fact that if I see something, I grab it. If somebody catches my eye, I’ll try to capture them.
What made you want to exhibit?
I just wanted to get myself out there and say “this is me, this is what I’m about”. It’s been a very steep learning curve. It’s my first exhibit and I’m just trying to show there’s more to my photography than just online work. Sometimes you feel the talent in South Wales is overlooked, so it’s nice to get something out there on display.
Have you ever had some nasty or memorable responses taking portraits of strangers?
Not really, as long as you’re not there for half an hour clicking away at the same person. The public is generally quite understanding.
One of the things with street photography is that you’re always being stopped by over-zealous security guards and police. But with street photography you’re in a public place and you’re entitled to do so.
When I first started street photography I used to work further away and use a zoom lens, but now I like to chat to them. I like to interact with them and find the background to the story I’m looking for – you can tell I’m a little bit passionate about it.
It’s very useful to be able to say this is my work, I’m just a street photographer doing what I do. This is as legitimate an art form as any other, and it’s rewarding to give them something concrete to look at.
Many of the images in the exhibit are black and white, do you feel more comfortable working in that style, as opposed to colour?
When I look at an image, I process it in a way that I feel is complimentary to it. If you look at the exhibition there are some faces, for example ‘woman’, a homeless person in The Hayes. She had very striking red hair, and her eyes were a deep blue. I processed that in colour, if I processed it in black and white it would have lost all of that vibrance.
Are there any photos from the exhibit that stand out to you?
The two definitive ones for me are the woman looking at the Jean Paul Gaultier poster, and the one where a young boy is looking across at a homeless guy. They both really stood out to me.
How would a normal day of photography go for you?
I don’t really have a normal day of photography, but if I know that I’m going to be shooting that day, I’ll get up pretty early. Time is precious. I don’t set myself a goal for the day, if something catches my eye I’ll capture it. Because my time is so limited, if I did set myself a goal and didn’t achieve it, it would have been a waste of time.
What would you suggest for someone new to photography to stick by?
When you buy equipment spend far more on the lens than on anything else, and read the manual from cover to cover. The most important piece of advice is just get out there and take photos. As much as possible, and get critiques, feedback is always good.
What do you think about the role of apps such as Instagram?
Personally I don’t use them, I never have. It’s just a different style of photography, I’ve got no objection to them at all. You see a lot of bad photography out there, and I think that you shouldn’t call yourself a photographer until you can take a decent photo.
Do you need expensive equipment for a good picture?
No, not at all. My first camera was about £300, and that was including the lenses. You’ve got to get the basics right, it has to be in focus and it has to be reasonably composed. Once you’ve got those, you’re a quarter of the way there.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to be fully professional within maybe a few years, whether that happens or not in the current environment I don’t know. I won’t present any images that I’m not happy with, I’m a bit fussy. If it gets to the point where I can give up the day job I want everything in place, I want everything to be right so I can fulfil my potential. I want to be sure before I do it.
You can see the full range of Ceri’s work on his Facebook page.