Shining through: Karen Rangeley Photography

Artist Feature / Interview / KatherineCaddy

From an early age, Karen Rangeley took many photographs of friends and family as a means of keeping a record of her life. It wasn’t until she bought her first 35mm camera in the ’90s, and attended a black and white film photography class, that she became more inquisitive about the discipline

As my life experiences changed, I began to take more of an interest in people outside of my own circle.
I started to photograph people on the street; characters that caught my eye and interesting juxtapositions. It was only a few years ago that I finally decided to take photography seriously as a vocation. I graduated with a first class degree in Photography from Leeds College of Art just last year.

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I don’t always set out to tell a story, but I’m always curious about everyday life.
When I notice something or someone that catches my eye, I want to share it. This is probably most true of my street photography, where the story is often in a single image. I photograph a particular moment because there is something poignant, captivating or amusing about the scene before me. In the last few years I realise that there is a little of me in some of my photographs.

I’m very passionate about how we as photographers represent the subjects that we choose to photograph.
In the final year of my degree, my research project explored the history of the power relationship between photographer and subject. This had a big influence on how I moved forward with my approach to photography. I’m currently working on a collaborative project with a mental health charity in Leeds and the people I photograph will be encouraged to take an active role in the shoots and in the production of the way the images are printed and distributed.

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I’m always on the alert for an interesting moment or a character that passes by.
Even when I don’t have my camera with me, when I’m trying to give my family a break from me shouting ‘hang on while I just get this pic’, I’m still scanning around looking for the moment and imagining composing the picture. I’ve always loved watching people and telling stories. As a student, I had considered studying Journalism, but was dissuaded by the head of my sixth form, who told me I would end up writing about garden parties for the local paper. As an obedient and naive 18 year old, I took his advice. It took me a couple of decades and a career in Marketing before I came back to storytelling – armed with a camera rather than a notebook and pen!

When I’m taking photographs, I forget everything else going on in that moment.
I’m totally engrossed in the moment until I’ve completed the commission, until my film is finished or my card is full! It’s very cathartic – a bit like people who exercise for the endorphins. Though I’m often exhausted after an intensive session, it feels exhilarating and I’m always excited to get back and see the results. Even when I’m not working, I can’t resist sneaking a few pictures on my iPhone to upload to Instagram.

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Most of my photography is of the everyday, of people from all walks of society.
Because I regularly shoot in the same communities, I get the chance to meet families from very different cultures and backgrounds to myself. What I observe is the pleasure that people gain from the simple things in life – like having a cup of tea, learning new skills, or doing the hokey cokey! I also get to see how much people gain from just being in company, especially the elderly. It’s a privilege to be invited to capture those small moments.

It’s rewarding to produce photographs that challenge the way older people are commonly represented in the media – sitting passively in a chair, being looked after. 
It sounds cliché, but I hope my photographs reveal the optimistic side of life and show how people are enjoying their moments of pleasure. I am very lucky to work with some fabulous charities and voluntary organisations that are making an amazing difference to the lives of people in the region, often people who are struggling with health problems or to make ends meet. I started out as a volunteer photographer for a charity whilst doing my degree and then continued to work with them as a freelance photographer.

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I love to capture personalities.
Especially of children and the elderly. I love it when I succeed in capturing that warmth or the feeling of that one moment. My favourite street portrait subject was a man called Lawrence who was homeless and living in the centre of Derby. He had a problem with his memory which meant he had to try and recall each day practically anew. His life was clearly tough but he was happy to talk and have his portrait taken. He was such a genuine man and so positive about his difficult life. I think that his optimism really shines through in my image.

I have a big list of photographers who inspire me.
I love photo books and one of my favourite photographers, Rafal Milach, presents his work in beautiful, thought-provoking books, often with accompanying text. I really respect the work of photographers who have found ways of working collaboratively with their subjects, such as Anthony Luvera. His work tackles issues around the tension between authorship, artistic control, and the ethics involved in making photographs about other people’s lives. Finally, my list would not be complete without Henry Cartier Bresson. His work possessed the perfect combination of powerful subject matter and beautifully observed lighting and composition. I recently saw an exhibition in London that made me realise just how amazing each and every image of his was. I have probably only ever captured maybe one or two images that I feel really proud of and this man had books and rooms full! I shall keep trying though, for that elusive, decisive moment!

Discover more of Karen’s photography via her website: karenrangeley.uk, Instagram: instagram.com/leedslassie/ and Flickr: flickr.com/photos/karenrangeley. All images copyright Karen Rangeley 2015.

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