Alexander Beer is a photographer who shows you the world. His subjects vary from his own personal experience in By The River to capturing authentic moments of humanity in a diverse set of communities. His prolific range of work shows his range, from being able to capture the raw power of female boxers with a series of black and white analogue photography in one his three upcoming book projects, Ringleaders. His photography draws you in, and leaves you wanting more.
You have moved from south-east Asia and Saudi Arabia where you grew up, back to London. Did growing up in areas that are so different culturally impact on your photography, or at least allow you to have a wider perspective of the world?
Yes absolutely. My eyes have always been open to how people live differently around the world but also to how similar we all are. I moved back to the UK when I was a teenager and so had already seen so much diverse culture, religion, lifestyle and perspectives. I have loved re-visiting this as an adult and with a camera in my hand!
Alex, your photography explores a mixture of urban and rural life, in Britain and beyond, yet many photos feel very personal. Is this a conscious decision to make each photo seem personal?
I choose all the images I take very carefully. No matter where I am in the world, I connect with the image I am taking, whether it be a portrait or a still life image, each and every one of them has an emotion attached and this is what I think makes it feel more personal to the viewer.
You have three different book projects coming up, all on different topic matters. Given the vast range of projects you have undertaken, from documentary to editorial, how do you manage to balance all of them? Do you find any type of project more demanding, or more rewarding?
The most demanding of my projects has to be the female boxing project, Ringleaders, because there are so many incredible boxers to cover scattered in all corners of the globe and in the midst of a global pandemic with travel prohibited and fights cancelled, it has been a year of disappointment in some ways. I’m hopeful that everything will resume soon and when I can photograph these female boxers in their natural environment of training and fighting, the project will regain its momentum.
Everything I do is rewarding so it’s hard to choose one project, but I have to say, the book based on the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, By The River, is proving to be really rewarding and interesting as it focuses on where I live. I’m enjoying being local for a change and discovering some wonderful historical features of my town and celebrating them through my photography.
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Your project By the River encapsulates the way in which rivers provide an escape from the dense urban areas of cities with an open space, open for the public. What inspired you to explore this, and did you find it refreshing to photograph a town from a different perspective?
During the first lockdown, we were allowed to be outdoors and walk for exercise. This really caused me to stop and appreciate the town I live in, with the river Thames running through it. Many other local people did the same and gathered around the riverside, eating and socialising from a distance. In recent years, I was always rushing through the town to get to a meeting or the train to go to a photoshoot and did not always stop to take it all in. I noticed the hub of the town was the riverside more than ever this year and I loved observing life going on despite the lockdown and global worries. The portraits I took and the scenic photography will always be a reminder of this year.
Your work contains a huge mixture of diversity, from people from different walks of life and showing a vast amount of different lives and interpersonal relationships. Do you think this is something that is needed more in photography?
Yes I do, but it is encouraging to see artists and photographers are showing diversity in all areas of life more now than ever. I have always seen my subjects as equally interesting, since they all compel me to capture them in my work. I love the story telling aspect of photography and if that means people get to see different lifestyles, cultures and relationships that they otherwise wouldn’t, that can only be a good thing.
By exploring lesser known cultures and communities you allow a more western audience to see the different ways in which people live their life across the world. Do you feel this is an important subject matter for you?
Yes. You can see that in my work! I love to celebrate human beings in all their forms. I feel that this is my purpose as a photographer.
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In one of your documentary pieces you explore the LGBTQ+ community, do you think it is important to document these events in a non-commercial way, with portraits making it more personal?
A good friend and regular stylist of mine is involved with Sink the Pink events and connected me up with a magazine looking for non-commercial portraits of the performers. They liked my style of photography and I wanted to capture the strengths, confidence and vulnerabilities of each person the moment before going on stage. The results were raw, human interactions making them feel more personal.
Another of your personal projects I am a Sikh is very interesting. Tell us more about this.
I worked on a shoot with an Afghan Sikh model and found his life story very interesting. I did not know much about Sikhism and I felt this would be of interest to many other people too. So, we decided to collaborate on a project that would be informative and visually educational, documented through stills and video.
Both your editorial and documentary photography is very personal, and feels like a snapshot of people’s lives, do you find yourself getting to know the subjects of your photography, maybe without even talking to them?
I think, I perhaps feel like I am getting to know the subjects of my photography through capturing a snapshot of their lives but in fact that is the magic of a photograph. It is only a moment in time and we can all form an idea of that person’s life and background without getting to know them at all. We may never know more than what we can see in the image. That is the mystery of photography that I thrive on.
Furthermore, your use of an analogue camera, something more lasting and permanent than digital photography is interesting. Is this an aesthetic or a personal choice?
Digital photography does have a place and I do still use this medium depending on the project. Analogue is my preference because I personally feel that it’s closer to what we see with our eyes. Photographing on film forces me as a photographer to slow down and spend more time observing before taking the shot. This for me, is a more authentic way of shooting and I love the depth and quality of film images.
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