The Photography Lounge

Alan Schaller - Black & White Street Photography

April 28, 2021 SmugMug + Flickr Season 1 Episode 12
Alan Schaller - Black & White Street Photography
The Photography Lounge
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The Photography Lounge
Alan Schaller - Black & White Street Photography
Apr 28, 2021 Season 1 Episode 12
SmugMug + Flickr

On this episode of The Photography Lounge, your host Alastair Jolly has a conversation with the wonderful Flickr Pro, Alan Schaller.

Alan is a London based photographer who specialises in black and white street photography. His work is often described as abstract and it incorporates elements of surrealism, geometry, high contrast and the realities and diversities of human life.

He has been featured in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post and he regularly has exhibitions in galleries such as Saatchi Gallery, The Leica Galleries in London and throughout the US.

As well as a wonderful Ambassador for Flickr he is well known as an Ambassador for Leica Cameras. 

Join Alastair and Alan as they discuss Alan's approach to Street Photography during the Pandemic and find out more about Alan's gear and style. We also get a little insight into the foundation of Street Photography International and what's ahead in the future for Alan.

Watch Alan's SmugMug Film here: https://youtu.be/v4H6eWE1

SPI Awards 2019: https://youtu.be/OzdCtzXpcXA

Learn more about Alan:

Find out all about the features SmugMug & Flickr have to offer at:

Follow SmugMug:

Follow Flickr:

Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of The Photography Lounge, your host Alastair Jolly has a conversation with the wonderful Flickr Pro, Alan Schaller.

Alan is a London based photographer who specialises in black and white street photography. His work is often described as abstract and it incorporates elements of surrealism, geometry, high contrast and the realities and diversities of human life.

He has been featured in publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Washington Post and he regularly has exhibitions in galleries such as Saatchi Gallery, The Leica Galleries in London and throughout the US.

As well as a wonderful Ambassador for Flickr he is well known as an Ambassador for Leica Cameras. 

Join Alastair and Alan as they discuss Alan's approach to Street Photography during the Pandemic and find out more about Alan's gear and style. We also get a little insight into the foundation of Street Photography International and what's ahead in the future for Alan.

Watch Alan's SmugMug Film here: https://youtu.be/v4H6eWE1

SPI Awards 2019: https://youtu.be/OzdCtzXpcXA

Learn more about Alan:

Find out all about the features SmugMug & Flickr have to offer at:

Follow SmugMug:

Follow Flickr:

Alastair Jolly: Today's guest is a London-based photographer who specializes in black and white street photography. His work is often described as abstract and it incorporates elements of surrealism, geometry, high contrast, and the realities and diversities of human life. He has been featured in publications, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Financial Times and the Washington Post.

And he regularly has exhibitions in galleries, such as Saatchi Gallery, The Leica Galleries in London and throughout the US. 

As well as being a wonderful Ambassador for Flickr he's well-known as an Ambassador for Leica cameras. Several years ago, he co-founded the SPI, the Street Photography International collective, which is set up to help promote the best work in the genre, and to give a platform to talented yet unrepresented photographers.

And today SPI has over 1.6 million followers worldwide. 

My guest is of course the wonderful Alan Schaller. 

Hi, Alan. 

Alan Schaller: I'm blushing. Hello. I'm very well, thank you. How's it going? 

Alastair Jolly: It's going well, sir. Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm looking forward to recording this little podcast with you. Do we find you in London today?

Alan Schaller: Yes, I'm in London as I have been unfortunately, well consistently. Let's say for over a year now. Now we all know why that is. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: You travel constantly, right? So, it's been a big change for yourself this last year. 

Alan Schaller: I will now always think of 2019 as a vintage year and 2018 as well because it evolved so much travelling and being able to explore. I certainly got used to that way of life and enjoyed it very much from a creative point of view. And so, I had to reassess a lot of things this year kind of take stock of the fact that I'm going to have to just make photos in the place I'm in and not have that diversity, but that's fine in a way, because if you're going to pick anywhere, I think London's a pretty good place to start. Or if you're going to say, photograph a place for one year, but of course I've already photographed this place for a long time, but it has changed a lot this year as well. So, it's it, but it changed quickly and then didn't really change again.

It's beginning to now, of course as restrictions are being lifted a bit. Yeah. It's been a different pace of, of work and a different style of shooting. Of course. I mean, you know, only being allowed out at one point being allowed out for only like an hour a day. And that was meant to be strictly for exercise.

And I always went out, you know, with the intent of taking pictures, how about I'm not going to do that. And I, I had a bike and, you know, I bought a bike for the first time and I was cycling around London, taking pictures and I was taking flack for it online people like you, shouldn't be making pictures at the moment.

You know, you're only meant to be like, some people just got funny about it, which I think most now would have just thought it's not that big a deal really. Is it?  You know, traveling around on your own making photos?

Alastair Jolly: Well, I guess you were exercising physically and exercising your creative juices a little bit.

Alan Schaller: Yeah. And, and I don't see the difference with cycling around and having a little camera around your neck. You know, take you pictures every so often, but some people did, but I just kind of pursued that anyway. And I've, I've definitely discovered, I know London far more intimately now than I ever have, and I, and I've explored places I never thought you know, just random places in London. I've never been often don't prove to be that interesting photographically, but I've just explored them for the sake of doing something different on a Tuesday, you know. 

Alastair Jolly: And what was the city like? We've all seen the pictures of all the major cities around the world, you know, completely derelict.

And as someone who captures the, the human element so much in the cities or in the world, what was it like being a street photographer when the streets were so empty? Was it something you enjoyed or was it something that you felt was, was missing? 

Alan Schaller: I suppose it was interesting at the beginning. I I've, a lot of my pictures have got people are isolated anyway, and I've been working on the theme of isolation.

In cities of my Metropolis series for like before lockdown happens. So, it's already something I've been interested in, but it. It made people, of course, very distrustful of other people. They don't want to be near them, but London has aren't particularly that accommodating to each other anyway. And to have that extra thing, it was difficult.

You just had to adapt. I found myself using longer lenses. So as not to invade people's space, typically shoot on a wide angle. And I, you know, I found myself using a 90 mil, a lot more as a workaround. So, it's just about adapting and. But, you know, I, I'm glad that I've taken these pictures and, and documented it.

You know, I I'd never call myself a documentary photographer, but if you take photos in a city, in a pandemic-stricken city for a year, it's going to be a form of documentary as well, I suppose. So, I'm glad I've done it. For now, the pictures make me feel a bit sick and I don't want to look at them.

But in maybe in 20 years, I'll look at them and go, wow, that was crazy then. Yeah, absolutely. 

Alastair Jolly: A bit too raw at the moment. 

Alan Schaller: I'm just so bored of it as well. It's just, you know, I can't be a, and the amount of people who are putting out like pandemic series at the moment, it's just like, come on, just do something different, everyone.

I spoke to a gallery yesterday, said that they're inundated with requests to show off their pandemic series. And I, I just don't think that it's something that people are going to want to flood it, go out and see once a society resumes. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, definitely want a change of scenery and a change of an entire life and pace.

So so you've taught, you're talking about exhibitions there in your bodies of work, your, your current exhibition is, as you mentioned, Metropolis quite interesting that you mentioned there that it was already a body of work that was focusing on isolation as a theme. 

Alan Schaller: You know, I think that. If I exhibited it, now, people go, Oh, is this about COVID?

And it's not about COVID actually, I, I thought that there was some sort of social issue that's coming up between people and how we're far more on devices and connected by social media, but less willing to talk and engage with each other. And some of the problems that, that brings up. And I was just interested in that as, as a topic, not just noticing it in others, but in myself as well.

So it's not a pious thing of like, Oh, look at these people how silly, you know, no one spends more time on their phone than me. 

Alastair Jolly: I can testify to that.

Alan Schaller: You know, so it's, it, it was just born out of just noticing what was going on around. And I think a lot of photographer’s series happen like that. And I happen to live in a major city and that's the kind of thing I've noticed since when I was a teenager to now. Is that people are even less likely to want to engage in communicate, you know, the fact that people can't even meet each other. And you were like can't find a date unless you're on an app because people don't really know how to talk to each other anymore or how to approach each other. And I think that that's just get going, you know, some symptomatic of how society's going.

So I, you know, I just thought that was quite a an interesting series like topic to explore. And I think, I think that a lot of people can relate to it as well. So, but now obviously this isolation thing with COVID is just like taking it to the extreme. But it's interesting that yeah, maybe it will change things.

Now that when things come back, maybe people will be a bit more open. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, definitely interesting times. Do you have any plans for these series/exhibitions in the future? Do you have any? Because the exhibitions you had lined up with all of them canceled, I assume? 

Alan Schaller: Yeah, well, they, they, they were they were kind of postponed I suppose.

They kept getting pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. To be honest, I have no idea now, like what's going on? Cause I had. With, Leica in the US I was going to do a series of like five shows and they just said, we have no idea what was going on anymore. You know, we kind of pushed it back last year to, like, we thought that the pandemic stuff would be over in August, that we were planning for like September, October time.

And then by that point, we were like, right, let's push it to January. And then January, we just said, let's just talk in the future at that point. 

Alastair Jolly: Let's talk when we can actually do something about it. 

Alan Schaller: And, and, and we still can't do anything about it. And. That's not their fault. It's not my fault. It's just how it is.

But I've got my first show in the diary which will be in London and very excited about that. So it's going to be stuff that I've shot in the past year. It's not going to be a COVID series. It's just going to be new material that I shot. And I'm working on some projects, but this one's just going to be a kind of a kind of free for all, almost like stuff I've been doing that I like.

And I just want to put that out for one they're not, not just. Go on about some sort of concept.

Alastair Jolly: These series you do these concepts, you've got several series that you, you have exhibited some of them featuring animals. That you've got Dogs, Dogs, Dogs, which is about dogs you've got Winging It, which is about pigeons.

That's correct. And you and I have been in. Several parts of the world together, and I've definitely witnessed you chasing pigeons for sure. You have an affinity with pigeons. 

Alan Schaller: It's a problem, isn't it? I have, I have some sort of I, I don't know why I, I, I just find them quite a challenge. Technical challenge. They've obviously not the brightest bird in the world.

So they're not, you can't just go up to it like a dog and say, sit there. And, you know, and, and the only thing they do respond to really is food. And unless you're in London or New York, they're very frightened and, you know, you got to be careful. So, it actually started off as a bit of a, of a technique, like almost like a technique building project.

You know, if you can think in terms of bird speed, like when a bird flights flies off, you can actually plan and capture a shot like that. Humans on the street become very slow. You know, it's a bit like in, I think Rocky, one of the films is a montage where they make him chase chickens to kind of get his speed up.

Like it's a little bit, but also I, then I started reading up into pigeons and I just, I dunno, some people hate them. A lot of people hate them. I I'm one of those people who's quite happy to have one land on my knee and then give it a, give it a peanut. Yeah. I find them very, I mean, not if it's covered in filth and really mangy, but I've just found them interesting subjects. And I like people's reactions when I say I'm doing a series of pigeons, they all go, you know, what the hell is that about? And then hopefully, you know, they look at the pictures and go, Oh, these are actually nice. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. Some of my favorite work of yours is you know some of your pigeon work, especially your use of not just the pigeon, but the shadows and the reflections that you, you kinda focus on with, with some of your work.

And then. The dog stuff is beautiful as well. 

Alan Schaller: Just last thing on the pigeon stuff is that, you know, saying I'm doing a series on pigeon sounds really daft, but I think it kind of hammers home, the ethos of street photography of like making something out of nothing and trying to make the ordinary into something different.

And, you know, there's nothing more mundane really than the, than the street pigeon. And, and, and if you can actually make some like not just one or two shots, but if you can, you know, I, I saw it as a challenge to try and build up an exhibition's worth of pictures that are. Oh, from around the world. That makes sense.

And yeah, it's definitely taught me a lot about photography. 

Alastair Jolly: These bodies of work, that when you're doing them, do you, do you come up with the concept and then focus on them quite exclusively? Or did they build up over time? 

Alan Schaller: It's not, not, yeah. I don't really set myself commissions if you know what I mean?

So, I've done it a couple of times, but. It never really worked out. I find it, well, the only one that I set for myself was on the, on the London underground, but that was more when I started photography and it was out of convenience because I was had a full-time job in, in a different industry. And I had to use the train all the time.

And so I just thought I might as well shoot on the train cause I, I'm not, you know, I've got an hour commute there, you know, half an hour there, half an hour to an hour in total. A day, six hours a day, six hours a week. I'm getting for free, just keeping my eyes open on the train. So that was kind of born out of necessity, but all the other ones are kind of, I, you know, I've always loved dogs since I was boy.

And I've, you know, that that's just I just, I just gravitate towards them. I was just taking pictures of them and, you know, I started seeing Elliot Erwitt's work with dogs. Then I thought that there's some of the best street photographs ever made, I think, and I just thought maybe I can continue that theme or try something a bit different.

See, see if I can apply my style and take on things to that concept that he started and yeah, it's been really fun. It shows I, I try and have fun with photography. I like to I often realized that I've got like a series in the making, because I look back on my work every so often, and I can see that there are trends there.

And then and then it's about figuring out why that's interesting and you know, that, that thing that people say, Oh, Well, ultimately, it's all about finding out about yourself, but it kind of, I have actually in that way through photography, just like, you know, the, the isolation series, I realized that maybe I felt a bit like that myself and I hadn't really thought about it in that way until I had done these pictures and people might scoff and say, that sounds like pretentious crap, but it's, it's actually not, at least I see. Photography makes me think.

And I like to think when I'm taking my pictures. And I like to think when I'm looking at, at them and editing them and its kind of just makes you realize things that you may otherwise have skated by. If you, if I hadn't been doing this, it's just a nice process. And then, you know, every so often it will dawn on me that, Oh, these pictures, are you doing this because you're interested in this, or maybe this is saying something about this.  So that's how it works for me anyway. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. Do you think a lot of that is just taking time? The time that it takes to do something to allows you to kind of reflect, and look inside a little bit because you've, you've taken the time? Which in your style of photography is, you know, is something you have to, it's not a rushed process on your end.

Alan Schaller: No, it's a continuous process and it's something that I do well, I'm very fortunate that I can do every day now. And there's nothing else I do more of really than taking pictures or editing pictures or thinking about pictures. So yeah, it just, it kinda just happens if you do anything that much.

I think a lot of people say that street, you know, they find a street photography difficult because you know, I didn't know what to shoot. They don't know when they've got a picture.  Whereas I, I like to see it as a more, much more of a thought process-based thing, you know, trying to cut down how random, the street can be which is something I talked about in the film we made together. And I, and that really is one of my, my main core philosophies is not just shooting everything out there because otherwise you end up super frustrated, but actually thinking, what is it I want to shoot? Why am I shooting it a little bit? You know? And, and, and if you like the second, I get a wind of the fact that I'm on to a series, I will then grab onto that and try and develop that rather than just shooting everything because I find that if you have an idea, that's good and you use the street as the canvas for it. That's when interesting photographs start to happen rather than just going out and shooting willy-nilly. 

Alastair Jolly: You mentioned there that you started photographing on the train and the tube as you were going to work.

When did that transition happen? When did you, when did you get into photography and what were you doing before photography? 

Alan Schaller: I was doing music, so I was writing music predominantly for television. I was doing like jingles and mixing, audio mixing for mastering a little bit for television ads and for TV shows.  Like a couple of BBC things that, when the BBC couldn't complete stuff in time, they have like overspill studios that they give stuff to.

And as I was doing that, and also, I was doing start getting into film scoring and I did some short film stuff. And so I was kind of in that world. And this is from the age of about 20 to 25 years old. And I'm sure if I'd continued in that I would have probably ended up film scoring and going down that route.

But I, I dunno, it was, I think it was a bit of a naivety. I thought that the music industry wasn't going to be as, as just like business, like corporate as it was. And so cutthroat. And so mercy, you know, like have writing a piece of music for a brand and then, then turning around and going that shit. Or that's not good enough.

And then saying, do it again, you know, to, to, to a 20-year-old, who's never heard that before when you're writing music, it's quite you like, Oh, it's quite a personal thing, you know? And it's funny because working as a. Without use of a better word as an artist or as a creative, let's say you've gotta be very in touch with certain feelings and be quite open-minded and expressive.

But then you've got to be able to lock that down when people are critiquing it, and you've got to be able to take hits and critique and all that stuff and not be faced by it and just see it as a kind of, just part of business. And that took me time to learn. And I think it contributed to me not really liking music very much.

And. And I found it quite just like the creativity was being sapped out of it. And, you know, I've got a brief, I remember getting a brief for a very big car brand and I was very excited, but they literally like pretty much word for word spelled out what they wanted me to do. And I couldn't deviate from it, you know?

So anyway, so I'm just painting a picture here of what it was like. And, and I was earning money and I was, you know, felt very lucky to have any money at all from music. And I think it's gotten even harder now to earn money from music even in the past six years. And so, I was kind of, I was happy with the earning side and, but I wasn't, I wasn't feeling creatively fulfilled.

And the last thing that you want to do when you've been in a studio for eight hours, writing is to get out your guitar and to have a jam or play in a band. So, I ended up weirdly, even though I was doing a job that most of my friends and family saw as wildly creative. I felt like I was just, I wasn't being creative at all.

And it was kind of just, it appeared to be. And, and so I was looking for another hobby or something to take home to fill that void because I've always, street photography suits me quite nicely. Cause I, I, I like having I like creating things. I feel like it's kind of a wasted day. If I haven't at least tried to write a song.

That's how I used to be. I used to write a song all the time or learn a technique or a scale or try and further myself in some way. Well, my instrument and street photography is a much more immediate version of that. So, the way I got into photography was by meeting a girl. I think a lot of people have got into the arts for the purpose of attracting the opposite sex, if they're being honest.

And I met a girl who I had no interest in photography, and yeah, her friends told me that she was a hobby photographer, and I should probably buy a camera if I want to hang out with her because she's so busy. And I did, I bought a camera and I, and I tried to woo her and it worked and she introduced me to photography, which I actually ended up really enjoying more than our relationship cause that only lasted for about a year and a half and the photography is still going.

Alastair Jolly: Photography still going. And then I know we are delighted to obviously have you post your work on Flickr. And I think it was, it was back in 2014 that you discovered Flickr.

Alan Schaller: Of course, so, yeah, so Flickr was if I'm being honest, it must be down to your good marketing people.

I just, I, I thought I needed, I wanted to put my picture somewhere. So, I could send them to people. And also, so that when I was on the street, I could show people my phone. If they asked me what I was doing, I could show them. And I wanted them all in a nice, easy to place. And I found Flickr.

I'm not sure how I found Flickr, but I found Flickr and I'd already heard of it as a, as a place for photography. Yeah. And I, and I started using it and I haven't really stopped. I really liked the fact that it is, I love the camera roll thing where you can see all the dates and it's all nicely laid out.

And it's pretty much by archive now is all in Flickr. And I can pull up, you know, I think, Oh, you know, what was that shot? I was, do you know, what was I doing in September 2016? I can just go straight in and find it. But yeah, I started uploading onto Flickr and I got, I got discovered on Flickr by I was putting my photos into a group called like London photography group and one of them, the editor from timeout magazine found my work.

And in one of the Flickr groups then gave me a shot at an interview. And that was the first time I'd ever shown my work to anyone outside my friends or family. Well, actually, I didn't even, even my friends, I just show them to this girl who I was with and to like, my mom knows about it. 

Alastair Jolly: Your mum liked them, the girlfriend didn’t, and she moved on.

Alan Schaller: Yeah. That's pretty much surprisingly accurate. No, but she they were both very encouraging. Yeah. I, I. I got the interview shot and then things kind of just built from there actually. And I got another interview and then another interview, another interview and so forth. And, and I actually managed to think, get, get my head around the fact that people thought my pictures were all right. And then I explored getting into a photography collective and meeting other photographers. And that's how I ended up meeting. I ended up through just the photography community meeting Walter and Craig, who we co-founded the SPI yeah. Thing’s kind of went on from there and it just kind of got more and more serious.

And I, and I, and then I eventually stopped doing music completely and swapped into photography. I still play music as a hobby, but I, I prefer this industry. I think I've known some people who've done. Who are photographers, who've gotten into music and you prefer the other way around. So I'm not saying it as a rule, but for me it works this way.

And the time in my life, when it happened, it. I have much more positive associations with photography and, and I think he was also born out of the fact that I didn't, I didn't put any pressure on myself with it. Whereas with music, I've been doing it from a young age, and I studied it at university and I wanted to be a musician and I wanted to make money from it.

And with photography, it was just, I'm trying to impress the chick. 

Alastair Jolly: Do you now, do you now, have a much more positive relationship with music that it's now, the hobby?

Alan Schaller: Massively. Yeah. And you know, I, I still quite a lot and I've got friends who, you know, the same friends who play music. Yeah. It's I, I've kind of, I now feel like I have two creative things/sources now, and I love playing music and I love photography.

But photography has never got to the point that I felt like with music where I felt like I was being creatively eroded, where I made a decision to never go back down that route and to never compromise what I wanted to do as a, as a photographer, that was a big learning curve. And I'm glad that I didn't just go back down the same route as I did with music.

I'm grateful that I went through that. 

Alastair Jolly: Two passions we have in common is photography and, and guitar. You're way more accomplished at both of them than I will ever be. 

Alan Schaller: Well, you never know we, yeah, we should. I know. You're, you're, you're quite you're into your Gibson’s as well. 

Alastair Jolly: Maybe? I'm into anything with six strings, to be honest, but maybe we could, maybe you could write a Flickr jingle?

Alan Schaller: That would be like the completion of all of my skills. Right. You get jingle for a yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Oh? Write the jingle for the podcast. That's what I need from you jingle for the podcast. You mentioned there Craig Riley and Walter Rothwell and yourself co-founded SPI. So, tell, tell the audience a little bit about SPI and what you do there.

Alan Schaller: So, SPI was founded, we set it up as a, just cause out of love for street photography, primarily, and the fact that we all did it and. We felt that there was a lot of groups at the time who I'm not going to mention like photography agencies and collectors that encouraged you to submit your work to them.

But they were very selective and didn't particularly I didn't know. We, you know, we, all three of us didn't really understand why some awards, you know, photographers are winning awards because she could not understand it. You know, like it seemed like a little bit of a. Maybe fixed like a mate’s thing or like, or maybe it was just going there.

The, the world of photography seemed to be, I don't know, just like drifting away from the classic kind of style that we love. And, and, and it was going down a kind of very much more cerebral arty route. And we just thought there was some reason a gap missing for just classic street photography. That was, you know, moment based, beautifully captured images, you know, just that kind of classic thing that inspires so many people.

So we, we kind of just started. Posting some of our images and encouraging people to submit to SPI and it kind of just grew wildly beyond what we, any of us thought it would. And yeah, just amazing, really and 

Alastair Jolly: Huge community now. I mean, you got like over 1.6 million people around the world involved, right?

Alan Schaller: Yeah. I, I really started just as a, kind of like a conversation in a pub and yeah, as they do, and we thought, you know, I think the differences that some photography companies are run by business people rather than people who were enthusiastically into photography. And that's what something I thought I thought it was when we came to see you at Flickr HQ in San Francisco, you could tell that many of the, of the people working there are into photography themselves, including yourself, Alastair, you've had a photographic career yourself.

And, and, and, and I think that that’s missing at quite a lot of you know, some of these photography award places or some of these photography communities are actually run by by people who aren't photographers themselves. And, and I think the fact that we were, we kind of had our finger on the pulse almost of what photographers, how they were feeling and.

What they wanted to see. And, and for some reason it just kind of worked. And Craig in particular did a fantastic job with coming up with some concepts and running the account. And we, we just all pitched in ideas and we've all just kind of come up with different things that have added into it.

And. Yeah, it's got to the stage now and it's really we're, we're, we're very proud of it and it's become quite a responsibility actually, because, it's literally the biggest platform for street photography. I think in the world now, were getting, I tried to calculate it the other day.

We have like something like seven or 8 million submissions on Instagram using our tag and. We've finally been the thing for like four or five years. And there's like, how many per day that's now working out as it's just insane, 

Alastair Jolly: Huge numbers. We are very passionate here. SmugMug and obviously know at Flickr as well.

Yeah. When it comes to photography, many of us have been customers and users of our products before becoming employees, that type of thing. So, we definitely love the whole world of photography and we were so thrilled and honored to be able to sponsor and host the SPI awards that you did back in 2019. I had to look back as like, was it last year?

Was it the year before last? 

Alan Schaller: Last year was the void. Yeah. Yeah. And, and, and that was awesome traveling out there as the three of us. And. Yeah, it wasn't possible to have everyone involved there because you know, it's a massively international thing, but yeah, it was, it was fantastic.

And, and, and it's amazing that, you know things like Flickr and SPI, you know, is truly international stuff. And you get people from all over the world, engaging with work now, which is such a really cool thing, isn't it? 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, no, it was really good. I mean, it was the first exhibition we've ever hosted at the, at the Flickr offices and under our stewardship and yeah, it was such a, such a thrill to do that back in 2019.

And I'm kinda excited to maybe mention that we're in talks about the next SPI awards that hopefully will be coming to a screen near you soon. 

Alan Schaller: Yeah. Pandemic willing. I mean, w we all prepare, we're gearing up for the next edition of the SPI awards and it's also it's you know, after the year we've had it, it's very difficult to say, to give specific timings.

Yeah. We'll be looking forward to working with you guys again, 

Alastair Jolly: We'll be very honored to sponsor that again, and then hopefully host the exhibition if we can. But 

Alan Schaller: if everything goes all right. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah. If the moons align. So that will be coming soon.  Let's move to gear. I'm sure people listening would, would hate this podcast if we didn't talk about gear. Not talking about your Gibson guitar, but your camera gear, you know, you're extremely well known for your work with Leica how did the, did the association, or how did you discover the Leica camera? What made you want to photograph with Leica? 

Alan Schaller: The story is that I was that I was shooting on a Canon originally.

And when I met this girl and I, I went to an exhibition for her birthday where, or around the time for birthday, where we saw some Henri Cartier-Bresson work. And I was completely like my I'd never heard of him before and saw his work and was totally like, wow. And I asked the question that a lot of amateurs always ask, which is what was this shot on?

And yeah, exactly. Right. And so I instantly was like, well, he must have a better camera than me. And of course, you know, a kind of a modern Canon is way better than what you know, on paper than what an old Leica M3 could have put out. So it's not about that. I mean, technicals you know, if you're talking about things like resolution and all those things, and, you know, I, I didn't realize that it wasn't all about camera stuff, but that's what, that's what you do when you're starting out.

You've tried. Look out, look for things that can distance yourself from the fact that your pictures aren't what you're, that you're happy enough making. And I found out, but he, they, he made them on a Leica. So I was, I was like, right. Okay. I'm going to find out about this Leica business. I went to the Leica store in London, and I tried an M9 with a 50 mil Summilux.

And I bought an SD card with me and I took the. Took the thing home and looked at it and was just like, God, you know, just completely like, who's this, I must have this. Yeah, it was, I love the whole thing. I loved the rangefinder system. Literally I fell in love with the rangefinder, the marrying up the image, the parallel system.

And I thought that was so cool. I thought, I thought it looked cool. It felt cool. The fact that most of my heroes, you know, at that time becoming my heroes, photographic areas were all shooting on them. It just all made sense. The only thing that didn't make sense was the amount of money that it costs and, you know, I'd bought my Canon I think it was one of those crop body rebel cameras. And it cost me about 300 quid with a kit lens included. And this one was like 11 grand or something for the combo. 

Alastair Jolly: The elephant in the room. I love everything about this, but how much does it cost?

Alan Schaller:  Well, I couldn't get my head around the price. And but I sold a couple of jingles.

I ate pot noodles for quite a while. And I I, I basically financially ruined myself for a while. At the time I didn't have that many savings and I, and I spent pretty much all of them on this camera. I was like, yeah, it was quite a, quite a stupid idea. Now. I'm glad I did it obviously. But looking back, it was a really stupid thing to do in terms of business sense.

And my, my dad was like, what the hell is wrong with you? You know, what are you doing? But anyway, I, I kind of vowed that I was going to earn it back and, and, and the pride of owning this camera was so strong. I wanted to use it all the time and I wanted to carry it with me all the time. And. I was just hooked on the rendering of it.

And I loved the way that this, the lenses made stuff. Look, you know it just really put the kind of wonder in me of exploring it and see it and pushing it and seeing how far the camera could be stretched. And I just got really obsessed with it and also into Lightroom editing and how to, you know, how to kind of achieve the look I wanted and trying to come up with the look I wanted.

And you know, it kind of put me on this path towards. Having the style, I have now and getting some stuff, I always wanted some sort of consistency and yeah, it was just a a love affair that still goes today. And, and, and now shoot on the M monochrome, which I was very honored to do the kind of testing for, and the campaign launch for. Which was, was a real dream for me.

When I first got into, into Leica stuff, you know, the idea that five years later, I'd be doing one of the launches was pretty nuts. I was very, I was really happy to do that. And to get to meet and speak to the people behind it. And, you know, like it's just from the geek photographer inside of me, it was like a dream very, very special.

And, and you know, I am an Ambassador for Leica, but I'll say this. They, they they've, they look after their own very much. And, and they, they are very, they've taken interest in me from an early point. And they were like, literally, they were like, you're not quite there yet, but we're going to follow you.

And. I don’t mean on Instagram. I mean, I follow you, follow your progression and keep coming back to us and talk to us and, you know, let us know if we can help. And, and, and it got to a certain point where it made sense for us. To actually form a partnership and yeah, so I, I, I am grateful, grateful to them for that.

And I know you can't people say whatever they want about like his stuff, their lenses are the best and that I that's the end of that. There's a smaller that, yeah, better. The rendering is better. Is it, you know, I get the argument of putting the lenses on other bodies, but. You know, lens the Leica lenses on the bodies, just to sing in a way that I don't see them do on other sensors and other combos with, with those filters, even on the SL I feel like the M system works better with the M system.

That's my opinion, but we do, 

Alastair Jolly: you often say there's no such thing as a bad camera and an artist can make an image with any camera they have, but there's definitely something about, whatever camera you find that inspires you to want to use it. Right. That's a huge part of it. 

Alan Schaller: Absolutely. And I know some people who have tried as much as they can to fall in love with the Leica and they can't, and they don't, and it doesn't suit them.

They want auto focus. They, you know, I mean, with the Leica M. And that's cool. That's fine. You know, it's the thing that makes people think that, you know, Oh, you use Leica it, cause it's the most expensive. Therefore, it must be the best. It's not the reason Leica is so expensive is because one their production process is so in-depth and it's all hand done.

That's one reason. But the other fact is that they've, they're, they're not a big company compared to Canon, you know, they've only got like, I dunno what the exact number is, but it's, it can't be that many more than a thousand employees, you know? Whereas Canon have got, like, I think I read 19,000 just in Japan.

You know, it's a totally different thing. And that, you know, if you, if you want to go down that route, that's one thing that's fine. But you know, some people will just harmonize better with a, with a bigger camera, like a DSLR. Maybe you want burst mode. Maybe you want a camera that can do face tracking.

Maybe you want something that's completely silent, like Fuji's offer. Or if you want something like. You know, so I it's interesting. I went down the Leica route largely because, well, the thing that really made me fall in love with it was the fact that the lens I don't like auto-focus messing up a shot for me.

And I've seen it happen time and time again with photographers. And I like the fact that I love manual only cameras. Cause if it, if it messes up, it's mine, I have I'm entirely to blame for it. I liked the fact that the Leica system is the same system is like, it's just makes you accountable for everything.

Basically, and it's quite a simple tool. It's not full of aids and it's like the equivalent of like a modern day car versus a car back in the day without abs and without power steering. And that's kind of what the M's are.  They're, they're just like a bit more, it's not to say they're less capable. They're totally as capable.

They're just, it's just a different philosophy about how you interact with it. And for me, that, that worked very nicely and for other people, it doesn't. I think the biggest mistake people can make is like falling in love with the camera, with a lens. And then just for no reason, other than feeling like you need to experiment or, you know, just, just getting other stuff and not getting a different lens or buying the newest body.

Well for me, I said, when, Leica her approached me about the M 10 Monochrome campaign, I said, you know, it's going to have to be bloody special to make me want to use it as a daily over the existing one, because I didn't feel like if someone had said, what do you need? More, you know. I never felt like I never once looked at my camera three years ago when I was shooting it, you know, I've been like, what a piece of junk, you know, like, you know, it always, it always gave me what I wanted in low light in terms of dynamic range. And this new camera is better, and I don't use my old one anymore. So they did nail it. They smashed it out of the park.

It might be in terms of the extra resolution, but without sacrificing that they've made it better in low light and denser pixels at the same time, I don't know how they do it. There is some sort of magic with technology, how it's growing these days. But 

Alastair Jolly: If you're not using that old monochrome anymore, maybe I'll send you the address?

Alan Schaller: That’s my baby. That thing I, I have so much. Cause that was, that was, yeah. I have so many. I think really has been everywhere with me and, and it more than anything or anyone else it's always been there. And I do feel though, A strange sentiment. Like, like I feel more attachment to that camera than I do this one in a weird way than the one I use today.

But the thing I always say about, about gear choice and like, you know, like Cartier-Bresson as an example again he spent his whole career choosing on an M3 and a 50 mil collapsible Summicron, then fashion changed and camera's changed. And color film came in and wide angles came in and you zooms came in.

He didn't care about any of them because he had his, his system. He had a 50 mil and an M3 and that worked for him and he could achieve his vision and he didn't care about the latest, whatever I only cared about was image making. And that is obvious in his ridiculous portfolio. And, you know, I, I'm more into portfolio that I'm into camera shelf and you know, I I'm, I feel very much like I've got my rig and, and, and more importantly, the right one for me, and I don't want to rock the boat at all.

And yes, it's so happens to be one of the most expensive cameras. I, I wish that it had been a cheaper camera inside at one point in my career, but it happens to be that this camera and a 24 mil lens just pairs up exactly. Like it's the easiest, it's the path of least resistance let's say. And it, it allows me to be creative.

And kind of slipped into the background more so than any camera I've used. That is worth more than anything else for me. Yeah. 

Alastair Jolly: Great sentiment. And there's, you know, there's maybe stuff we can take from, you know, Cartier-Bresson about, you know, the fact that he only stuck with what worked for him without this kind of consumer disposable world that we all live in.

Now, we just constantly want a new thing, you know. 

Alan Schaller: Yeah, it's symptomatic of the world we live in, isn't it like? You know, so I remember my mom saying that when she was growing up, they had a dryer, you know, for drying their clothes that lasted like 20 years. And I, now we got to get a TV every three years.

You change your phone every year. You you've got your, I mean, my dryer I've bought three in the past eight years because they keep breaking. I'm not misusing them, they just break, and everything just breaks and, you know, It's I guess it's much bigger market, much higher demand. If I was trying to do stuff for cheaper and squeeze more profit margin out of stuff.

And do you know, last thing I'll say about Leica, is that I don't be, I feel like they build stuff in that old with that old school mentality of its gonna last you your life and maybe your kids life. If they take it, if you take care of it. And I love that. I love the fact that, that the 50 mil SummiLux gets updated once every 28 years, rather than once a year, you know, like there are some camera companies who are producing stupid number of updates and it just makes you feel like what's the point in buying one, because you're just going to be a, you're just going to be superseded.

And it's like, I don't know. There are so many things wrong with today's world that make board that make me just feel like it would have been great to have been maybe born 50 years before 

Alastair Jolly: Born in the wrong decade. Maybe you mentioned earlier in the conversation that we made a film together and I had to look up exactly when we meet that, because it feels a long time ago, but it was only back in 2018. Yeah, we released it in 2019. One of our SmugMug films. A Series of films that we make that it's called Alan Schaller- Streets In Mind, which we made together in Manhattan. That was a fun, fun project. 

Alan Schaller: It was super cool. That was a really wonderful time. And that's when we first met. Wasn't it?

Alastair Jolly:  It was in, in real life.

Alan Schaller: Yeah. And it was a really cool, I love it. It's done pretty well online since and people, a lot of people have watched it and I still use it. I used it recently actually for a pitch for something and just showing them that and yeah, really nice. I think, yeah, it's the first time I'd properly, like in the video said, it's like, God.

Trying to explain how I do things and see things that don't maybe one day we'll do another one. 

Alastair Jolly: People haven't seen it yet. They can check out over on YouTube. If you go to SmugMug films on YouTube search for that series, you'll find Streets In Mind with Alan Schaller. And yeah, it was a, it was a fun time.

This series of films is about giving people an insight, a little vignette on, you know, what our favorite photographers in the world do, and we were really excited and so pleased that you were willing to make that film with us. Cause we truly, truly love your work. And it was great to spend some time doing that, especially in such a great city as well.

Manhattan is incredible. 

Alan Schaller: Anton who makes the films, that guy like absolute beast in his own. Right? Like he completely if you watch all the films, he just did like adapt to peoples. He said You know, he never really worked with a street photographer before, and he just took it on so quick. I kind of understood me and we had a chat on the first day before we started shooting the night before we just kind of fired some questions and he totally just fit it into the, to the street style and he didn't get in my way.

And, and I didn't really know what he was doing. He just kind of working in the background and that's great. I think that he, yeah, the fact that he makes the films as well, really helped. 

Alastair Jolly: Yeah, but we're very, very fortunate to, to have Anton as our in-house cinematographer. And, you know, it's great to work with them and watch him create magic and tell these stories.

And so many, as you see so many different genres that he's able to really embed himself and tell that story, 

Alan Schaller: maybe you should do one on him one day 

Alastair Jolly: we have spoken about it. It's like a SmugMug film featuring Anton. We just don't who would film it? That's the 

Alan Schaller: I'll film it. In black and white

Alastair Jolly: Got a video mode on that monochrome, right?

Alan Schaller: No, they took it out. 

Alastair Jolly: We'll lend you we'll lend you a video camera. Yeah. We also made a little film about the spa awards as well. Correct. The three of you, that was, that was good. Just kind of highlighting what the collective we're doing at SPI. So that was a fun little project as well. So hopefully we find an excuse to make some, some more content like that.

Yeah, at some point down the line. What Is down the line for, for Alan?

Alan Schaller: What's down the line. COVID allowing, I've got some really cool commissions coming up. They work with like hotels and traveling and going out there and photographing for them, but not like hotel rooms stuff, you know, I don't do stuff like that.

It's more kind of, let's say a very nice hotel in New York would want photos around New York that they can have exclusively for use in their prints and stuff like that, and to use on their, on their accounts. So, stuff like that. I've got a couple of those. I'm working on my book which is going to be out this year.

Finally, it's supposed to be last year but had you known, last year, wasn't the best year of all time for, and it probably wasn't the right time to release a book in the middle of a pandemic and be like, Hey everyone, can you give me some money for the book please? It, it didn't feel right. And yeah, I, I kind of go more into like the advertising kind of sector and licensing images and stuff like that.

Partnering with some agency kind of type and. Doing that because it's actually, it's quite nice actually trying to sell photos that you've already taken. It's a, it's a concept that I think is quite a good one. So yeah, pursuing that as well. And then that leads to other things as well. I mean, also, I just want to travel, you know, I just want to go on a trip.

But is it commissioned just as I used to do, when I first got into photography, I used to save up and pay for my own trip. And and I, I know I want to just do a trip now. Just go, like I dunno, around America or I haven't been to New Orleans. I'd love to go New Orleans 

Alastair Jolly: That would be a great place for you there.

Alan Schaller: Yeah, cameras on my bucket list. And I really want to go back to Japan. I've been there a couple of times now and I, and I really want to, it's just so cool. Such an interesting place to photograph, get back to life as normal. That's my plan. 

Alastair Jolly: Hopefully that's the plan for all of us. 

Alan Schaller: I hope so.

Alastair Jolly: Well, we look forward to seeing all the things you create down the line. Look forward to hearing more about the book when you're able to tell us more about that. That's very exciting. 

Alan Schaller: Well, if things go to plan, there'll be two books this year, but we'll see. Wow. Because it's been long overdue. I think I should have done one like three years ago, but it is I I'm glad I didn't. A good thing to have waited. Cause I've got a much more of a sense of who I am as a photographer now than back then. That's good. 

Alastair Jolly: And we will look forward to hopefully launching sponsorship of the SPI awards later in the year, if we can. But for now, Alan, thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it.

Alan Schaller: No, it's my pleasure Alastair. Always a pleasure to chat. Hopefully we can do it in face to face again and do photo walks again like we did in London. Maybe we can do another one of those. 

Yeah, we've done one in London. We've done one in San Francisco. Yeah. Let's go do one in New Orleans. 

Oh, that'd be a dream.

Alastair Jolly: Or would it be a pub crawl?

Alan Schaller: Both. There's no reason you can't integrate both. 

Alastair Jolly: If if people wanted to see your work, obviously they can check out Alan Schaller on Flickr, but where else can people see your work 

Alan Schaller: On my website and on Instagram as well? And that's it. I don't use any other platforms, just Flickr, Instagram and my website.

Alastair Jolly: And it's AlanSchaller.com. That's the one, the website, they'll go check out. Alan's work. If you're not familiar with it, you're in for a treat because it's the most beautiful black and white street photography you're likely to see. So, thank you so much for taking the time. 

We're coming to the end of the show or go pick up a guitar and let's write a jingle for the end of the show.

Alan Schaller: Hang on., 

Alastair Jolly: Got to finish the show with 

Alan Schaller: It’s got to be a bit Loungie 

Alastair Jolly: Thank you, everybody for tuning into this episode and wherever you are in the world, folks have a great time, and we'll see you on the next episode. Play us out Alan!

There we go. Awesome. Thanks man.

Thanks man bye!