I love the Hoxton Mini Press books about East London, a project I sponsored on Kickstarter at the end of last year (which raised three times its goal). I have discovered so many talented people through their projects and Madeleine Waller is the most recent. I’m always drawn to photographs of people and Madeleine’s series of swimmers in the London Fields Lido really captivated me, the way she portrayed them in both their street clothes and their swimming gear with a quote from each to tie it all together. Even more impressive, she shot the whole series on good old film. She happily agreed to answer a few questions for us and share a couple of the photos from her book.
LO: Start by telling us a bit about yourself, where you’re from and how you ended up in London.
MW: I grew up in Australia and came to London when I was 18 to travel around Europe, as many young Australians do. I loved London so much I ended up staying. I met an Englishman, and we moved to Hackney where I work and live with my partner and three children.
LO: How did you start your career as a photographer? What drew you to portraiture specifically?
MW: I did a one year postgraduate course in photojournalism at the London College of Printing which helped me build a decent portfolio and gave me the confidence to take my work around to newspapers and magazines. Most of my commissions were portraits. I tended to be sent on jobs that required a certain amount of sensitivity. I guess I was inadvertently drawn into portraiture and found I really enjoyed it.
LO: What is most important when shooting portraiture? Talk us through the process.
MW: I really enjoy the experience of connecting with a stranger and trying to form some sort of relationship, however brief. I try to capture something of the person in the portrait. It is a collaboration between me and the subject. It is also about trying to make someone feel at ease and choosing a location with the right composition and light.
LO: Your book, East London Swimmers, is the second in a series called ‘East London Photo Stories’ published by Hoxton Mini Press. Tell us about the book and what you enjoyed most about taking these photographs.
MW: I’m really interested in groups of people who have a common interest – something that tells us about human nature. I was delighted when Martin from Hoxton Mini Press approached me about the book. We decided to take it a step further and ask the featured swimmers about why they swim. As I swimmer myself, I was curious to know what motivated other people. The part I enjoyed the most was watching the almost amphibian swimmers transform into an urban humans.
LO: Does the London Fields Lido where the photographs were taken hold any personal significance for you? Are you a swimmer yourself?
MW: Yes, the Lido is a really special place. It’s amazing to have a heated outdoor pool in the middle of London. I prefer it during the winter months when it’s quieter and a more contemplative space. When it first opened, if you timed it right, during the winter you could have a whole lane to yourself, a private oasis. It’s really crowded during the summer and difficult to swim laps, but a great place to bring the children and while away summer afternoons. It feels as though you’re on holiday.
LO: Each person in your book, in their everyday clothes and then swimwear, is accompanied by a quote. Share one of your favourites.
MW: All the quotes are really interesting and some are very moving. I really love Claire’s quote about not being comfortable swimming in the ocean and having a fear of sharks. As a fellow Australian, I share that fear.
LO: What do you hope to communicate through your photographs in the East London Swimmers series? Why are these photographs important to you?
MW: I was struck by how different fellow swimmers can seem in the water to the way they appear once out of the pool and dressed. It’s almost as though the pool is a space where we can express an alternative identity. I wanted to explore the way we perceive others depending on the way they present themselves in different environments. I also hope that people enjoy looking at them.
LO: What lens did you use to shoot this series? Was there any post-processing involved?
MW: I used a Hasselblad medium format camera with an 80mm lens. I shot on film, then scanned into a digital image. I don’t tend to photoshop any of my pictures. I like them to be as natural as possible. The scans generally need a little bit of colour correcting and a bit of spot and dust removal.
LO: What is your favourite East London discovery?
MW: There are so many great places in East London and there is always something new popping up, but at the moment I really like SoDo in E5. It’s a lovely pizza restaurant/cafe. The staff are really friendly and the pizzas are the best in London.
LO: What are you working on now?
MW: I have a few sets of portraits on the go, none of which are completed yet.