Sam Gregg: Blighty

Tell us a little bit about yourself, how long have you been doing photography?
I started taking photographs when I was 23, so 5 years ago now.

Which artist or photographer inspires you?
I take inspiration from everywhere. A lot of my inspiration comes from daily life, from the streets, but of course there are many photographers who inspire me. Off the top of my head… Josef Koudelka, Paul D’Amato, Jack Davison… the list is endless.

How did you get the idea to create the project ‘Blighty’, what is it about?
There’s no doubt that Brexit had a part to play in the commencement of my project. National identity became a constant and unavoidable topic of conversation amongst media outlets. From a personal point of view, however, I’d just returned from several years living abroad and I myself also felt a sense of detachment from my homeland. A combination of these two factors meant that I decided to tackle this uneasy sensation in the only way I knew how, with a camera strapped around my neck.
I soon began to realize that I hadn’t forgotten what it meant to be English, but in fact I’d never known. ‘Blighty’ may be a journey of self-exploration, but it covers a topic that is equally relevant for the other 56 million residents who may also be slightly unsure as to what it really means to be English in 2019.

Would you describe your photography as instinctual or planned?
Very much instinctual. Although I usually know what and who I’m trying to photograph I try to keep planning to a minimum and let my senses guide me. I think it makes for a more or less rigid, more natural series of images. Also with documentary photography there’s only so much you can plan for. Mostly it comes down to chance.

How do you approach your subjects?
Oh nothing too complicated. If I see someone I like then I’ll go up to them and introduce myself, tell them that I think they’re interesting and perhaps compliment a specific feature of theirs. I’m never scared but I sometimes get anxious. That’s perfectly normal.
English people aren’t necessarily the easiest to approach. They can be a little standoffish and suspicious. It’s almost as if that George Orwell 1984 surveillance mentality is engrained into our DNA.

How do you keep things interesting and get out of a creative rut?
Work as hard as possible. Originality will come if you work hard enough. Keep exploring new angles. Take risks. Walk more. Approach more people. Delve deeper. Make yourself feel uncomfortable. Know that you can have a classical base and still create original work.
By staring at the old long enough I’ll often come up with new ways of presenting it. I think my strength lies in the fact that I’m willing to spend vast amounts of free-time investigating parts of society that others aren’t. It can be time-consuming and frustrating, but these are the types of sacrifices that you have to make if you want to make it as a documentary photographer.

What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
Imperfection is perfection. Fight homogeneity. Embrace your differences. The ordinary is extraordinary. Beauty standards are boring / dangerous. Reality is in front of you, not online. Embrace the grit and the dirt for it will set you free.

Do you enjoy using social media as a photographer?
I wouldn’t say I necessarily enjoy it, but as a photographer more or less everything comes through Instagram, so it’s an absolute necessity (apart from if you’re someone like Jeff Wall or Tim Walker). The real question is what’s the next platform going to be? Before it was Flickr and Tumblr, but next? Who knows?
There are certainly some drawbacks to Instagram for photographers such as image size and quality, but being able to connect with so many other photographers / photo editors at the touch of a button is wonderful.

One thing people may be surprised to find out about you?
I’m surprisingly anti-social when it comes to anything but photography. If it wasn’t for photography I’d be a hermit.

Your advice to someone who is reading this and wants to be a photographer? 
Just keep going. Don’t give up. As an artist it can take years to build up a strong portfolio. Be patient and be prepared to struggle / be poor for quite some time. Also only take advice from those that have realized their dreams. They know what it takes.


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