I first met photographer Sam Bush during his time freelancing at the John Lewis photographic studio where we worked together. I have been drawn to his work for a long time, with it's beautiful, simplified aesthetic that captures those moments other people may not see, always with a story or narrative behind them. From the early stages of setting up North, he has been on my list to feature in the journal, so I'm happy we got to sit down and talk about his work and the journey that led him into a career as a photographer.
DH: Tell me about your journey into becoming a photographer?
SB: My great grandad was a hobbyist photographer and generally a bit of a nerd. He was into music and recording sounds on long wave radio and that kind of stuff so he had a lot of old equipment including some old SLR cameras which my mum kept. When I was around 11 or 12 I asked her what they were and she told me that you shoot film with them and showed me how it all worked. I became obsessed with these cameras and the mechanics of them. From there I started taking a lot of pictures of everyday life; my family, around the house, going out skateboarding with my friends. When I was a teenager I naturally became the photographer in my group of friends. Wherever we were, or whatever we were doing I always had my camera with me and would take photos of everything. I didn't realise at the time but I was training myself to be a person and place photographer, I wasn't good by any means but I was practising. I had a creative background in studying music and art at school and later going to college to study photography along with media studies and sociology.
My mum and stepdad are both teachers and actors, with my mum doing a lot of painting on the side and my dad is a musician, so I’ve always been around a lot of creativity and expression, it was a big part of my childhood; going to plays, watching my mum paint all the time. I was really encouraged to be creative and I think without that support I wouldn't be doing what I’m doing now.
My mum told me that I could pursue photography as a career, so she planted the seed and I found that it was possible, so I’m really thankful.
I went to university at LCC and did the documentary and photojournalism course, in hindsight I should have done the photography course instead. The course was a lot of hardcore news photography, which I thought I was interested in at the time but it’s extremely competitive with lots of photographers trying to get the same image and needing to be a news robot churning out front page ready pictures, which for me is not why I’m doing photography at all.
By the end of the course, I focused more on the documentary photography side, to the chagrin of my teachers who were both ex-news photographers. I think they liked my work but it wasn't what they had been teaching us at all.
After university, I assisted for lots of photographers and there was one in particular who I worked with regularly for almost 3 years called Kerry Harrison. I learnt so much from him from how to be on set to dealing with clients, negotiating day rates, interacting with models, basically how to be a photographer. I learnt more from him and the other people I was assisting than I ever could at university. He’s still a good friend of mine who continues to play a big part in my career, I still go to him for advice.
DH: What interests you the most in photography?
SB: I think it’s the ability to record time. I don't know if it’s about the narrative but I just love looking at old pictures, it’s one of my favourite things to do. Plugging in an old hard drive from 2014 and spending 4 hours looking at every photo, shocked at how we used to dress and seeing the places we used to go. Through photography, you get to see it again and for me, it’s like magic, like time travel.
DH: What inspires your work?
SB: A lot of different things, but especially other peoples work. I spend a lot of time looking at other photographers work, whether it’s my peers, people I went to university with or even people who are way ahead of me.
DH: Do you have any favourite photographers?
SB: I like a lot of the classic photographers. Joel Meyerowitz has always been a favourite of mine and had a big influence on me when I started to make images of people and places. His understanding of colour is something that I strive towards. One of my favourite photographers right now is Thomas Prior, to me his work is perfect in every single way, from lighting, processing, retouching, the way he frames things, colours. I almost can’t understand how someone is so good at taking beautiful photos so consistently. I don’t think I’ve seen a shot of his that I’ve disliked.
DH: So that's some of the people who inspire you, what else inspires your work?
SB: I like going into a place, photographing it and the people within it. So I get inspired by places and the way the light is, the colour. I am hugely inspired by colour, I could never shoot black and white.
DH: What draws you to take a certain photo?
SB: The most important element is again, colour and the geometry of the place, I like a lot of lines in my pictures and as few distracting elements as possible. For people, someone that doesn't look too normal, someone with something interesting about them, whatever that may be. I want to put them in good light.
DH: When I look at your images I feel like you have caught something that’s there but no one else has seen or picked up on.
SB: Thanks! As a photographer, I think you constantly see pictures everywhere. I walk through life seeing pictures and it becomes a mindset, looking at how light is falling on things. It’s hard to articulate but I just see it, I think it's instinctive.
DH: How would you describe your style of image making?
SB: Clean, considered, warm but not cosy.
I like to bring an ‘art’ aesthetic to what is really editorial photography, that’s what I always try to do. Shooting everyday objects, situations and people through a more considered, artistic lense. Warm tonality is a relatively new direction for my work, I used to desaturate images, I don't know if it’s the summer we've had but I've been inspired to have things on the warm side, with the blacks being deeper and the colour a bit more yellow and orange.
I also try to think about how my gaze shapes my work and shows the people I shoot. As a straight white male, I occupy a certain space in the world and I try to keep that in mind, especially when photographing people. I think we have a responsibility to show people as honestly as possible and I wonder how I affect that.
How would you describe my work?
DH: Clean, definitely considered, well framed. They feel pleasing to me, the balance and simplicity, it's clear visually.
DH: Do you have any dream projects you would like to do?
SB: I like shooting anything that's a bit more out of the ordinary. I like to take editorial style photography and use it for something that has no business being shot like that. I know this guy who keeps birds of prey, and as well as doing shows with them they are also used for pest control at stadiums, where he uses his sparrow hawks, I’d love to shoot him and the birds some day. I thrive when working in a place that isn’t typical or arranged nicely already. For example, I was commissioned to photograph a mattress factory on the outskirts of Birmingham last year. Just exploring that place for a day with a camera was so much fun for me!
I am working on a number of projects at the moment with different design studios. One I work with regularly is dn&co and they are great, they do a lot of local area placemaking work. My role in those jobs usually involves going into places and photographing the people there, getting a sense of the place through photography.