[All images courtesy of Justin Slee]
This week’s Artist in the Spotlight is: Justin Slee
Currently working on: Avant 30th March- 11th April, The Gallery, Munro House
In a nutshell? Justin describes his style of photography as ‘Modern portrait and documentary with a hint of film influence.’
TSOTA: As a design graduate what sparked your interest in photography and made you decide to forge a career from it?
JS: While I was at college I discovered the photography section in the library and my dad had always taken pictures, so I just started spending more and more time looking at great photographers’ work such as Mary Ellen Mark, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. I just fell in love with the camera and there was never any turning back.
TSOTA: What was your first commission?
JS: Quite uninteresting really, I managed to get a full day shift at the Bradford Telegraph and Argus newspaper. I ended up doing about ten jobs all around Bradford in one day – it was great experience though. It taught you how to work quickly and judge the light and, more importantly, work with people. My first proper picture that was published was taken at the Leeds Carnival; I still have a print of it somewhere as it was shot on BW film.
TSOTA: You were born in Leeds, what is it about the city that has made you stay- why do you like working here?
JS: Initially it was family and the loathing of London. Now I think Leeds has it all. There is so much going on in the city and also the county is full of character. Leeds and the North provide me with such a good variety of work too. However, if I was twenty again New York might just tempt me away.
TSOTA: Over your 20-year career, have changes in technology and photography equipment altered your way of working at all?
JS: Technology has not really altered my technique. I use the camera in the same way and work like I used to do in film. I just have a little more control with the images now and the lighting I can work with. Digital has created more office work because now we shoot more pictures so therefore there is more editing and the client expects the results quicker.
TSOTA: What photography equipment are you currently using?
JS: I use a Canon DSLR system plus a Fuji XTI and a couple of medium format film cameras.
TSOTA: You’ve photographed many household names including Victoria Beckham, Stephen Fry, Gary Lineker and Charlotte Church. Who has been one of the most enjoyable celebrities to photograph?
JS: Kate Winslet was lovely and up for playing to the camera and I did once spend 3 days in South Africa with the beautiful Helena Christensen, but to be honest it had to be the Leeds and South African footballer Lucas Radebe.
TSOTA: Are people your favourite subject to photograph? When you’re out and about, what qualities of the people you encounter usually attract your attention and make you want to photograph them?
JS: Yes people and places. It’s really just about character and personality for me. It’s hard to put your finger on one thing. If they look relaxed and confident or a little quirky that is good, it’s not really about natural beauty; and the light is very important too.
TSOTA: You’ve travelled all over the world with your work, what are your favourite places that your career has taken you to?
JS: There are quite a few but I particularly enjoy travelling to New York, San Francisco and Tokyo, plus you can’t beat a British seaside town.
TSOTA: Your exhibition Avant shows the culmination of your partnership with Northern Ballet over the last few years. What experience has been a highlight of the time you have spent with the company?
JS: Without doubt the chance of being able to spend time and observe an art form being created. The dancers are the most hard-working and dedicated individuals I have ever met and such athletes as well.
TSOTA: What statement does Avant make about the world of modern ballet?
JS: I hope the exhibition shows the work and more importantly the love of dance that all the people involved with creating ballet productions have. I want the images to try and illustrate the incredible dedication and, personally, I want the work to capture the human side and to form a record of Northern Ballet.
TSOTA: Is there a piece in the exhibition that you are particularly fond of?
JS: At the moment it’s difficult to decide. My worst quality is that I am always trying to be better, so I beat myself up and always look at how I can improve. I think once the final edit is done and the prints are created and framed there will be an image that makes me think: “that’s not a bad snap”.
TSOTA: Have you any future ambitions or plans, for example travel, new projects or exhibitions?
JS: At the moment I’m trying to balance paying the bills and making a final edit for my printer to print Avant. I am always looking at things to work on and as I get older I think it is time to just do them and think about them after.
I have been shooting a project on Public Houses not related to people, which is different for me. I’ve also started shooting things that capture my interest in Leeds, usually the mundane and overlooked, but that is the challenge and it might eventually grow into something.
Interview by Helena Roddis