Alan Schaller is a London-based photojournalist and street photographer. He specialises in black and white photography and is drawn to geometric scenes, light and shadow, and moments conveying the realities and diversities of human life. Alan has over120, 000 followers on Instagram, attracting over three million views a month. The relationship between photography and social media is a topic that Alan is particularly interested in, so we caught up with him and spoke about current trends in the photography industry.
How do you think street photography is shaping the whole photography industry?
I don't know if it is fair to say that it is shaping the whole industry but it is certainly making a big impact. Street photography is currently enjoying a surge in interest. Anybody is able to document their life and experiences through their smartphones, and more than ever are willing to share. I think telling stories through images is becoming increasingly important to people. As words are increasingly being replaced by photos and videos, people want to be entertained and informed by the medium. I think it is this shift in how we consume images that is contributing to the spike in interest in street photography. People are noticing the genre more, are more aware of what constitutes an interesting image, and then take the logical step of trying it for themselves. There is something inherently honest about street photography and I think there is an ever increasing demand for truth rather than unattainable, highly edited representations of life.
What's your opinion on the relationship between photography and social media?
Photographs, and the arts in general, are meant to be shared and enjoyed in my opinion. Whatever the genre, from photojournalism to still life, the point of it is to express your creativity and views with others. I find it very confusing to hear today’s photographers denigrating social media platforms like Instagram. It is a free way of getting your work in front of the world. What is not to like? It’s an invaluable tool for photographers and those who are aspiring to become recognised in today’s environment are kidding themselves that it isn't vital. Social media should never be the end game though. Photography delivers far greater impact in print and in book formats, but unless you are established already, or have some serious connections, the best way of getting your work in front of an audience is by using social media. I see my Instagram account as a means of people finding out about me, joining me on my journey as a photographer, and then once they are invested getting involved beyond social media if they so wish.
Does social media devalue photography?
I understand why some people think this, but to me a great photograph presented in a magazine, on a billboard, as a stamp, online, or as a print is always a great photograph. Artistic merit cannot be devalued. Photographs are as disposable as a viewer deems. I’ve been rocked by work I've seen on Instagram. I’ve discovered so many great photographers from it who I would never have discovered otherwise, and have actually met up with some of them which is always nice. For me it has greatly enriched my photographic experience. Some people feel that when a viewer consumes many photographs per day it renders each less valuable. If people come across your work online and gain appreciation for what you do, how is that devaluing anything? There is of course the argument that photographers are not paid as much these days for selling work to magazines for example due to the rise of the digital age. But if you look at other industries including music, times change, demand changes and so must photography. There are new opportunities available to photographers these days compared to the ones that existed forty years ago, and harnessing social media is your ticket to the party. The actual issue is the vast number of photographers willing to work for free, or who are coerced into accepting free jobs. That is the real enemy to photography!
How important is social media for your work?
Very much so. Almost all of the shoots, interviews and features I have done this year have come directly from Instagram, or through relationships that began online. I worked recently with a team who were based all over the globe. Social media has made my work as visible in New York or Tokyo as it is in my home city of London. It is a great way to connect with people and hear feedback about what you are working on. I am thrilled to be able to represent myself. I publicly release what I wish and do not have anyone peering over my shoulder telling me to do this or that, which has given me time to develop my own way of working.
Are people engaging more with photography today than they did 30, 40 years ago?
For sure. In 1980 around 20 million cameras were sold globally. In 2013 there were over 1.3 billion sold (including smart phones). That says it all really! More and more people are taking photos, learning how to edit, and sharing them. This can only be celebrated in my opinion. As a by-product people are starting to form opinions based on personal experience regarding photography and are developing an eye for spotting other work they appreciate.
Tell us a bit more about your future projects.
I am working on a book focusing on reimagined urban landscapes and how humans interact with them. It plays to my love of light, shadow and geometry. Some of the photos from that series are featured on this page. I have a few projects lined up for next year also which are exciting. They will all be abroad which is great as I love travelling with the camera as much as I can. Visiting new places and meeting new people keeps my work and imagination moving in the right direction.
Join us as we celebrate Alan Schaller’s work at the Leica Store City. The exhibition is open to the public (Mo – Fri only) from 11th January to 10th February 2018.
Alan will be holding an exclusive portfolio review on 31st January 2018. To book a 1-2-1 session, visit Eventbrite.co.uk.To find out more about the Leica M Monochrome, click here .