Chris Shaw Talk at Barking & Dageham College

chris shaw 2My Year 12 Photography class were invited to A Conversation with Chris Shaw at local Barking And Dagenham Higher Ed College, a hidden gem for Photography students in my opinion. SHAW was the perfect photographer to talk to since his down to earth, working class roots made for a familiar voice.

One of the things Shaw said which really stands out in my mind and inspired me to seek out some of my own archived works -was that ‘time is the greatest editor’. He told us how he hated Art College in Falmouth and felt completely like a different species when he was there. He was choosing to do B & W due to financial constraints at a time when the trendy thing to do was Colour, bold bright in your face Martin Parr style documentary.

He would visit the Sandy Hill housing estate next to where his student digs were mainly because he was lonely and wanted to have a laugh and chat with people. He could identify with these people more than those in his Art College.


David Bennett and I asked a few of the pupil’s who came from our school, Barking Abbey, to write a few words to evaluate the experience, here’s what they had to say.

‘I felt privileged to be able to be in the presence of such a well-known successful photographer as Chris Shaw, it surprised me that he was so down to earth and open he was. I think Chris really showed that you don’t have to be from a rich background or have the best of the best facilities to get the best outcome all you have to persevere with what you have. I think one thing that surprised me was the picture of the guest in the hotel lying on the floor, I was surprised because I thought with a person in such a state the main concern was to aid the guest instead Shaw took photos. I found that particular image quite interesting because the way the guest was angled almost made me think he had been set up that way. In addition I also learned that sometimes to take the best photos you just have to try and capture the moment as most of his images were just captured instead of set up, I think that way you find the real beauty in your surroundings. However, there was one picture that did disturb me and that was the pregnant girl and the caption was “jumped, humped and made to undress in the wilderness” I think it’s more so the caption that gets to me as it makes me question whether that actually happened and that is how she conceived or whether that was just someone’s interpretation of events. To add to this, I think the naked Chinese woman did shock me a little but I’m amazed at how comfortable she was to undress and have those photos taken of her but I was a fan because I feel it showed a lot of self-confidence and power which I think is important for women.I think one remaining question I have though is, did his work have a running theme through it or did he just capture what was in the moment.

Thanks again miss


What struck me was that he wasn’t a famous, rich photographer with many expensive cameras and agents and studios. He was a normal working class man with a cheap disposable camera and his work is really inspiring. In the article I read that the image of a girl’s lace up boots with a white substance on them was really an accident as he said that he left it in the developer too long and it made it look like a prostitute with cocaine spilled on her shoe. That image stands out to me the most because it has such a deep meaning and it made it seem like he had a real focus and really passionate about this issue when it was just a coincidence and a bit of luck that it turned out the way it did. I like the way most of his early work is printed in black and white. The images are quite modern with people wearing modern clothes yet that black and white colour makes it seem quite old. I also think that the black and white colour makes the image have more depth and meaning to it – it portrays a very serious message even though the images are supposed to be funny – some of the models are smiling in the photos or drunk and falling over, it still has quite a serious vibe to it. He wasn’t a famous photographer’s assistant or anything, he just went about his dream and with a bit of luck, he was quite successful which inspires me as a photographer. Showing me that I don’t need a lot of money and agents and assistants to be successful and have inspiring work. I just need a camera (DSLR or disposable) and an important subject to shoot. Also, the fact that he was so nice and down-to-earth just shows that even though he got famous from it and gained some money and moved away to a beautiful country, the fame hasn’t gone to his head. He made the time to sit down with a local school and answer all our questions about how to be a well-known successful and inspiring photographer, just like him.


What I’ve gained from my experience is that photography is not limited to anything. When you start to think about taking a picture, it isn’t about just taking the picture but it’s about what you take a picture with and how, some potential images could look good in colour and some in black and white some potential images would look good if you take it with a digital camera and some would look good if the image was taken with a film camera. It’s these kind of things that can make the difference between a good image and a not so good image, and it was Chris Shaw who had taught me that when he was talking about how the judges didn’t approve of the images he took because he took the images with a digital camera in colour. However saying that it is also important to stick true to who I am when it comes to taking images and that I shouldn’t just take images just because it is popular but I should take them because I believe that it would be a good image, the reason why Chris Shaw had chosen to take the images like the way he did in the contest was because he believed that the images would look best like that. He didn’t take the images to the standard of the judges he took the image to the standards of himself and it is because of that, that I can say that this experience with Chris Shaw talking to us via Skype has inspired me.


Yo, Miss,

Surprisingly, it proved to be beneficial and made me think about ways to show my originality in my work and actually finding things to photograph that interest me. Before the call I had assumed documentary photography was just repetitive and boring because everything has been documented but in reality, everyone, everywhere at anytime is different…if that makes sense. Taking one person to the same place at the same time everyday for three days in a different pose would still produce different images, energies and feelings according to so many different things that I hadn’t previously taken into account. When he talked about keeping a camera in his pocket and just springing it out to take a picture of something that caught his eye made me think back to the simplicity of photography and how all you need is yourself and a camera and the openness to the world around to notice things and capture things that maybe you would normally pass as something “everyone takes a picture of”. I can definitely say I am inspired but less by his work and more by what he said and his attitude and patience when it came to getting good pictures. I always found myself stuck in the rut of thinking that I have got to be so different to everyone else to be interesting but that requires obscene amounts of time and thought and maybe money that I don’t necessarily have and that would put me off because I would think I can’t be original otherwise, when in fact I can. All I need is perspective to look at things a different way and not be afraid of any bad pictures I take because they may well be of use one day in the future and may mean something to someone else…

Thank you,


From yesterday I gathered a lot of things from Chris Shaw. It allowed me to understand the liberty of photography. A lot of Shaw’s images were not planned or organized but instead captured in its natural nature. For example, one image was of a man lying down in a cubicle toilet. He explained that the man was a hotel guest that had fallen very drunk where Shaw was called to help him out. Photography allows you to capture the moments in your life that don’t make sense or are exciting where it doesn’t necessary have to be a work of art featuring a beautiful subject. I enjoyed how natural and raw the images were where they were actual moments that happened captured at the right time. He was an artist that loved to capture what was already there as well as what he could compose in a frame. I enjoyed his many background stories of each of his projects such as the Tokyo in HK project where he had just met a woman in which they said they would take photographs of each other. The spontaneity of this just for the sake of art, I found quite interesting and inspiring.


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