The following interview with Alec was published on Dazed Digital on August 4th 2011 as part of their RISE series.
When exploring the world there is a desire to experience everything on offer so that one can return home to their friends and peel off that acquired first-hand knowledge. A travellers demise can often be in his or hers failure to do this. Alec Dudson however, succeeds. With his unique style of presenting a visual documentary, the Manchester based photojournalist intrepidly captures the places he visits, drawing us into the imagery and allowing us to feel the genuine emotion as if we were there ourselves.
After launching the second instalment of his ‘Americans’ exhibition, we discover that Alec not only thrives to tell a story through pictures but also seeks to challenge himself by entering the realm of fashion and portrait photography. He declares that the notion of a staged photograph is something out of his comfort zone, but perhaps this reflects his ‘outsider’ approach, the way we are able to feel a sense of atmosphere regardless of how he shoots becomes a consistent feature in his work. We talk to him and go through the tales of his travels.
Dazed Digital: Can you explain how you first became involved in photography?
Alec Dudson: Well, I had been taking snaps for years on a crappy compact digital camera and I was inspired to pick up a film after travelling to Belgium, where one of my friends had bought hers. I really liked the return to shooting film, I guess it evoked some childhood memories as it had been years since I had had a roll developed. Weeks later I dragged that same friend into a second-hand camera shop in Manchester and we found an almost identical camera to hers for £70, from then on I was taking photographs for my own amusement but was spurned on by the good reactions I was getting from people.
DD: Essentially, with your work, you try to capture the raw genuine emotion for others as though they were there with you; Are you constantly searching for the ideal moment, or is it just being in the right place at the right time?
Alec Dudson: That’s a tough one as I find with ‘street photography’ that you can spend a day wandering somewhere, or waiting at the same place and nothing too captivating will occur whereas other times, there’s a myriad of characters and aesthetically pleasing shots all around you. It sometimes helps if you have an idea of what it is that you want to capture as it is easier to search for people/scenarios that fit the bill but I never want to leave the house having given myself too strict a brief as the most pleasing shots often come from the chance and the unexpected. I often do look back at photos and ponder what the chances were of being at that place at that moment, but I guess you make your own luck in that respect and the entire point of film photography (which I think is a little lost with shooting digital) is ‘capturing a moment’.
DD: For someone visiting one of your visual stories, where would it be and why?
Alec Dudson: If I had to pick one, I’d go for New Orleans. I guess because the place has such a distinctive and immersive culture, photographs of the city and the people are sources of heightened intrigue for many viewers. I found myself in awe of the City and its people, particularly when I had the opportunity to ‘Second Line’ on All Saints’ Day. The photographs taken from that couple of hours around the Tremé document a tradition endemic to that one American city, one that is the result of a kaleidoscopic range of historical influences and in that, is something quite special.
I guess that sense of the ‘exotic’ is only heightened by not knowing much about the city until a few months before visiting it, however to anyone who isn’t well versed in NOLA traditions, it is subject matter that demands attention. In my case, the opportunity to get thoroughly stuck in was of great benefit as it gives the opportunity to communicate the mood and the natureof what is going on, meaning that the photographs can really tell a story.
DD: What do you find most fascinating when documenting a place through pictures?
Alec Dudson: I guess that depends place by place, perhaps unintentionally, although inevitably I tend to photograph things that I find intriguing. Invariably this can mean anything from some striking architecture, to some crazy on a corner, to some scene of dilapidation to a shot that has a pleasing aesthetic. I often find myself documenting dry humour as I see it, whether that always resonates with people looking at the photographs, I don’t know but if someone else takes the same (or indeed a different) bit of amusement from the shot then that is an added bonus. My overall intention when documenting a place is to give subtle hints as its identity, again this is unavoidably tempered by my understandings and experiences but I far prefer to represent a place through its people or its graffiti rather than its landmarks.
DD: You’re currently showing the second instalment of your Robert Frank inspired collection in Manchester; did you make a concerted effort when travelling across America to shoot in this style or did you realise this after?
Alec Dudson: Well, in my only photography related segment of education, the tutor set me on to Frank’s ‘The Americans’ after likening the shots I took to Frank stylistically. I went out and bought a copy and was blown away. At the time I was pondering planning a trip of America but that piece of work was probably the thing that convinced me that it had to happen. I really love in ‘The Americans’ how the captions merely provide a brief, often one word description of the scene and then the name of the city. You then have a picture which oozes not only an incredible sense of that place but all manner of emotions captured quite beautifully in a single frame. ‘Trolley – New Orleans’ is a perfect example of this and is undoubtedly a big influence in the way I shoot. In terms of trying to shoot in Frank’s style, perhaps to a degree but it was more an influence in terms of capturing the identity of the place I was shooting, I returned from the trip with a significant body of work and at that stage decided that it could be presented in a Frank-inspired manner.
DD: What else are you working on?
Alec Dudson: My other project at the moment is a collaborative by the name of Kollektivnye of which I am a co-founder, something that has meant exploring other facets of photographic work in order to create and supplement content for the site. This is where the ‘faces’ work I have done started to cross over from the ‘street photography’ ethos, to a broader spectrum of work including fashion shoots such as ‘Olivia’ which look to retain elements of my previous work with regard to style, yet differ in that they are posed for which is something quite different for me as I don’t like to set up shots, I’m a big fan of capturing a moment not creating one. Another product of this is slightly more journalistic work such as coverage of the Plaça de Catalunya protests which essentially takes me back to the documentary-style work that I have produced before, merely with a slightly different influence.