This is an un-published interview I did shortly after the publication of SPARKS.
They said my answers were too sarcastic and wouldn't fit with their readership.
I quite like it and it also makes for a fun quiz, correct answers at the end.
1. Let’s go back to the beginning - How did you first get into photography?
a.) I was born in to it. My father was a wedding photographer, some of my earliest memories are of playing in his studio. I had old fashioned flash bulbs for baby rattles and I could develop film and use an enlarger by the age of 3.
b.) A close friend of mine was, still is, a professional photographer. I was always really impressed by her work but didn't think I could accomplish anything similar. Then, in the mid 1990s she said it wasn't too tricky and suggested I buy a Yashica T5. I got one and have been hooked since the very first roll.
c.) In 1994 I made a short film called I Was Catherine The Great's Stable Boy (it's on Youtube if you don't believe me...), while we were scouting for locations I inadvertently rung on Stanley Kubrick's doorbell and he told me to 'fuck off'. After this I became obsessed with him, particularly his early B&W street photography for Look magazine. I started taking photographs that copied his style in an ultimately futile attempt to reply to his insult and prove myself.
2. The book was funded through Unbound. Could you tell us more about how the process works and how the the journey of getting public backing was from your perspective?
a.) It's a simple crowdfunding model but one where the risk is essentially taken away from the publishers by ensuring that a market exists for the book beforehand. It's just like pre-ordering.
b.) Once you sign up to Unbound you have ultimately sold your very soul for the rest of your life and the bloody thing never, ever stops. It's like sisyphus but with a book. I hated every second of it.
c.) It has been the best and the worst of times. I have learnt a lot, made multiple mistakes, met (mostly) fascinating new people and now know far more about making a book and running a marketing campaign than I could ever have imagined. I am also, however, totally exhausted.
3. In such a wonderful way you have ran with this concept of writing detailed stories, giving more depth to the background of your photographs - where did this idea come from?
a.) I did far too many magic mushrooms one night and wrote the entire book on toilet paper in a manic, paranoid fourteen hour session.
b.) I stole the whole idea from the truly original and groundbreaking combination of words and images that Brooklyn Beckham pioneered in his 2017 masterpiece, What I See.
c.) It's a logical development that took place incredibly slowly over nearly twenty years. I used to stick my prints into a diary and type out a little caption card for each one. Then, when Flickr started I gave them titles, so the book is an extension of my gradually combining words and text, just far more ambitious.
4. The stories alone are extremely gripping, how did you find the balance to ensure they did not take anything away from the strength of the photographs?
a.) Each story actually weighs exactly the same as each photograph. If you cut the pages out of the book and then place them on either side of a set of scales you'll see they balance perfectly. We spent ages making sure this element would work. It was very important to me.
b.) Hopefully it's not a question of getting the balance right but rather making sure that the two elements compliment each other and, possibly, even bring something else out of a photograph.
c.) Well, every story is true so of course they balance the photograph, they're all just extended, factual captions.
5. When putting the book together, did you select objectively the best images, or images that told the best stories?
a.) I whittled it down over a couple of years, so there are photos that I love which didn't make the book because I couldn't come up with a suitable narrative. Basically, it was always image led – the photograph had to 'spark' the story.
b.) I wrote all of the stories first then went out with my camera to take photographs that matched them perfectly – this is why it took so bloody long.
c.) I put all my photographs in a big felt hat, mixed them about then picked out 80 at random and wrote a story about each one regardless of the image and it's suitability.
6. The book is semi autobiographical - stories of losing your hair, your grandmother, your father - can you tell us how it feels to share personal stories of your life with the readers?
a.) It's all lies so I don't feel anything about sharing personal stories because they're just tales I've made up.
b.) That was an unexpected element. I never set out to write about myself but some of the photographs are undeniably personal and they demanded personal, true stories. My photography – everybody's photography actually – is autobiographical and pretty much akin to an extended diary, so it would have been bizarre to edit or photoshop myself out of some of the stories. And how does it feel? I've already had plenty of practise oversharing on facebook!
c.) Are you saying I'm bald?
7. Tell us more about what street photography means to you and your personal relationship with the craft…
a.) I don't believe in street photography as such. As I mentioned in a previous answer it's all just a diary to me. I simply take photos of stuff I see as I'm going about my life. As long as I don't interfere or set things up then it's valid. I like to keep things as simple as possible.
b.) It means everything to me, it is my sun, my moon, my afternoon delight. I'd probably go bonkers without it. If I'm not out pounding the streets for at least eight hours a day then that day is wasted and lost forever. I resent writing these stupid answers as they're keeping from 'the street'.
c.) It's easier than writing. With writing you start from scratch and have to invent everything but you can also make changes, alterations and start again. Street photography is totally different as it's reactive, you respond to what goes on around you and there are rarely second chances. I'm lucky in that I get to do both things, writing and photography.
8. Some of these images were taken 15 years ago. Was the idea always to one day turn them into a photobook?
9. What clicked in your creative mind for you to say “I’m at a point now where it’s time to make a photo book”?
a.) I had an archive (ie a shambolic room full of disorganised prints and negatives) dating back twenty years (not 15 as implied in the question above). I realised that I had enough work to sustain a book but it wasn't until I realised that I could combine my writing and my photography that something did indeed click and I saw how a book could be achieved.
b.) I have been working in the British Film 'Industry' for a very long time writing scripts that hardly ever get made or even read. This is incredibly frustrating (hence my lack of hair) and disheartening, so SPARKS was an attempt to get my work out to a wider audience.
C.) I was desperate for cash and thought this might be a quick money-spinner. I was wrong.
10. If one has to take the pole position, are you a street photographer who writes stories? Or are you a writer who takes street photographs?
a.) I am an ARTIST!! you ignorant hack.
b.) I'm very much a writer who also takes street photographs.
c.) I'm very much a street photographer who also writes.
11. For all our gear junkies out there, what gear are you using (camera, film roll etc) and why does this set up work for you?
a.) I use a 1959 4x5" Graflex Speed press camera with optional rangefinder and bulb flash. This was one of Stanley Kubrick's original cameras and since I'm obsessed with him ever since he told me to fuck off (see question 1 answer C.) I try to replicate his shooting style exactly.
b.) I mainly use a Contax T3 because it's small, reliable (although recently mine broke causing utter crisis / turmoil) and I can take it everywhere with me. I also shoot medium format on a Yashica MAT124G, mainly for street portraits or sometimes a borrowed Mamiya 7ii. I only really shoot Kodak Portra 400, hence my lack of money.
c.) I have every Leica camera ever made, all the limited editions and the newer digital incarnations. When I wake up in the morning the first thing I do is to spin a giant wheel of fortune type thing by my bed to decide which one to use.
12. Working on a project, building something, as stressful as it can be it’s also a magical journey. Now it’s over and the book is out there, what’s next for Stephen Leslie?
a.) I am trying to make a feature film about a talking, lost english dog that gets marooned in Kolkata India and has to team up with a Holy Cow and an Indian pariah street dog to travel thousands of miles across country to be reunited with his owner in Delhi.
b.) I've decided to totally re-write SPARKS with exactly the same phoptographs but a totally different story for each image. I will then repeat this process every year until my death.
c.) That's it. I'm done. I'm giving it all up to become a Llama farmer in Latvia, Leslie's Latvian Llamas, coming soon in 2019...
13. Finally, for photographers looking to create their first photobook, what’s the best advice you can give them?
a.) Don't. Seriously, there are more than enough books out there already. How am I meant to sell mine if other people keep making them?
b.) Be prepared to lose all your hair in frustration, it's a long and tricky process but ultimately very rewarding if you get it right. However I have no idea if I got it right yet, ask me again in ten years time.
c.) Be certain that you're idea is strong enough to sustain an book, show it around to friends and people whose work you admire and respect in advance. Listen to their advice. Make a dummy, there's no substitute for printing something out – even if it's very rough – just to see what the finished thing will look / feel like. Don't rush it. Better to make a good book over 5 years than an average one in two.
1. B & C 2. A & C 3. C 4. B 5. A. 6 B & C 7. A & C 8. C 9. A, B & C! 10. A11. B 12. A (honestly!) 13. A, B & C