INTO THE LIGHT
Perhaps the most visually arresting moments of street photography occur, not when we encounter a clever visual pun or dramatic event, but when we get to the heart of what it is to exist within the concrete sprawl of urbanization. A good example is Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads series. Each frame shows a figure moving through the dark spaces of the city, head down, barely engaging with their fellow travellers of surrounding environment. The flash isolates these wanders from the crowds that surround them, revealing them to be the lone solitary figures we all becomes when traversing the city’s walkways.
What’s impressive in the work of London-based Rupert Vandervell is that he succeeds in stripping this idea down even further. In the world of Rupert, lone figures pass through overwhelming barren urban wastelands, ones divided and skewered by powerful shafts of light. The fact that they are black and white just serves to emphasise the themes of alienation even further. Textures and details are reduced to the bare minimum. Faces are obscured. What we are left with is a series of geometric and often abstract representations of things that in this world seem alien and dystopian, yet all too recognisable.
A former videographer, to date Rupert has produced five projects: Urbanites, Man on Earth, Late Night Tales and Duel. He is currently working on a new project shot entirely at night.
Geometrix is your last completed project. How would you say this project advanced on your previous work?
Geometrix was a slightly different way of working for me because it’s slightly more abstract. I was using the usual elements that attract me, which was the high contrast look using accentuated highlights and shadow. But I decided I wanted to produce a short series of pictures that focused on the interaction between those elements to light and the geometric shapes found within the city. I wanted something a little more minimal. It was an idea I was very attracted to.
One of the things that I particularly liked about working on this projects are that the moments captured within the images are just that – moments. The light was changing all the time. One moment it was there and the next it was completely different. I actually missed some shots because I couldn’t get them quite right and that meant I had to return the following day. I quite liked that side of it.
Did this find you having to reconsider how you were working with light?
Not really. I knew the kind of look I was going for. It was nice seeing that if I produced an image with high contrast I was left with just a hint of texture and detail. The first image in the series is a good example of that (see above). It was really about capturing the special contrast between what we have in the city’s buildings and the light. So it was all really a continuation of what I was doing before with a project like Man on Earth. The human element was just as important but in a slightly different way because you often don’t see the full person. You just get a suggestion of it.
Geometrix almost seems to carry a theme of surveillance. It’s dystopian. These locations seem a familiar, but there’s something a little off about them.
That’s what the light is capable of in the city, but it only does that at certain times of the day. That’s why I say I only had a small window in which to work. As I’ve been shooting in London, particularly in areas like the Barbican, I know the city quite well and how the light alters the mood.
So you’re still working within the same geographic locations as you were in your previous projects?
I’ve been working on a series of images, a project that is shot entirely at night. That started three years ago. I realised I wanted to take my work one step further so I’ve spent my time covering a much larger area of London. I’ve done a lot of exploring in the last few months. But Geometrix was shot in the generally the same areas I have always used. The fact is you don’t very far in one area to find something new. That’s the nice thing about photography. You’re never restricted.
You’ve shot a project before, called Late Night Tales. Is this in any way a continuation of those ideas?
Late Night Tales wasn’t a candid project. The models were directed. I’ve also shot night images in Man on Earth. I was looking through the night pictures that I’d shot over the last few years and realised there more out there of interest to me so I wanted to create a dedicated project. Usually with a project you think, ‘Okay, I’ve done that’. But then it surprised me just how many pictures I was able to produce. I found this current night project quite inspiring because it’s much more of a social documentary series. It’s not just a lone figure standing within pools of light.
I also saw that you recently produced an image for a record sleeve.
Yes, for Zeke Africa. He’s a very talented young man and his record company got in contact with me because he liked my photography. He had a project he was working on, a 12 inch vinyl EP called A Thousand Years. He wanted to appear in one of my photographs on the cover. I met up with him, liked him and especially liked his music. We ended up doing a little shoot together. That was around a year ago. He produced the EP and sent me out a copy just a few weeks back. I was very pleased with it, I must say. The chance to shoot for a vinyl sleeve is very rare these days.
Can you tell me a little about the cameras you’re using and why?
When I’m working I always carry around a couple of Olympus OM-D E-M5s. The size is a big factor for me. The last thing I want when I’m walking around the city is a bulky camera. I need something small and discreet. I’m so used to holding the E-M5 that I often forget it’s in my hand. The camera serves my purposes. I love the way it’s designed.
To see more visit www.rupertvandervell.co.uk