Having a word with… Stuart Pilkington


Stuart Pilkington is an art photographer and curator based in the United Kingdom and a member of Documenting Britain.

Where did you study photography?

I’m one of those people who has learnt photography outside of a formal education.  I was clueless as to what I wanted to be when I was a youngster and so I ended up in stifling office jobs and feeling on a certain road to nowhere. So when I bought a 35mm SLR at the age of 27 I set about slowly teaching myself photography.  I attended a few night classes but my main education has come from reading books about image making, watching YouTube videos by people like Soth and Hido and asking questions of photographers whose work I love.

What inspires you to create your work?

I think it’s important to be on a path to somewhere in life and it doesn’t matter what that path is.  So I now finally, (it took me a long while to get going), do two things, I work on a long term photography project once a week and I try and go out with my digital camera every day to flex my muscles and make images for Instagram. I want to get better and better at photography and the only way to do that is go out regularly and shoot, shoot, shoot. It’s not only about play and enjoyment, it’s also about problem solving, asking yourself ‘why didn’t that work?’ or even the opposite question ‘why was that successful?’. It’s a never ending conveyor belt of learning but it’s not an experience similar to Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill it just means that you can keep at it well into your dotage and keep a twinkle in your eye.

How do you feel about the photography scene in the UK today?

I think it’s burgeoning like most other countries in the world.  Apparently there has been an upswing in people doing photography courses in colleges and universities. Through social media I have connections with a few pockets like Falmouth and Brighton but I know there’s stacks out there. And the quality of work by these students is phenomenal. As for emerging and emerged photographers there is a plethora of excellence out there too. Obviously London is where many gravitate to but there’s a wonderful bunch up in Scotland and also Wales. And then there are these wonderful event organisers like Miniclick, Photo Forum and Photographers Dining Club who put on talks and events. Document Scotland, Documenting Britain and A Fine Beginning are great examples of collectives too.  However, I suspect I have only scratched the surface – there’s a whole undercurrent that I’m not aware of.

What format do you like to shoot in and why?

I would love to shoot in large format, however, it’s too prohibitive for me cost wise so I use my medium format 6×6 camera instead. I bought my Wista and Hasselblad after emailing Erika Larsen and Kate Hutchinson and asking them what cameras they used. I just love film, the alchemy of light on film is still a marvel to me, even though I haven’t mastered it yet. I do go out with my digital SLR to do the Instagram work but I think I will always shoot in film with future long term projects. I like the challenge of the square format, it’s a whole new set of problems to solve when considering how to compose etc. Eventually, I would love to understand how photographers like Clare Hewitt and Laura Hynd play with a Vermeer light in their square format portraits. I have a long way to go before I’m a fraction of the way there.

What is keeping you busy photographically these days?

I’m a lot busier these days making my own images but when I’m not doing that I’m curating my group project entitled The Swap. That should end two years after it started in August this year. I’m also busy trying to formulate a book of The Swap and speaking with printers and the like. Other than that I am administering the first Pilkington Prize which is a landscape photography competition this year and I’m setting up a photography agency with sixteen photographers on board. So it’s a combination of snapping the shutter, thinking time, curating and admin.

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Could you tell us about the photos you have shared with us?

I stopped the woman by the yellow door only to discover that she couldn’t speak English but we navigated through that and the image was taken. It was one of those moments where I saw her walking towards the yellow door and I thought “hmmm that green in her dress would go well”. I could have let the moment go but instead I grabbed it and was pleased to see afterwards that the door had a shadow on the floor in the form of a different shade of pavement.

The man with the hoodie by the green door was my attempt to slightly represent the fashions of today. There are a number of hipsters and hoodies in my images. I like the fact that the sunshine gave a different light quality to this one and he looks like he’s rising from the ground.

The four girls by the plinths were in Ellesmere Port. I hadn’t a clue what they were doing when I looked into the ground glass and when I pressed the shutter. It’s only when I got the image back from the lab that I was chuffed with their poses. The people in the images are probably more responsible for a successful image that I am – they often like to play about.


Stuart’s work is currently on show as part of Fèis presents Documenting Britain at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Scotland from 25th April to 23rd May.


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