Street views from a narrowboat

Street chat with Kathleen Bridget Austin

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where you are from, where you are living now?

I live in the UK, and am originally from Gloucestershire. I moved to a small village in Leicestershire when I was nine, and had a thick country accent that I managed to lose very quickly, as I was sick of the other kids saying “Say that again” tittering when I spoke.

My father was a license holder of a pub which we kept for twenty-five years — it was a real working man’s pub, and I was privy to many adult ways from a very young age, like seeing people when not at their best, and I was serving behind the bar at a young age.

My mother is a fine artist, and looking back as an adult, we could say she had a viciously satirical pen, sketching humorous pictures of the pub regulars. Some have likened me to her — seeing life with a touch of comedy, but with a camera instead of a pen.

I now live on a narrowboat all year-round with my partner Matty, based on the River Soar in Leicestershire. I have a hectic business working life, so I need this beautiful tranquil way of living to balance my life.

Tell us about your background with photography, how and when you were drawn into the street genre.

My brother, Will, started a photography weekly challenge group consisting of six photographers back in 2009. They were fortnightly challenges, where family and friends voted on the best photos that met a particular brief. I will always be grateful to those who voted for mine, which spurred me on to try harder. Will had been a street photographer for several years, and encouraged me to try my hand, giving me tips and help. Together with his partner Michelle, who was also a street photographer, we went on many photo walks all over the country. New Brighton was one of our favourite places.

Does your location affect your work?

Weekends mostly find me outside of the Midlands. I have an on-off love affair with Coventry, Leicester and Nottingham, you know the feeling of going out and coming back with nothing, that’s what mostly happens with me in these cities, my eyes just don’t see anything. A few times I have gotten lucky there, but I guess we could say that about shooting street everywhere, it all boils down to luck in the end.

I love visiting Canvey Island and Blackpool, both are by the sea. Canvey is quiet, especially in the winter — in stark contrast to the crazy Pool, with its flashy lights and party atmosphere that goes on all year-round.

As we move around the canal system, mostly in the Midlands, there are ample opportunities to stop off at a town or village, but on the canal, there have only been a couple of instances where I have seen something that might work (as street) while the boat is moving. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera out either time. There is risk of dropping it into the water, I am just way too clumsy.

I love to shoot at night, However, after a nasty incident, it has made me more cautious. Now I feel more secure going out with another photographer

I have been chased after, shouted at, the latter being a thug in my face, this guy was over 6 ft., and towered over my 5 ft. petite frame. However street photography is something that I love working on, and I can’t stop.

How do you define “street photography” for yourself?

Street Photography for me is capturing choice moments, the serendipity of street, the candid human life of our everyday surroundings gives me my canvas of opportunity. There is a sadness and humour on the street when you least expect it, and I attempt to bring a record of this. I look for interesting scenes, hopefully people will see humour, quirkiness and a dark side (depending on my mood,) in my work, shot while travelling around the country at weekends and candid shooting at events.

In what ways do you think being a woman has affected your work?

I don’t feel safe out on the streets shooting at night any more, which is quite annoying as I think some of my nighttime work is my best. Well, it hasn’t really stopped me, when a scene is there I press the shutter sometimes, regardless of what consequences there could be. Other than that, being a female I enjoy being able to engage with people — from young lads and girls out on the town, to elderly people.

Color or black and white? Digital or film?

I will have to say colour is my preference, but if I get a scene that I really like and it’s too neon at night, and the colours override the subjects, I will convert it. Hmmm, hard to choose, I like shooting both digital and film. OK, if you had a gun to my head, I would say digital. I’m a 21st Century street photographer, not a chemist. Below film, one of the few.

What photographers can you name who are the most inspirational to you?

Gosh, I like so many. Tony Ray Jones, Tom Wood, Helen Levitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Meyerowitz, Kate Kirkwood, Gareth Bragdon, Danielle Houghton, Diada, Barry Talis, Jack Simon, so many others.

I find inspiration from Flickr friends and groups such as HCSP, The Salon, Double X and many others. My visual taste in street is eclectic as is my style.

Is there a special project you are working on?

I am currently working on a project called “Liver and Onions.” I enjoy visiting cafes, either roadside or in a marketplace, and takeaways. The characters that you see in there really excite me. I tend to spend a lot of time eating bacon butties, and have been known to ensure Matty has at least two of these at different times of the day, to see how the cafe and its people change. Every time I go out shooting I work on this particular project, which is probably why my trousers are tight. Note to self, just watch Matty eat instead!

Kathleen Bridget Austin | Flickr |