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With his personal project In Visible Light the Australian photographer interrogates his perceptions and experiences of living in Sydney, a city where the cost of living has never been higher and the sense of anxiety never more acutely felt. Using the Leica Q2 to capture moments of collision or happenstance that exist for a fraction of a second, never to occur again.

LFI: How did you get into photography in general and into street photography specifically?
Sam Ferris: I started photographing around 2010 when I was 25 years old. My dad is a painter and as a kid, I loved to spend time in his studio. I learnt how perspective worked; about lines and the vanishing point; he explained composition, form, layering and colour pallets too. He would always have a camera with him when we were driving somewhere, and he would often stop to take photos of landscapes, factories and industrial plants, buildings, roads and signs; anything that he felt he could later use in a painting. Years later, I think his influence filters through to the photos I now take.
Discovering the genre of street photography in 2011 at an exhibition of Joel Meyerowitz' work crystallised my earlier experience of taking photos while walking the streets of Sydney; looking for moments where the ordinary and mundane can be made strange and beautiful through the closing of the shutter.

How important is the expression of a protagonist in your photos?
It’s really important, and it’s one of the things that can ‘make or break’ a frame. I look for and try to anticipate emotion, gesture and expression on the street. I’m not looking for people who are aware of or reacting to the camera, but whose presence reflects something of what I perceive or feel. While the expression or emotion of a subject can make for a great image, what I am more trying to achieve is a balance between content and form; and through those things, make images that have the ability to evoke a sense of the time and place. Finding a way of photographing this is what I’m really interested in.

Three traits of a good street photographer?
Openness/ Honesty - Your demeanour on the street and approach to your subjects has to be one of openness, honesty and integrity. You should also endeavour to be honest with yourself, your work and your motivations.
Obsessiveness - I think to be ‘good’ or ‘great’ at anything you need to become obsessed with it; and completely fascinated by it. In moving from the enthusiast stage to the obsessive, you begin to make photos and not ‘take’ them.
Optimism - To remain motivated as a street photographer, you must be eternally optimistic and think that just around the corner, with the next 'click' of the shutter, could lie waiting; a great image. To remain sane, you must also completely expect that mostly everything you do will be a photographic failure.

How is the Leica Q working for you?
It’s functioning well and is a brilliant, take everywhere piece of equipment. In essence, it’s the perfect camera for street photography. I appreciate the ability to quickly change settings, with tactile, manual controls that feel solid and reliable. This is essential when working in the incredible set of a city such as Sydney, where the strength and intensity of the light changes minute by minute on each corner. The Q2’s battery life is outstanding, where I’ll only need one full battery for a day of photographing. The lens markings and wonderful ability to quickly check focus distance through the viewfinder, make this camera far easier to set and adjust quickly when responding to dynamic and unfolding situations. Lastly, the files are huge and beautifully rendered, and they print exceptionally well too.

How did you get to work with Leica cameras and what do you like about it?
I am very lucky to have met, hung out, and become mates with brilliant street photographers and Leica ambassadors Jesse Marlow and Matt Stuart. Last year, both of them were special guests at AUSSIE STREET, a street photography festival that I co-founded and organised, that took place in Sydney. Prior to the event, my previous camera, that was not a Leica, had broken down, and I was not having much luck with customer service in getting it repaired. Matt Stuart kindly offered to let me try out his spare camera, a Q2, during the festival. The combination of using a Leica for the first time, and being surrounded by idols of mine who had made some of the greatest street images of all time on their Leica equipment, solidified my desire to join them in the ranks of Leica owners. (Interview: Denise Klink)

Read more about his project in LFI Magazine 3/2022.

All images on this page: © Sam Ferris
Equipment: Leica Q2 with Summilux 28 f/1.7 Asph
© Sam Ferris

Sam Ferris

The Australian has been shooting on the streets of Sydney for more than 8 years. He is an organiser and co-founder of the Aussie Street Festival and competition. His work has been published in Internationale, Photo Review Magazine, Capture Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, Fellow Traveller the magazine of China Rail, and as an Editor's selection on Lensculture.
In 2019 Ferris was named as the winner of ‘Australasia’s Emerging Photographer’ in the category of Documentary/ Photojournalism.  His images have been exhibited in two featured street photography exhibitions at Head On Photo Festival in Sydney as well as in exhibitions in Europe, the USA, and UK.

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