Interview with Matthew Lambert

PR:      You’ve shown me some of your work and I’m interested that you have many images of people with dogs, animal and human ….

ML:     Those pictures have been taken over time.  When you’re taking the photographs you don’t realise that you’ll end up with sets of photos that build up.  I’ve not thought too much about dogs.  The situations they are in couldn’t be further from their natural habitats.  That’s intriguing. I suppose it’s a satirical approach, it’s funny.  Perhaps it reflects on the human and the extraordinary.

PR:     How did you get started with photography?

ML:     My Dad, Mum and my Grandma actively took photos of us growing up but to pinpoint when I got a camera – my friend Chris Brazel had an Olympus camera and I was intrigued. I suppose he got me into it when I was 16.  He taught me about aperture, shutter speed, how to freeze things in a photo… It was an Olympus OM10  – I still use it occasionally, put a couple of rolls through it a year.  The main camera I use at the moment is a FUJI GA 645.

PR:     How do you describe your work or what you do?

ML:     I describe myself as an active participant.  I wouldn’t say I work as a photographer and I’ve never described myself as an artist – it’s a hard   thing…Perhaps I’d describe what I do as documentary photography or street photography ..they are not staged.  You’re documenting the moment.  By having a camera on you at all times you’re documenting.  When I was 16 I was really into BMX so I’d always be documenting that and my friends around me.  I got into that.  It gave me a subject, something to shoot whilst making mistakes and learning.  When I was 19/20 I started working more with video and that became a job because I started getting asked to make videos.  I’d make videos of friends riding and as they got sponsored by different brands I did the videos – for free bike parts to getting paid.

PR:     How did it develop as work?

ML:     I was filming and editing a lot, my friend David Godfrey help me build a website called Nonstopvid. The site was originally to put videos I was currently handing out on DVD all in one place so my friends could watch them online. At the time I’d just quit an apprenticeship at the Mercedes garage on the Wirral and was working in Bargain Booze and Cheshire Oaks. Through the website I started to get contacted by magazines. I made videos for different bike brands and the magazines for a while. Later on I got a call from Will Smyth– he asked me to make a video for a Nike called ‘Partners in Crime’ – it was a bigger budget and I got to travel to Australia and around      France to film.  It opened my eyes to possibilities, to think maybe I could have a go at trying to do this as a living? It started to snowball.  Once you do stuff for bigger brands people start to become interested in you and trust you.  8 or 9 years ago I got my first job in London with Big Balls Films via twitter. I worked on jobs as a cameraman for them, from small jobs for schools, to bigger jobs getting to film with Lionel Messi for Adidas.

PR:     Do you have a good network and do you collaborate?

ML:     I have a good network with people from a variety of backgrounds.  A couple of my friends are now directing big commercials, one was from a Fine Art background at St Martins, the other came through filming bikes so it goes to show it doesn’t matter what your background is.  I come from a background of being a essentially a one-man band where I am the cameraman, director, producer and editor so collaborating is always enjoyable but mostly collaborating on projects means getting to work with talented people and helps push you and learn new things. Always learning.

PR:     How do your family see what you do?

ML:     They like it and have always been supportive.  I think early on they thought it was just a phase I was going through. When my Dad came down to London to stay with me I think that’s when he realised it was working.  Like a lot of people, he thought of work in a classic job kind of way rather than how it works in creative settings.  The creative world is a very different world.  He gets it now.

PR:     How did you get involved with the Open call at Open Eye Gallery?

ML:     I made my own zine – came to a Red Eye event at Open Eye Gallery, a talk to do with publishing work as I had questions about self-publishing.  I brought my zine.  I made 200 and sold them in 6 days.  I put 10 copies in the shop here and made contact with Sarah and Thomas.  That was over a year ago – and Thomas contacted me about the Open call.  I was making a video for UTS Foundation at the same time, focusing on Dave Bolton, one of their trainers who is battling cancer and was helping his Mum with the same battle. On a personal level what they’re doing I think it’s important.  My Nan died of lung cancer when I was 11. I’d heard about what they were doing but through speaking to people involved in the programme first-hand I could really see the difference they were making.

(ML showed PR the video on his phone)

PR:     You’re telling Dave’s story to convey the overall message.  How do you know about stories and telling stories?

ML:     Early on I tended to be focused more on creating than consuming. It was the hands on approach and making mistakes that taught me. Only as I got greatly interested in the process I started to learn about telling stories through watching films.  The more I got making videos the more interested I was in the practice of making physical and visual records. It also helps being involved in a sub-culture as this was where I gained confidence.  I liked being part of what was happening rather than an on-looker. I like to be a participant.  For example, long lens stuff is cheating.  You could pick off anything.  My commercial work is quite different to my photography.  In practice, they are different worlds. It’s why I find it difficult to describe myself.  How you describe what you do is very personal, it’s probably easier for others to describe yourself rather than put yourself in a particular box.

PR:     Will this be your first exhibition?

ML:     Yes.  I want to display 3 huge images that tell a story. I went to a Daido Moriyama and William Klein exhibition in 2012 and loved how the photographs looked on a grand scale, the details. There’s just so much more to see when the image is blown up and with film you’re enlarging grain rather than digital noise. A lot of people now don’t even see their own photographs printed as the phone has replaced the 6×4 print. That’s why I felt it was important to print so large.

PR:     Do you think digital photography damages the art?

ML:     No, a great picture is still a great picture regardless of what it’s taken on. Digital technology has just levelled the playing field for everyone that’s all. I shoot digital as well as film but for this I wanted to shoot it all on medium format I just love the look of it. The way film always looks like film you’re not trying to replicate it.  The aesthetics of         film.  But I prefer it but mostly because you can’t review your photographs as you shoot, you stay in the moment and are less likely to miss something.

PR:     Would it be too limiting to describe your work as being engaged with the human body, its strengths and vulnerabilities?

ML:     Not necessarily the human body but more accurately maybe engaged with humans, the human condition whether it be people or the things humans have created.

PR:     What are the limitations and the benefits of being a participant, and insider in the process of making images?  What does this mean for developing socially engaged practice?

ML:     Regarding photographing humans as a participant I feel you gain a truer representation of whatever you are photographing, the photographs have come from within that world rather than just observed from the outside.