Forgive me a moment of philosophising, but all too often we walk through our lives with our eyes glued to Citymapper, or street signs, or the electronic noticeboard in the tube, and miss the eclectic, bizarre and utterly extraordinary collection of people we pass by on a daily basis. But in London at least, Charlie Kwai is on a one-man mission to capture the collection of people who disappear into the abyss, and in doing so he has built up a collection of snapshots documenting our cultural environment.
Charlie thinks of his work as a celebration of people, so it makes sense that he subconsciously celebrates his locations, too. “I’m instinctively drawn to interesting people doing interesting things — and I see my photographs as an embodiment of my sense of humour, how I see people and my fascination with how they live their lives,” he says. “Taking photographs the way I do was never a conscious decision I made but more of a realisation of my interests and the type of work I wanted to create.”
With his Martin Parr-esque way of working, I was curious to find out how Charlie goes about asking the permission of his subjects. He doesn’t, as it turns out. “As long as I have a good enough reason to take a person’s picture then I will never ask permission. All my pictures are completely candid moments. Those moments disappear as soon as the person is interrupted and can never be truly recreated. Even more so when I’m hunting for those subconscious things we all do that we don’t even notice we’re doing.” It’s quite an intrusive method, but arguably this kind of encroachment on personal space is necessary to capture the moments he does. “I’m a firm believer in shooting first and dealing with the consequences after. If you’re too busy worrying about offending people then you’ll never end up with anything good enough.”
“I’m a firm believer in shooting first and dealing with the consequences after. If you’re too busy worrying about offending people then you’ll never end up with anything good enough.”Charlie Kwai
This week Charlie launches Parade, an exhibition of photographs at DreamBagsJaguarShoes in east London, all of which were taken in London. “The show is a celebration of the human condition that showcases what often goes unnoticed in a city full of distractions, serving as a statement of London today.” He’s inspired by the likes of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Martin Parr and Bruce Gilden, he says, but “it’s the work being created today by fellow like-minded photographers that motivates me to continue taking pictures.” His is documentary photography in the truest sense – for as long as we have photographers like Charlie keeping their eyes open on the streets, we’ll have a constant reminder that there’s more to life than making your journey from A to B as fast and painless as possible.