Megan Bailey’s love for photography stems from her deep fascination with the lives of others. “I’m really interested in the countless different ways people experience life,” says the Manchester-based creative. “I think this is what motivates me to get out there, speak to people who have stories they want heard and use my photography as a platform for them to share them.”
This human-centred approach defines Megan’s practice, yielding images with a palpable sense of tenderness. Keeping individuals at the core of what she does, the softness in Megan’s work starts with her approach to shooting which emphasises dialogue and relationships. “When I photograph people, I can’t be fully satisfied with just shooting them like objects,” she tells It’s Nice That. “So my projects prioritise conversation just as much as taking portraits; it’s so important to get to know your subjects on a deeper level than just their visual appearance.”
In her latest series, Megan turns this inquisitive and empathetic eye on the world of skateboarding. Documenting a group of skaters who gather daily at Manchester’s Urbis Park, A Family Away From Home is rooted in Megan’s curiosity about life outside the mainstream. “I always knew I wanted to create a project that followed the lives of a particular subculture. And I wanted to use photography as a tool to step into a completely different way of life to my own,” she explains. Skateboarding wasn’t the first avenue the young photographer considered, but after meeting this group at Urbis Park, she knew it was on them that the series had to focus.
Recalling the early stages of the project, Megan tells us: “I started finding and meeting up with people from all walks of life: modern skinheads, punks, football fans. But when I came across this group of skaters, I knew straight away that I wanted to create a documentary series about them. They were so welcoming to me and when I photographed them it actually felt like a collaboration rather than something involving a photographer-subject power imbalance.”
Initially, Megan struggled to portray the skaters with the honesty she’d hoped for. Trying to find some theme or theory to extract from their stories, she found she was creating images which felt distant, as though peering in on the group from afar. “I was thinking more about who would be viewing the images after they were taken, rather than just capturing things in the moment as they unfolded naturally,” she muses.
So she gave it time, nurturing her relationships with the people who had inspired the project from the beginning. As these ties started to strengthen, the honesty and intimacy of Megan’s photographs followed suit. “I had been searching for some type of story I could impose on this group just to create something I thought would be compelling,” she reflects. “But I realised that just getting to know these people and the bonds they have with each other was a good enough storyline by itself.”
Tender and attentive, these are nuanced images which break from the conventions of classic skate photography. Withdrawing from fast-paced action shots and grungy tones, Megan lingers on moments of rest, expression and interaction. Instead of commenting on a vast subculture, the series’ muted tones and open spaces speak to Megan’s unique experience with the particular skaters she had come to know. Reflecting on what it was about this group that she wanted to convey, Megan tells us: “Skaters are often stereotyped as being associated with vandalism and crime. But being around this group I felt the sense of belonging and family they had created for themselves. The title, A Family Away From Home, was a direct quote from something one of them said to me and I think it summarises perfectly the group of people I have been documenting for the past year.”