Interview with Simon Bray

An interview with Manchester-based landscape and documentary photographer Simon Bray.

Can you tell us about where you are from and how you got into photography?

I began taking photographs when I first moved to Manchester. I’d grown up in a village in Hampshire, quite quiet and rural, so the shift to the city was quite profound. Walking around with my camera really helped me to assimilate, it helped me to express myself in a new way and adjust. From there, I began devising my own personal projects, reading, learning and now I work commercially, as well as creating my own artistic projects.

What professional work have you completed?

I recently published my first book, titled ‘The Edges Of These Isles’, which was a collaboration with Manchester based artist, Tom Musgrove. We visited seven landscapes across the UK and each created work. It took us a couple of years to complete, but we each learn’t a huge amount about our own practice and each others. We had lots of long journeys to discuss how we each approach creating work and think about how our processes vary, our emotional responses to a place and how that can influence what we make, for me with a camera, that needs to happen quickly on the day, where as Tom has the luxury (or burden) of being able to take away his appreciation of a place and spend weeks and months making work from it. I also work with a collective called Strand. We formed about 18 months ago and created work for the Brighton Photo Biennial last year. My project explored the idea of the individual, in particular looking at how our uniforms can define how we perceive ourselves and how others define us. I like creating documentary work that asks questions, and it was really interesting to see the audience’s variety of responses.

What is your favourite travel destination?

I visited Rajasthan, India in October, and it was such an overwhelming experience. It really challenged me, as well as teaching me an awful lot about myself and but it flips everything upside down! I came back with some photographs that I was pleased with, although I wouldn’t say it was my favourite destination, somewhere quiet and wild would be my preference, like the Lake District or the Scottish mountains.

What is your favourite location to shoot?

Anywhere that is vast and a bit misty!

What is favourite style of photography?

I love shooting landscapes, it’s the most personally gratifying subject matter, it puts everything into perspective for me, I know my place in the world. I do love telling people’s stories through my documentary work, but being slightly introverted, that requires a lot more effort on my part!

Which images would you say have been the most significant for you in your career so far?

I wouldn’t regard it as an image that is very good now, but as a student, I took a photograph that won an award, and I only won because my friends voted for me, but that really helped to affirm within me that I could take interesting pictures, which really pushed me on to explore more within my photography.

How would you say social media contributes to your work?

I enjoy engaging with an audience through Instagram and Twitter, in fact, without them, I’d find it hard to give my images a voice to reach an audience. I certainly don’t want to be relying on it and I’ll often be surprised by reactions to images that I think are ok that loads of other people love, but I try and guard myself from making images that I think will get a reaction. I use it more to share what I’m doing, it does force me to maintain momentum, which can be hard when you’re working on your own a lot of the time.

Where do you want to travel next?

I recently read a copy of Boat magazine all about the Faroe Islands and it’s jumped to the top of my places to visit!

What places would you like to photograph in the future?

Tom & I are exploring future locations for The Edges Of These Isles, there are still plenty of places within the UK that we would like to document, but after those, we’d love to think about Europe and beyond, anywhere where there’s mountains or water, I’ll consider it! >>>

What camera do you use?

I’m currently using a Fuji GW690 and a Fuji X100F. I like to keep my setups simple, I want to be on my feet and shooting instinctively, no big lenses, bags, tripods, filters, it means I can think about the images!

What is your favourite gadget or must have adventure accessory?

Well I always carry a penknife and a way to make coffee on the go, both are invaluable!

What kind of tools do you use for post-processing?

I use Lightroom, I’ve built myself a set of presets that can visit depending upon the type of shoot and they help me keep my tone fairly consistent. >>>

How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?

I actually spend way more of my time doing this than taking pictures. I read a lot of magazines and journals, photography based publications like BJP, Aperture, Foam, Splash&Grab and then also others like Avaunt, Mondial, Boat, Delayed Gratification, which all have beautiful photography. I visit galleries, go to artist talks, keep up with photography blogs and stuff like It’s Nice That, I also meet up with my collective once a month, so we get to talk all things photography for a few hours, which means I don't have to inflict it all on my wife!

Among your works, which one is your favourite?

I think it varies depending upon my mood, but I prefer the darker more pensive images that I take. I think that reflects my character really, not that I’m moody (although we all have our moments), but maybe the more understated and considered approach feels quite natural.

Whose work has influenced you most?

It’s very difficult to name one person, I think I soak up an awful lot of imagery from a variety of places, so it all mixes around in my mind to influence how I shoot. I think the simplicity and use of negative space from the guys who shoot for Cereal magazine was a big influence when it launched a few years ago. I think it gave me permission to not fill my frame and create imagery that reflected my mood or feeling at the time.

What advice would you give to another landscape photographer?

Get out and keep shooting! Find places and ways to shoot that you feel comfortable with, if you’re having to force it and the images aren’t coming, try somewhere or something else. You don’t have to be good at everything, find your niche, practice it, get great at it and give yourself lots of reasons to get out and take photographs, whether that’s a day trip somewhere or a self initiated project that takes a few years to complete, give yourself an objective, make it happen….and find someone to hold you accountable to making it happen!