In focus Friday - Disabled people against cuts

14 April 2018

SIG: Documentary

This week Andrew Stewart APRS tells us a little about a current project covering an important set of social issues. Angus originally submitted this portrait for the February round of the Documentary Group's bi-monthly competition (link) and placed well in the competition so we wanted to share his work with a wider audience.

Hi, Angus. Can you give us a little background about the shot?

This shot is of members of the group Disabled People Against Cuts (link to DPAC's site) in Westminster Hall Committee Room, Houses of Parliament. This was taken as part of an ongoing project interviewing and photographing community leaders who are involved in taking action for rights, such as disabled people, Gypsies, black or gay, migrants - people who are often typically marginalised by large business or government - the project involved groups in both London and Salvador de Bahia and looks at the similarities in oppression and in the actions that are available to, or taken by, the groups. For this image, related the interview topic, 'Reclaim Our Spaces', we went to the Houses of Parliament to replicate the idea of a Dutch Guild portrait, showing this group of people having the power to control their own destiny.

What was your plan for the day?

As this was a group portrait in a restricted access area we had to be quite well organised, with a committee room being booked in advance and permission granted. We had agreed ahead of time the concept but not a fixed image.
The light wasn't great, and fading, and we had to rearrange the room to accommodate motorised wheelchairs. On the day I was probably more 'directive' than I would be usually, I would not normally set up a group shot, but work with the dynamics of the group and look for pattern and movement within that. 

What’s your routine just before heading out with your camera?

Check I haven enough batteries (1 + two spare), usually 2 lenses (1 + low light if inside or evening), and I check that I am dressed to not stand out.

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?

Light falling, contrast, patterns, people interacting. I usually have a fairly clear idea of the image in my head so sometimes just sit and wait. 

Where can we find more of your work?

I need to overhaul my website (link) but don't know where to start, I need help! 

What do you think photographers don’t do but should?

Create prints more, make zines, cards - show off their work. So much brilliant work is left on hard drives and never shared. Allow other people to enjoy it. 

what essential piece of advice would give your novice self?

Start younger, keep going, ignore people who tell you to do something else because 'you can't make a living at it' - do it for the joy and creativity and learning, do it for itself. 

Which camera has been your all time favourite and why?

Leica Typ240 - I carry this everywhere I go. It fits easily in my bag with a F.2 lens and takes amazing pictures. Because it's not showy, or large or have a massive lens I can use it in any setting and people ignore me - the most attention I get is to be asked why I have such and old camera and can I still get film for it. I had to save hard and borrowed a bit as I couldn't quite afford it, and I love it - I use it fully manual and sometimes I miss autofocus, but not enough to give it up. I chose it because I was struggling to get the size and quality of image from smaller cameras - it is just brilliant. If I lose it or break it (not sure that you can break a Leica, it's pretty robust), I'd get another - without question. 

What’s the best purchase you’ve made for less than £100?

1970s Polaroid LandCamera, bought for £28, years ago when you could still get polaroid film but it was out of fashion. Beautifully engineered, amazing pictures, and a form of photography that instantly engages the subject and photographer. I think shooing with the land camera was probably the most fun I have had. When Polaroid stopped making film I bulk bought stock and filled my dad's fridge with it, every time I went home I'd pick up another few boxes. I still use it today so it's outlived most other things I've ever bought. 

Thanks, Angus. Great portrait from a great project.

If you would like your work to feature in a future edition, please email us ( docweb@rps.org ).