TED KINSEY on LARGE PROJECTS at PARK STREET CC…THURSDAY 6th MAY 2021

Date Published 
Sun 9 May 2021

Large projects indeed but the sub-title to this talk -‘It’s a lot more than clicking the shutter’ didn’t do it justice. Ted Kinsey brought us inspiration to take on photographic projects the like of which I have not heard before. He detailed three of his ‘works’ in ascending order of magnitude and by the end I certainly didn’t want it to end.

Ted explained that he had always enjoyed using film and doing his own processing with which he had been messing around pretty successfully since the 70s. His weapon of choice being the Nikon FE which he still uses to this day (on his third body) backed up by a medium format Pentax 63. He took a darkroom course in 2006, great fun didn’t learn much more than he knew already but it got him thinking about comparing his work with others and the possibilities of camera associations. So he joined Amersham in 2007. Good decision. This would have been well after digital was getting a hold but he continued his adherence to film and even went as far as declaring himself interested onlyin film andmonochrome picture making but always with some human element however slight. Pretty confining.

After a season or two of traditional competition photography he grew restless and decided to branch out and focus on a project or two. This would have been understandable as film photography rarely fits comfortably with digital in competition where the importance of molecular sharpness has recently been getting so vital. (My words not his.) His first success with a ‘project’ was a series combining patterns and shapes found in women’s clothes with London architecture. Not an obvious starting point and might have sounded bizarre but his photographic examples showed great potential. He quickly realised he needed a patient model and enrolled his daughter and sometimes his wife to help. The finished result was a series of imaginative images including the diamond pattern in a pair of tights perfectly repeated in the structure of the Gherkin, a pair of striped legs recreating a series of Doric columns and the curved City hall building on the South Bank neatly framed by (trapped under?) a woman’s (in this case his wife’s) high heel shoe. Some proper symbolism there!

This image attracted some attention both during its execution and afterwards. However he still had his eye on doing something a little more adventurous and in Paris of all places. He could speak ‘a little’ French (a euphemism for pretty much being fluent I would think.) This helped enormously as the rules on street style photography in France are stricter than in the UK. To the extent that their privacy laws extend way up into the higher reaches of the media as well as just controlling street activity. The more cynical amongst political pundits might put this down to institutionalised ‘protection of politicians’ especially from sleaze and impropriety allegations. However this does have the advantage of protecting the innocent who have been so often wrongly tainted for life in the UK press. (My words not Ted’s)

The challenge he set himself here was to shoot the ‘Glass Passages’ of Paris. Similar to our Burlington Arcade but more numerous or at least they were, as even during Ted’s quest some of them closed down. His big break came when talking to a café owner who just happened to have a small photographic exhibition on at the time. She invited him to exhibit there just a soon as he liked and for no charge. He arranged the exhibition of his Paris collection to coincide with the week leading up to the Paris Photo Convention and as a result got great coverage, his name known and sold quite a few of his prints.

His next assignment ‘Under Tracks’ was to photograph the railway arches of London and the uses to which they were being put. This also happily before their considerable reduction in number due to large sales of Network Rail land. (A downside of privatisation.) He was astonished at the response he got - universally favourable. Activities he recorded varied from the obvious restaurants, well certainly a Nandos or two, to gyms, numerous motor vehicle repairing and restoration sites, a very advanced climbing wall, a training area for circus performers and in one instance a swimming pool. In all cases the owners could not have been more obliging often bringing in people and staff especially to make his pictures more interesting and retain that all important human element. Much of his success has to be attributed to his approach. He dresses smartly, takes a genuine interest in the people he encounters, the ‘antique’ film camera often attracting interest and he has visiting cards and a flyer telling people who he is and what he is doing. Often he is accompanied by his wife to create some distraction and further soften the approach.

He produced a series of postcards explaining this work ‘in progress’ and sent different ones to numbers of influential people to arrive every Monday morning over a period of eight weeks. (Militarily this would equate to saturation bombing of any area about to be attacked.) People included the Major of London the Chairman of Network Rail and the BBC were recipients. Enigmatically these cards made no reference to him whatsoever, just one of his pictures and a note that he might have quickly scribble on like ‘Enjoy’ or something similar. This sort of approach arouses interest and Network Rail admitted later that they had been so intrigued that they pinned each one on their office wall as they came in.

His collection of Railway Arch images quickly grew. During the process he had bumped into the owners of a gallery called ‘Under Dog’ themselves appropriately located in one of the arches in central London. They then offered him their exhibition space at no charge with a simple 50% commission on everything he sold. He jumped at this but it still took a bit of time and money to prepare all the images he needed - nearly 100 prints to fill the venue. (Frames mostly supplied by the market stall at the top of St Albans high street that we all know so well.) The gallery helped enormously too by re-decorating especially for his show and then doing the actual physical hanging itself and to his plan. All this for no charge. Some weeks before the opening he had managed to get invited onto BBC Radio London, a recipient of one of those earlier anonymous cards, and was able to talk about his work for nearly half an hour. You could say the cards were falling well for Ted but this was more than just luck. It was a strategy and a well thought out one. Many quite well known people came to see his show including the Chairman of Network Rail as it happened who then bought one of the prints, a picture of two old London buses being restored in a railway arch. It transpired that Mr Chairman had begun his working life as a bus driver on these very vehicles.

I won’t reveal the total income as profit was never the intention but suffice it to say that both the gallery ‘Under Dog’ and Ted were more than happy with the returns they got through sales of his work. This was partly due to the price he charged for each picture as at the suggestion of the gallery this was far more than he was intending. The gallery owners clearly knew the market.

Now none of us do this for profit and neither does Ted. However the approach and techniques he uses are clearly of the professional order and worth observing and learning from. Photography of people whether on the street or in a studio is greatly enhanced if the photographer has mastered (or naturally has) the talents necessary to communicate at all levels with the subject/model. It’s a vastly more difficult skill to achieve than operating our cameras. Ted gave us an insight into this and as clearly a natural I don’t think even he realised quite where his talents lay. An education to all of us who enjoy street photograph and an inspiration for those thinking of taking on a project and finding somewhere effective to display it.

I left having enjoyed an evening of images that pretty much were straight out of the camera for a change and with the distinct feeling that Ted might even be able to offer us an interesting perspective on a future Street Photography or Mono Photography evening of your own. Just a thought.

Dave Hipperson