The Photographic Journal

Kevin Meredith

Interview 016 • Sep 5th 2013

Foreword

One of Flickr’s early luminaries, Kevin’s work has always been an engaging window into both his professional and personal life, his photos being stunning documents of his work as a teacher, a father, an open sea swimmer. It’s a continual inspiration, seeing a man perfectly blend business and pleasure, making his life his work while preserving his passion for both.

Interview

How’d you get started in all this?

I never set out to be a photographer. I went to college — which is something to do in England at sixteen to eighteen, between school and University. I did an art course because I wasn’t very academic.

When I signed up we were given a list of things to get; from paper to pants, and on the list was an SLR. I didn’t know what an SLR was. At sixteen I’d never owned a camera. It was 1994.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

When we had our introduction to photography I just got it, I was one of only a few people that got a well-exposed first roll of film from their manual SLRs. From there I started taking photos in clubs and raves and within a year was getting regularly published in a magazine that covered the rave scene calledEternity Mag.

It was great, I was eighteen and getting paid to party.

And this was all in Brighton?

No, that was in Kent, Dover, and Ashford. After that college course I went to University to do Graphic Design and Advertising. I didn’t like the advertising part, but really got into the web and designing a site. Photography at this point was something personal.

Things really changed when I discovered a little camera called the Lomo LC-A in ‘98. Before that there were no affordable compact cameras that were decent to my mind, it really changed the way I saw the world.

What was it that drew you to the Lomo? I think you’re one of the few people I know that’s forged such a deep bond with a particular camera.

I use lots of different cameras now — but yes, for a long time that was true. At the time it was a technology thing. In ‘98 it was still five years before digital compacts were gonna be affordable, and even then the images they produced were really flat and boring compared to film.

I guess it was also the social element of the camera. Back then you couldn’t simply buy a Lomo online. You had to go to the London Lomo Embassy, which was actually Fabian Monheim’s design studio. An eccentric chain-smoking German, he’d tell you how to use your camera and then take your personal details so that he could invite you to every gallery opening, and to crazy parties they had. It was an awesome offline social network before online social networks — a really cool social scene with a hardcore set of people that used the camera. Plus, you can use the LCA day and night, and if cross-processed your images really stood out from the crowd… I think that’s why I got a lot notoriety in the early days of Flickr.

That, and you took damn good pictures.

And that. Thanks for saying so.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

But you never really found it difficult to use other cameras, yeah? I know for me, switching from the Polaroid to other cameras was a serious adjustment.

No. Give me a manual SLR and I am away. I might have a problem with bellows and twin lens reflex cameras, as they always cause me trouble looking down — left is right down is up or whatever. It’s really confusing!

By the way, all the stuff about Lomo was before they had proper stores. The people that sold the cameras were mostly doing it for the love.

Oh yeah, I remember. Back then it was hellish trying to find camera stuff.

eBay is awesome. If you’re patient, you can get awesome things. I just got four Olympus MJU II’s for my classes for between £25 — £35. Only need another two and six weeks to get ‘em.

What led you to expand from just shooting to teaching?

After I wrote my first book, Adam [Bronkhurst] and Kevin [Mason] of garage studios [now Create Studios — ed.] asked me if I wanted to teach a class. Before then I had only taught simple web development at a few universities… so I’d taught before, just not photography.

I really enjoyed it. I’ve now been doing it since 2009. I teach them independently. On the first day of my course everyone is lent a Lomo LC-A and two rolls of film — though, with the next course that’s gonna change to an LC-A and Olympus MJU II so that they can get a taste of two different types of cameras.

I like getting people that are used to high-end DSLRs. They love looking at the pictures. On the second day some people are really surprised. I find simple point and shoot cameras are a great tool to teach photography, some people get overwhelmed by all the functions on a modern DSLR.

And where’d you get the idea to have folks in your class actually use film cameras? I’ve always thought that was a wicked idea.

It just seemed obvious. I wanted to get people to see how I shot. So if every one uses the cameras I do, I can really control the situation. Then it’s fairer because the thirty year-old gear-head is using the same camera as the nineteen year-old student. At least the cameras I use don’t break the bank if I want to buy six of them.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

With your classes, do you find you’re teaching the more technical aspects, or are you trying to get across an artistic sensibility?

I would say half and half, but because the classes are small I can spend a good amount of one-on-one time with each of them. It’s nice as I usually get people with mixed abilities. It’s about simplifying photography so that people only have to focus before they take a photo — no other decisions to make. You may notice I never take portrait orientation photos. If I always shoot in Landscape, that’s one less decision I have to make before taking photo.

One thing I do cover for an hour during the course is organising a photo library. It’s a bit dull, but it’s essential to get organised and move away from a jumble of negatives in shoe boxes and random computer folders.

Tell me about it. If only I’d had you around when I’d first started! At this point, do you prefer teaching to actually shooting, or are you in love with both? And what is it about teaching you really dig?

I love spending the weekend inspiring others — and being inspired by them. It also gets me shooting, because I shoot the two rolls of film along with everyone else. It forces me to go out and shoot because with fatherhood, I don’t get the time to shoot like I used to. It’s good for the students because they can see that not every photo I take is great. It’s the photos you decide to show out of the ones you’ve shot.

That editing is also crucial.

And boring sometimes. That’s what I love about film to digital — there’s less editing. When I shoot digital, I might shoot the same thing five times and then I have to digitally process it. Most of the time if I take a good picture on film all I have to do is remove dust and scratches, and I’m ready to go.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

You’ve done a great job of maintaining a clear style no matter what camera you use though. When you’re shooting, what is it you’re looking for? Because it feels like that shows through no matter the camera you’ve got in your hand.

Thanks for saying so, though I don’t know if I see it. People say my daughter looks like me, but I can’t see it — but then I see my friends in their kids…

To answer your question, I’m looking for anything that interests me or that will make an interesting picture. I find it hard to put a finger on what it is in a shot. I really like shooting people unposed, like when they’re doing something. I’m really proud of recent set I shot in my local butchers or myBrighton Swimming Club images.

A lot of my lomo stuff is quite random. Doing street style for Brighton Source Magazine gives me great focus too.

Yeah, in my head you and the swimming club shots will always be intrinsically linked.

I really want to get a under water housing for my 5D, but don’t want to risk my 5D mk3 in the water. Plus the case for mk3 would be silly money.

But it’d be so awesome!

I think a lot of the time my best work comes from things that’re close to my heart. I’ve been going to that swimming club for ten years. I’d been going to that butcher for five years before I took that set. That said, all the street style stuff is of strangers.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

But the street style work gives you a chance to interact with your city in a different way.

Definitely. Personally my fashion is very simple. T-shirt, baseball cap, summer shorts with Birkenstocks, winter jeans and Nike high tops. But I really love and respect people who pull off unique and bespoke fashion, where they’ve really thought about what they’re wearing and hunted around for every little bit of the outfit.

I see the same people over-and-over, and with some every time I see them they look completely different. Some of the people I shoot are as young as fourteen, and the outfit they’ve put together is OFF THE SCALE. I’ve so much respect for the fashion.

The street style is great because I get to interact with lots of people I wouldn’t normally talk to. I’m looking forward to gay pride this weekend, there’ll be some interesting fashion on show.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

How’d you get involved with the swim club?

When I moved to Brighton in 2003 I read a book called The Cheeky Guide to Brighton, and there was a little jokey-thing in there about the club. I’ve always loved open-water swimming so I signed up straight away. When I first went I was swimming with one World War II vet and another guy who had built spitfires — interesting people, but it was very slow paced. Then I found out there was a larger group that swam at 7:30 and the rest is history.

With the swim club, Flickr, and teaching do you find you’re drawn to social circles? Coincidence or more intentional?

Bit of both. I’m very social, I love meeting new people I share common interests with. I don’t get people that don’t have passions, like people that are content with a nine-to-five and then just watch TV or play computer games. I like people who are passionate about their shit.

So would you say your favorite part of photography’s the social aspect?

I suppose so, the social aspect of sharing the image. Before Flickr I would curate photo albums of different things. I would have one of the swimming club, and every so often I would take it down to the club so that people could see what I did.

Flickr was a natural progression of that. Now I have little portfolio on my phone — but thinking about it, I might go back to the carrying a little physical photo album, just to be different! I have Moo business cards. Every image is different, and I find that if you give someone a pile of cards and say“pick one” that can be a conversation starter.

Ah, that’s clever.

I love shooting and talking about photography, which is social. Editing on the other hand I find quite a chore, and solitary! Maybe I should start a editing photo club so we can all do it together.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

That’d actually be amazing. I feel like that’s an aspect that, because it’s so solitary, doesn’t get much attention. With Flickr kind of passé with most folks, is there somewhere else you congregate online for that kind of social interaction w/other photographers? I remember there used to be groups where you could show photos, get a nice variety of opinions, but nowadays that’s all kind of dead.

Flickr groups are definitely dead. The Brighton Flickr group used to be so active, but all the people I know from there interact on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram now. For a lot of people — me included — Flickr was the first online social network they had used. It really annoys me that if I tag@louobedlam in a Flickr comment, whether that be on my photo or someone else’s, you don’t get notified. It’s easy to keep up with activity on your own Flickr photos, but elsewhere on the site it’s really hard to keep up, unlike Instagram.

I love Tumblr. I love the re-blogging aspect. Ever since I got a camera — the Samsung NX300 — that allows me to instantly send photos to my phone I’m really enjoying Instagram. Some people might see that as cheating but as I’m posting in the moment I don’t see it as “cheatstagram”.

The thing that used to really bug me is I usually take a photo for Instagram, then take it again on a proper camera — and for the times I don’t I regret not having it for real. iPhone pics will never be as good as a 35mm shot or proper digital camera shot.

I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, although I do have an artist page. As for google+ I have almost one million followers as I was on a Recommend Photo User list. But I reckon most of those are bots or people that signed up and never used the service again. It does have nice features but it doesn’t have the people on it. And Twitter, I fucking love Twitter. We all know how that works.

Yeah, I feel like there’s a huge gap in how we interact there. All the people I met on Flickr, nowhere else have I had that kind of access/interaction with such a broad range of photographers, we can share photos on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, but really getting a bunch of folks together to have a conversation, none of those really do the job.

Early Flickr was amazing.

It sure was, man.

We’ve still got those connections, baby. Truth be be told, because of my dyslexia I don’t truly feel a connection with someone online until I’ve met them in the real world. I only have to meet them once, it’s just that I like to imagine people talking. I’ve met you, so I know what you look like and how you sound, so at this point I find it easier interacting online with you.

Also, because of fatherhood I don’t have the time for social media that I used to. Now I’m posting my shit in a limited time. I don’t have the time to interact with others like I used to. That said, there are real world photo events I go to where I regularly listen to other photographers talk about their work such asMiniclick in Brighton and Photo-Forum in London.

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

What is it you’d like people to take away from your work?

Interesting question. I hope they like it and they enjoy it. It would be nice if it inspired people. My work’s not really conceptual, and there’re no hidden meanings. It is what it is. I’m just recording what happens around me as I move though life. It’s not really a clever answer but that’s my photos, baby.

Would you like to just keep on doing what you’ve been doing? Teaching/shooting/publishing? Do you have anything you’re working on?

I haven’t published anything for a while. Up until now my books have beenhow-to books. I would love to publish a book of my Brighton street-style work, then one of my swimming club ones. I also want to do a project on people at work, like the butchers stuff.

I want to shoot some of my street-style in London. Recently I was filmed for a documentary in London, so I shot some of street style in east London. The fashion is next-level up there so I’m gonna try and shoot there once a month, maybe before Photo-Forum. It’s no good for Brighton Source mag, but I would like to do it for myself. I would like to teach more courses further afield. Shoot more time-lapses.

I’ve not written a book in a while, but I’m really into my blog at the moment. Lots of drafts and not much time to write them as little Matilda keeps me busy. Basically more of the same but bigger/stronger/faster. It’s all a question of time!

“They say time is the fire in which we burn.”
Please get the reference.

Star Trek Generations!

Good man.

[Takes a bow]

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal

Interview 016: Kevin Merideth for The Photographic Journal