Ryan Cookson walks around with a clean stride and a Contax G2 at his hip. He starts conversations with the kind of people most of us would probably avoid eye contact with. He speaks with a smooth voice that makes you want to know more about everything he tells you. He doesn't believe in wasting photos, he only takes a photo if he's sure about it. He also likes all of his photos equally like he's their loving, passive father. Cookson, is somewhat of the perfect man, photographing imperfect people in his perfect way.
VICE: How do you go about approaching the people you photograph?
Ryan Cookson: It depends on the person and the situation really. Sometimes I just take the photo without exchanging a word but most times I just start a conversation, or vice-versa, and it goes from there. I used to take photos of people at more of a distance, there was a disconnect there that just didn’t feel right for me. I find it much more interesting to go out and talk with people and the photo becomes a memento of that.
Do you ever form ongoing relationships with anyone you photograph?
A few people I have met through photographing I have stayed in contact with and become friends. It’s amazing how many people are warm and open from the get go. Recently I bumped into this guy, Adam, who lives in the back of his van in a carpark in the centre of Melbourne. Within 5 minutes of meeting him, he’s offering me vegetable soup which he cooks in his makeshift kitchen and before you know it, an hour has passed. I find it really interesting listening to people’s stories.
Has taking someone’s photo ever put you in danger?
Not really in danger, no, but occasionally you do get people wondering why the hell you’re asking to take their photo… and that’s fair enough. I guess it can be a strange request. One guy I asked to photograph in Abbotsford, Melbourne, recently told me that the only way I was going to get his photo is if we were in a room full of grenades, of which, he was holding all the pins. He proceeded to give me some advice on how to live life… all of which I’ve now forgotten.
Where have you lived and photographed?
I’ve lived in various cities around the UK, Amsterdam and recently moved to Melbourne. I’ve also travelled a fair bit throughout Europe, US and South-East Asia.
Is there a narrative to your photos? Do you want people to know what is going on or to speculate?
There’s definitely people I photograph on a longer term basis and there is stories attached but it’s loose and that’s really just the way that I work right now. Like, for the past 18 months, on and off, I’ve photographed people who make a living through shoplifting.
I feel like there are a lot of stories to go along with your photos—do you ever write them down or are they your own private stories?
Yeah, for sure there are stories that go along with a lot of my photography. I never write them down... They are all in my head, which probably accounts for why I forget so many other things.
Do people want to see the photos you take of them? Shooting on film you can't let them see instantly.
Hardly ever actually...
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