Steve Reeves photographs the “quiet confidence” of strangers he encounters on the street
The street and portrait photographer shines a light onto real-life people, often those who are quiet and introverted with interesting stories to share.
- Ayla Angelos
- 12 November 2021
Steve Reeves, a London-born street portrait photographer, made his debut into the medium one day when he was passing a hospital. He noticed a patient in a dressing gown, smoking a cigarette while attached to an oxygen tube. Drawn in by the irony, the six-foot five photographer – who always gets spotted while taking candid photos – opened up a conversation with the 35-year old mother of two. She had a brain disease and three months to live. “Whether she smoked a million cigarettes or ran a hundred marathons, it made no odds – she was terminal,” he says. After taking a picture of Hannah and her friend, Steve got home and realised the picture alone didn’t do their meeting justice. He decided to accompany the image with words about their conversation, which ultimately kickstarted his career in street photography paired with in-depth personal interviews.
“To me honestly,” adds Steve, “what makes me walk past one person and stop to ask another for a portrait is so intuitive that I can’t articulate it.” While out and about, it’s very much a spontaneous process for Steve, wherein he will approach his subjects with his camera, even if it might be a little awkward. Street photography isn’t always easy in this sense, as going up to a stranger is certainly going to take some guts. “If I see someone who inspires me enough to overcome that fear and embarrassment of approaching them, they must inspire me somehow,” he notes. Interestingly, he will never usually approach loud, fashionable or extroverted people. Instead, he’s influenced more by the quietness in people, like those who have a “certain quiet confidence in them.” He’s found that usually, those of this personality tend to have more interesting stories to share. “I’ve heard stories of love, crime, abuse and tragedy – all from people that were strangers to me only a few minutes before. I think it’s something about the softness in a person’s eyes or just the set of their faces that draws me to them.”
In more recent days, Steve’s process has understandably been altered by Covid-19. Taking things onto Zoom and working a lot more digitally, what at first might sound like an implication, actually seemed to work a lot in his favour; people have been more keen on talking to him and getting their picture taken. For instance, he recently took a picture of a guy leaning out of his window in Tooting while smoking a cigarette. “He was a middle-aged divorcee and said that our chat was the first proper conversation he’s had in nearly 18 months,” says Steve. “He literally had tears in his eyes. I think we all crave conversation a bit more after the last year or so.” Photography – and art, for that matter – certainly brings people together. And now that the world is slowly opening up again, Steve’s process will also start to become a lot more normal – he’ll head out on walks to the shops or park with his camera in tow, ready for when an interesting person might walk by.
When asked whether he has any specific favourites in his portfolio, Steve responds saying, “I like most of my portraits. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way – I like them because they remind me of the people I have been lucky enough to photograph and talk to.” Every encounter of his is treated with care and attention, which he then turns into a wonderfully enigmatic photograph and story to match. “The whole process has a cathartic effect on me,” he continues. “It’s made me feel so much more optimistic about people in general. Nearly everyone that I speak to, despite having been through various trials and tribulations, seems to maintain an optimistic outlook and, above all, a sense of humour as they quietly go about their lives.”
Flicking through his work you’ll get a sense of the closeness and remedial power of his photography. Helen, for example, has become a great friend of his since her photoshoot – she’s introduced Steve to Ghanaian chefs, and he’s also attended a Ghanaian funeral and learned about her culture, food, religion and way of life. Suzy, who’s somebody he met with several times after the initial photo, amazed him with her sense of optimism, “her nativity and brilliant stories have added so much to my life.” The shot of Dorothea, on the other hand, was one that lasted just under a minute, but that’s all Steve needed to make the perfect shot. “It’s what I love most about what I do – you can be wandering around looking for people to photograph and be getting nowhere, and then suddenly, you meet a wonderful character like Dorothea.”
All of these moments summarise Steve’s photography entirely – he wants to shine a lens onto the real-life people in his locality and show the breadth and diversity of humankind. “I want my work to celebrate ordinary people from all cultures, and through his exercise I’ve learnt that we all have so much more in common that differences.”
GalleryCopyright © Steve Reeves, 2021
Copyright © Steve Reeves, 2021
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.