“i try to find things like that in real life” — rob searle, photographerBack
What makes a photographer? There’s technical knowledge involved, sure, and studies of technique. And practice.
But it also involves being able to see the world a different way. And how can you learn that? “I did a paper round in Haxby for seven years,” says Rob Searle. “6am to about 8.30. Every single day, Saturdays and Sundays too.
“My brother did it first but he got hit by a car and broke his collar bone, so I got forced into taking over. But it was good fun. Sunday mornings were the best. Weekend papers are bigger so you have to split your round and come back to the shop. We’d all meet at the shop and go to the café for bacon sandwiches and to chill, then we’d finish the rest. The manager didn’t like it, but you’ve got to have a lunch break at some point, even if it is at 7am.”
York before breakfast is the York only the deliverers of papers, milk and post and their comrades get to see, and while Rob laughs when we suggest being a paper boy made him who he is today, some of his fog-laden landscapes were either taken on or informed by his mornings spent cycling around his fifty drops, three miles a day. That’s one of the things we like about the photos; Rob can see what we can’t see, and through the fog, we can’t see anything. Has Haxby ever looked so good as it did before the fog cleared?
“I took my camera out a few times,” he says. “It was a big part of the lives of everyone who did it. I think I got a good work ethic out of it. Some people wake up late and go into school like, ‘I just woke up twenty minutes ago.’ I’d have been up for three hours.
“And the Christmas tips were really good — I’d come away with £200 in pocket change. Nice! I was thinking the other day, when I was younger, I was secondary school rich. It paid for Leeds Fest and Download every year for five years. And now I’m just like, ohhh…”
Now Rob is studying photography at Leeds College of Art, after picking up a camera on holiday and finding it just clicked, as cameras do, and that when it clicked, he liked the results.
“THEY’RE ALL OUT THERE; YOU JUST HAVE TO BE GOOD ENOUGH TO FIND THEM”
“It was an old digital camera that had a few manual controls. I just started playing with them and learning what they did, and I took this photo of an ant; really shallow focus macro stuff. And it just felt really cool that I did that. It was fun. I fell in love with it.
“Anyone who wants to get into photography should go to a flea market and buy a cheap film one. Get some film and go shoot on that. You learn so much more about how a camera works, and then you can move to digital when you know if you like it.”
Rob is still experimenting, with no barrier to what he’ll photograph, other than whether the result will look good enough to be worth it. Sometimes he’ll sit on his parents’ garage roof and photograph the first things he sees; sometimes he’ll save it, for a trip to Tokyo.
“I went through six rolls of film in five days,” he says. “I don’t try to force taking photos because then you’re doing it for the sake of doing it, but I’d been in a bit of a creative lull before that trip and been a bit disheartened. But then the photos came back and I was like, it’s okay, it’s still there.”
Beyond pointing and shooting itself, Rob’s most excited by a developing interest in creative direction; working on something that’s bigger than the lens.
“Someone is going to produce the photos, someone else is going to edit them, but it’s my vision, and that’s quite cool: to be able to control everything that’s going on. Instead of it just being what someone else wants and putting a twist on it, it can just be everything that I want to do, and it looks great.
“I really like super high-contrast, surreal looking high-fashion photography; when it doesn’t look like the scene could even exist, and it has all been manipulated by studio lighting. And I try to find things like that in real life.”
“YORK IS PROBABLY THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED CITY IN THE NORTH; ALL THAT TOURISM MEANS SO MANY PHOTOGRAPHS”
Real life doesn’t always offer up easily perfect aesthetic moments, but it helps if you can see the world in a different way, whether you learned it on a paper round, or somewhere else.
“It’s difficult in York because it’s probably the most photographed city in the north; all that tourism means so many photographs. So I photograph me and where I live, what I do. My life. If you’re photographing things you see in your life, day-to-day, it’s more like a visual diary, and that’s how I like to take photos.
“I use the analogy of being a gold miner; if you keep getting better at mining then eventually you find the gold. It’s like that with photos. They’re all out there; you just have to be good enough to find them.”
Originally published in The City Talking: York, issue 1