Louis Brown is a photographer, musician and zine-maker working from Glasgow.
How did you get into photography?
I suppose it all started through taking pictures and shooting the odd bit of video at skateparks. I never got any good at riding bikes so being behind the camera suited me a whole lot better. It grew from there – BMX dropped off my radar, but the camera stayed with me.
When you first get into it and get yourself a nice camera it’s a novelty, you end up taking thousands of pictures of nothing. It’s like a habit, pressing the shutter. I probably spent a year doing that, finding wee jobs, mostly unpaid, just for the chance to use the gear.
It was getting taught all the darkroom stuff that really shifted the way I thought about photography. It wasn’t just instant gratification anymore, it was something that had to be worked at.
How did you learn about the darkroom aspect?
Through my school. They’d bring in the odd person to offer some evening classes, and he’d teach some background to photography as an art, give you some names to research. It opened my eyes to the more worthwhile photography that was out there.
You often shoot candid photos of people in the street – does anyone ever mind? What’s their reaction?
I think out of everyone, I’ve only had two or three bad reactions. A big Māori in New Zealand accused me of ‘coming at him’ with my camera and tried to hit me. Luckily most of these things can be explained away.
I do think it’s more of a thing now though, being more protective of how you’re portrayed. The camera is looked at as a bit of a dangerous weapon. Anti-terrorist laws blocking off certain areas and all that rubbish.
At the same time there’s a proliferation of photos on social media – everyone who has an iPhone and an Instagram account is a photographer now. What do you think of that progression? Does it dilute the art or open it up to more people?
I think it’s only natural, and quite positive. Most of it’s genuine stuff, a running flipbook of people’s lives, and the higher the quality the better. I don’t think it’s making it much more difficult to find that distinction between someone who’s taking great pictures of their day-to-day and someone who’s making a conscious effort to create something, a body of work.
It’s all down to the intent at the end of the day. Photography is all about editing, what you choose, what you throw away. There are so many accidental masterpieces that it can’t be any other way.
Who are your favourite photographers? What do you admire about their work?
Gary Winogrand was always my go-to guy when it came to shooting B&W street photos, he would capture a whole scene, and really say a lot with his pictures without being too schmaltzy or in your face. His photos weren’t about shock factor or tricks, just brilliantly composed images with meaning.
Once I started looking at colour as an option I totally got caught up in William Eggleston, he’s right at the top of the list for me. I don’t know if I can even explain why I like him so much. It’s the beauty out of nothing. He’s the photographers’ photographer, and I suppose that’s out of some hope and drive that stems from the fact that he’s making such amazing pictures from the simplest of subjects.
Nan Goldin, Cristobal O’Hara, Alec Soth, Alex Webb… I could go on for days.
What about locations? Any favourite spots to shoot?
India, naturally, Mumbai specifically. Amazing colours and so much going on. Melbourne was great, again, it’s got a lot going on and it’s such a creative city, great backdrops and locations, plenty of pedestrian areas as well. Perpignan too, thats got a lot of diversity in such a small area, artists out in the street working, big but good flea markets. The arab quarter, great light and so few cars. It’s pretty perfect.
Are there any differences in shooting at home and abroad?
I do love taking pictures here but it just can’t compete with finding new places. New things and new places are always going to get more interesting pictures, out of me at least. Shooting with a purpose is such a great way to explore a new place so it goes hand in hand. One drives the other.
Do you have a favourite photo out of all the work you’ve done?
My weird obsession is this picture of a bathroom floor [above]. It was taken at like 3 in the morning in a Sydney hostel bathroom. I shot it with a wee point and shoot loaded with super cheap 200 film, so the colours are super saturated. It’s all a bit off and that’s why I like it I guess, the weird reflection of light onto the tiles, the falloff of light in the back of the mirror.
It’s both what I wanted but not at all what I expected when I took the photo.
We saw you at the Glasgow zine fest last week. How did you get involved?
I think my flatmate found out about it through his course at Glasgow School of Art. I’ve always liked that whole movement so did a couple of books for it and piggybacked on his table/application.
You’ve been a couple of times now – what have you learned?
That funny sells and that there’s quite a lot of good talent out there, and it seems to be growing more serious and professional. It’s certainly no way to make a living though. I use it as a push to get something physical out there.
Have you been working on any projects lately?
I’m going to be putting another wee photo zine together over the next month or so, this time with more of a focus on a theme.
Music’s been taking over most of my time recently. I put out a few tracks on tape this zine fest and hopefully they’ll be appearing in a few other places. I’m just scratching the surface with that, a lot of time has gone into building and learning about modular synths and I still feel like I’m just at the beginning. What it can do amazes me on a daily basis.
Finally, do you have any advice for people who’re just starting out with photography?
Buy books over gear, however improbable that sounds. And take lots of pictures, and not just ones of yourself.
You can see more of Louis’s work at louis-brown.com.