You Can Shoot. Can You Talk?
Arek Rataj spoke with Stuart Paton recently. Stuart is a freelance photographer born and raised in the central belt of Scotland. He shoots street photography in the spirit of reportage. And vice-versa.
I’m a photographer because I couldn’t face a dreary 9 to 5 and it offers the only hope I have of self-validation and re-enchanting my world. More shadowboxer than prizefighter, I nonetheless aspire to pictures with some lo-fi sociological value and soul. Always aiming for something that looks like a mixture of ‘Guernica’ and The Shangri-Las.
Q. What is your first childhood memory?
A. Basking in the comforting swirl of my mother’s amniotic fluid but thinking, ‘It’s probably all downhill from here, pal’. Then a few years later, feeling lost and lonely after being dropped off at a children’s home and realising my precocious pessimism had been bang on the money. OK, maybe that first one was just a daydream but a relic of the second lives on in my pictures. If life had a reverse gear I wouldn’t use it much and certainly not for my childhood.
Q. Are you still learning who you are?
A. No, I’ve already cracked that code and now I’m busy trying to unlearn who I am because I didn’t like what it taught me. That said, it definitely is helpful having an understanding of what makes us tick in order to avoid being capsized by mind-storms. Personally speaking, I cope better by staying outside my head because it’s not a place I want to loiter. You probably already have a similar feeling about this interview.
Q. Who are you when no one is looking at you?
A. I suppose this is the question that provokes the most lies from people.
That’s like, ‘Did the tree really fall down if no one was there to actually witness it ?’. To an extent we view ourselves through the eyes of other people so when no one is looking at me I’m keeping an eye on me for them.
As a kid, I was a jukebox stacked with a cute playlist of adopted personas. As an adult, there’s a near perfect overlap between the public and private me. Probably because my default position is misanthropy allied with a highly ethical code of conduct that treats everyone with decency until I find out they are, in actual fact, a cunt. Schopenhauer said, ‘We’re only truly ourselves when we’re alone’. But was anyone there to actually witness that ? And if there was, does that mean it wasn’t truly him who said it ?
Q.What got you involved in photography in the first place?
A. Accident, necessity and my dad. I’d ditched my apprenticeship at the local docks, got kicked out the house and set off on a six month road trip of America with my best pal. I was 19 at the time and bowled over by what I saw there. The natural beauty; the searing inequality. My neurons were short-circuiting with it all so I bought a little Agfa 110 to ease the burden.
After some more traveling, I returned to Scotland and splashed out on a bottom-of-the range SLR. I started shooting pictures in earnest, using my unemployment money on bus trips and cold pies. This was Britain in the mid-1980s, just a few years into Thatcher’s dystopian masterplan so for anyone with a pulse it wasn’t tough finding social subject-matter.
My dad was a good club photographer and had built a tiny darkroom underneath the stairs where we had to kneel down to print. He saw promise in my early snaps and encouraged me onwards. I mulled over the alchemy and mute hieroglyphics of it all. Then went out and shot ‘Hoi Polloi’. My apprenticeship proper.
Enjoyed this. Read the full interview in the latest issue of APF Magazine. Download HERE from the iOS store today.