Meet Adrian Callan, photographer and freelance TV cameraman. Adrian is based in Bangkok, Thailand, a city bustling with life, with people going about their daily routines. These little life moments are exactly what Adrian sets out to capture and he does it well. Adrian agreed to tell us about his approach to his subjects, the challenges he faces and the moment he knew he was in love with photography.
LPO: Tell us a bit about your background.
AC: I’m 38 and was born in the UK, but have lived all over the world. Home is where my hat is, as they say. I’ve been in Bangkok for seven years now.
LPO: Is photography your main career or a hobby?
AC: I got introduced to photography at age 16, when my DT teacher at school bought me 15m of Ilford HP5 film and a bulk loader. I’ve always dreamed of being a fashion photographer, but that never happened. And I would have loved photography to have been my career, but I ended up doing TV camera work instead. I trained in television production after university, and wound up getting into TV news. Spent a short time in local TV in Bristol before working for Sky News. I now freelance in Bangkok for Al Jazeera, and CCTV, amongst others.
LPO: Which aspects of your photos make them stand out as yours, elements that have developed over time to become your creative “eye”?
AC: A few years ago, I worked alongside a photographer named Abbie Trayler-Smith doing a piece for Oxfam in Cambodia. Seeing how I missed taking stills, she convinced, or rather inspired, me to pick up a stills camera again, and told me I should develop my style – a certain something that would make my photographs readily identifiable. I have always remembered that, and have tried to do just that. Particularly, with the pictures I take in the streets I aim for a gritty natural realism, nothing posed. I’m looking for the personality of the subject rather than just the aesthetics.
LPO: The people of Bankok seem to be a major influence for you. How do you approach someone for a photograph? Do you always ask?
AC: As part of my aim is to take very natural candid shots of life on the streets of Bangkok, I never ask people if I can take their picture. Part of me says “I’m in public, so why should I have to?”….but the real reason is, that as soon as someone becomes aware that they are being photographed, they change. Their emotion changes, their expression, posture, everything will alter, and so the naturalness, or the realness of the image is lost. In Thailand, a smile will usually placate any sort of surprise or sense of discomfort when your subject realizes they are being, or have been, photographed.
LPO: Tell us a story about one of the people you have photographed that made you want to take their picture.
AC: I tend to photograph the neighborhood where I live. Which is, for want of a better description, a red light district. The little bar near to my apartment is full of working girls. Many of them feature in my shots. They know me and are used to me being around with the camera, so don’t feel threatened. Recently, a new girl arrived from my wife’s village. Young, and although not so innocent, still new to the scene none-the-less. I began to take pictures of her, with a view to seeing how she changes as she becomes immersed into her new world. It has only been a month, and already I can see changes in her. She has put on weight, due to nightly drinking, looks slightly older, due to being out all night and sleeping all day. Those are the obvious changes, but the changes I am looking for are the ones in her eyes. The nervous eyes she had when she first arrived are becoming more confident for sure, but I fear they will continue to change. Many girls who have worked in the bar scene for years have a very cynical, insincere and mercenary attitude to their life and you can see it in their eyes. Here is one of her I took recently.
LPO: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome to get a great shot?
AC: My biggest short coming is patience when I’m shooting. I like to shoot and move on, whereas I should be staying to study the scene more and get to know the light and the subject better. But I’m always in a hurry to move on to the next thing. A good friend who is a well known Reuters photographer says he can see this in my pictures. So the hardest challenge for me is often just waiting for the shot to happen.
LPO: How do you feel about post-processing? Which programs do you use, if any?
AC: I use Lightroom 3. It’s great for managing my pictures and processing the RAW files. I don’t do much in Photoshop; most things I do in LR3 because it is quick. Usually only contrast enhancement or B&W treatment. Again, it is probably a patience thing. I don’t have the patience to sit on a single image in Photoshop, doing masks and layers, etc…only very occasionally.
LPO: Do you remember a certain moment when you fell in love with photography?
AC: I do remember when i fell in love with photography. My parents bought me a headline photography book during the 1980s – images that defined history. I must have looked at it a thousand times……
LPO:What do you hope to communicate or accomplish through your work?
AC: With the work i am doing now in my neighborhood, I hope to communicate and share the atmosphere of this bizarre area in Bangkok. They’re not just traveler’s snapshots, but images that really show the life of the people here. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Photos that give you a sense of being there, or taking you back, if you had been in person before.
LPO: Which shot are you most proud of at the moment and why?
AC: Probably this one above. There are so many emotions in the shot. It asks questions about their story: Where are they going?, What just happened? Why the faces? Why is she with him? etc.
For more of Adrian’s work, have a look at his website: www.adriancallan.com
For more interviews with photographers, have a look at the archives.