THE EYE OF THE VAGABOND - Byron Hamzah, street photographer
Byron Hamzah started an instagram account to share his love of street photography. His portraits reflect the beauty and complexity of strangers he's met along the way from Malaysia to London.
How did you start your photography instagram account ?
I cannot answer this question without talking about how I got into photography first. I always wanted to own a house with a lovely English-style cottage garden. The dream came true when my husband and I bought a house in a quiet English village and we transformed our garden into a beautiful private haven. At the height of summer, it was indeed gorgeous and I felt I had to capture this and share it with people. I wanted the photos I took to be slightly more sophisticated and beyond the ability of a mobile phone. So I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D5500 which I used primarily to take photos of my garden at the height of its flowering season. Then, I started to bring my camera on my travels around the world and graduated to landscape and architectural photography. As some time passed, my skill in photography progressed and I read a lot of photography magazines and became aware of legendary photographers such as Martin Parr, Steve McCurry, Dorothea Lange, Bruce Davidson and Eve Arnold. Dorothea Lange and Bruce Davidson really spurred my interest into street and documentary photography. Thanks to them, I began to view the world around me rather differently. I soon realised that in street photography what fascinated and interested me most was portraiture of strangers.
After over a year I have accumulated hundreds of portraits mostly of strangers I met on the street. I wasn’t sure what to do with all of these but a friend of mine suggested I consider Instagram so I gave it a shot. Instagram allowed me to share my passion and through it I also came across other photographers like me. I was inspired by how talented they were and how I still had so much to learn.
Why do you focus on portraits ?
I started focusing on landscape and architecture photography, I found that it was an easier place to start. The development of my skills as a photographer saw me wanting to challenge more what I could achieve. The works of Lange and McCurry made me appreciate the beauty of the human face. The spontaneous emotion that I capture on a subject’s face can vary from coy awkwardness to bravado confidence and is more meaningful to me than the most majestic of landscsapes.
Contrary to what I mainly share on Instagram I do take portraits of people from various walks of life and gender groups. I have only been sharing my male portraiture as this is where I feel safest and most successful. I am planning to start an Instagram account to upload my other portrait works as I develop my art form.
Where are your favorite places in the world to shoot ?
I would have to say Penang (Malaysia) and London (UK) but I have the greatest affinity with London. I worked there for a while and at the end of the working day I would take the tube and go to random different parts of the city. I would just tap the shoulder of strangers who had a face I found interesting and ask if I could photograph them, somewhat surprisingly 8 out of 10 would say yes. London is a melting pot of various races and cultures and you would always meet interesting characters with even more interesting faces.
What is your favorite picture you've taken and why?
I have taken so many portraits and there are several that I personally adore above others. However, if I have to choose, it would be a portrait I took of a man in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Last year, the Royal Shakespeare Company had a sale of their old costumes that were used in their previous productions. My husband and a friend of ours are part of a popular amateur dramatic society, the Stamford Shakespeare Company, so they attended the sale to get some inspiration and purchase some costumes. I decided to tag along to do some street photography. We queued outside the warehouse (it was a very long queue that was almost half a kilometre), I noticed that a young man was already at the front of the line in a camping tent with his friend. He was clearly there since last night and wanted to make sure he was first-in-line. He must have been some sort of hipster or art student as he was all dressed-up in a harlequin costume mixed with vintage items and in colourful make-up. He was completely indifferent to the crowd that were clearly staring at him in his avant garde clothing and applying make-up to his face so openly. His confidence was fascinating, I couldn’t stop studying him. I thought “you cannot be this confident without being aloof” so I did not approach him initially. When the sale was finishing I was waiting outside the warehouse and I saw him again. He was filling his parent’s car with bags and bags of costumes (he must have bought the entire warehouse!) I summoned some courage, approached him and asked if I could photograph him. He said yes, thank goodness, he posed for my portraits by the street like a pro!
Any tips to take great portraits?
I mainly take street portrait of strangers, so you don’t have the luxury of being able to control your surroundings and lighting like you would in a studio, you have to think on your feet. The coarse light from the sun at the height of the day is often a photographer’s enemy, but you can always use it to your advantage. Certain poses and facial positions against the bright sunlight can cast a very intense and atmospheric effect on the face. I do try to take photos when it is overcast, or at the end of the day before when the light is not so strong or direct. It is most important to practice, practice, practice. My husband was and is my muse, I improved my skills by being his personal paparazzi, much to his chagrin. Lastly I would say get inspired by attending exhibitions, I learnt so much by seeing the works of others.