When I turn into Edge Street in the Northern Quarter there are two men with cameras deep in conversation outside Home Sweet Home. âDid you two know each other before?â Matt Taylor , the founder of the Manchester Street Photography course Iâm about to embark on, asks them as I arrive. âNo,â answers Andy from Oldham, âI just saw someone else with a camera and sat down.â Camaraderie through cameras.Â
Another aspiring photographer turns up and sees the cameras that confirm we’re all here for a common cause. âI just bought a camera and decided to take a course,â she tells 35-year-old Matt and he immediately checks out her camera and starts dishing out advice.
âThe most important thing about today is capturing the image,â Matt tells the group, âItâs not about bragging rights. Just concentrate on your subject and how you frame it.â
Matt uses a Nikon but heâs outnumbered by Canons and thereâs some chat about which is better, camera banter to break the ice. I am doing the course not with a Canon 500D, or whatever, but with the enviable HTC One. For those that are not familiar, thatâs a phone.
The course begins in the back room of Home Sweet Home, by now there are eight of us and Matt gets everyone a drink before we all sit down to get to know each other. In truth, icebreakers arenât really my thing, I find them quite excruciating.
Fortunately, Matt made this part painless as the small group disclosed their name, reason for being on the course and what they hoped to get out of the day. It was actually enlightening and the levels of knowledge were as diverse as the people in attendance.
Andy wanted to learn about the legalities of taking photographs of people on the street (in case youâre wondering, if itâs a public space, itâs pretty much fair game) while James from Cheshire was finishing up his Royal Photography Society portfolio. âThe most important thing about today is capturing the image,â Matt tells the group, âItâs not about bragging rights. Just concentrate on your subject and how you frame it.â
We set out onto the street and started to snap. Within seconds, Matt spotted an open door some steps with the words âthis way upâ stencilled onto them and walked into the building so that we could get a photograph.
Matt works in frames, he explained between being compelled to capture images, and he bides his time to get the perfect photograph. âIf I see somewhere I like Iâll remember it and go back there and wait for something to populate the image. Itâs definitely changed the way I see Manchester,â he said.
Over the course of the morning I could definitely relate. We moved onto Market Street where, on a busy Saturday, there was no shortage of interesting subjects. The small group dispersed briefly but Matt was always on hand to offer help and advice.
When Andrew wanted to capture a homeless man, something that heâd clearly been apprehensive about, Matt went with him. âCome on, Iâll show you how easy it is.â He did make it look easy. âLook at the juxtaposition between the man and the cash machine.â I hadnât noticed that before Matt pointed it out and itâs clearly something heâs always on the look out for.
With confidence building amongst the group Matt set his first task; to stop someone and ask to take their photograph. He demonstrated how easy this was on the nearest couple to us and then sent us off to do the same. Itâs surprising how willing people are to have their photograph taken if you tell them you think they look cool.
Matt asks his students to send in their photographs at the end of the course so that they can be featured on his Facebook page and heâs adamant that anyone of any standard can get involved, âI know it sounds a bit bizarre but your cameraâs not that important, itâs more about having an eye for it. You can bring a camera phone, a Lomo camera, an iPad, you can use anything. Itâs not about having a fancy expensive camera, the most important thing is you,” he tells me.
Matt is confident in his work without being condescending, which is refreshing and the confidence that he exudes was absorbed by his students that morning. By the end of it we were all looking at Manchester through different eyes, on the look out – as Matt so often is – for the perfect frame.
Does he have any advice for people who want to get involved in street photography? âBe prolific,â he says. âYouâre never going to take a good image sat at home, just get out and do it thatâs the biggest advice I could give anybody. You need to be in the streets to take images and the more you do it the more comfortable you get, you develop your own technique and style.â
His course is engaging, itâs something different to do on a Saturday morning and the mixture of experience and inexperience actually works well.
That could be down to the simple fact that itâs a rarity that a group of strangers get together only once to share a common interest and then disperse for what could be forever, not unlike the strangers in our street photography snaps.
Manchester Street Photography run monthly Street Photography courses in which Matt covers camera settings, styles, hints and tips, and what street photography is before putting it all into practice on the streets of the city.
The next Manchester Street Photography course takes place on Saturday 28 June and costs Â£25 per person. Visit Manchester Street Photography Facebook for more information.
Strangers snapping strangers: Manchester Street Photography course