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Our Community: Alfie White

Our Community takes an insight into members within The Basement. Telling a story through their practice. A thriving community with an array of members who create and explore their mediums through any means necessary. The series aims to explore community members from their perspective. Written by our community for our community.

A member of the community since 2016, Alfie White is a street documentary photographer hailing from south London, he has been able to document his surrounding environment though focusing on intimacy and human emotion.

Alfie White by Sam Pemberton

My name is Alfie White and I’m a 19-year-old photographer. I produce all my work on 35mm and medium format film which I develop and scan at home.

Photography began for me nearly 4 years ago as my friends and I were getting into fashion, I thought that if I bought a camera then I’d be able to take better outfit pictures of them and myself, but it turned out it was a bit more complicated than that, and that’s where the interest began. For a while, it remained as a hobby whilst I was at college, from taking digital portraits, to point and shoot snapshots, to medium format portraits, and as of the past year, documentary work.

During my time at college I worked part-time at a Snappy Snaps, so developing film was something I was doing before I began even shooting it myself. This has meant that developing it myself has always been an unquestionable part of the process, not that it really has much influence over the final outcome, but I like to be there throughout. It’s also cheaper.

How to develop film at home by Alfie White

It was around December 2018 when I made the switch to Black and White. I had been playing around with it for about a month prior, but the moment(s) which acted as a real catalyst for it all, was when I took a trip to New York with predominantly Black and White rolls which I had lying around. The reasons I had purchased these rolls originally was that at the time, I felt my work lacked something, that the pictures themselves were pretty, sure, but didn’t go much beyond that. (That said, I don’t think one is better than another and if anything I’ve begun to delve back into colour work.)

The photos I took there were essentially street photography, and since then I have continued in that direction of candid style work. I wouldn’t describe myself as a street photographer though – documentary would probably be most appropriate right now and is definitely the direction I’m going in. Being honest, there isn’t a message or much premeditation behind the photos I’ve taken in the past year, which I suppose can be seen in the fact that they are largely a collection of unconnected fleeting moments. My work as of right now is a way of me succinctly presenting the moments and things which have struck a chord in me – that sounds sort of flippant, and it does go deeper than that, but I’m just unable to really articulate it.

In recent months I’ve been asked about the relationship between my work and the traditional media narratives of London, and how I attempt to combat these narratives with the photos I take. There have been occasions where I’ve looked at a photo I’ve taken and decided against showing it because I knew the context behind the image and that it was a misrepresentation of the scene and subject. But the reality is that whilst I am very aware of these narratives and stereotypes, I’ve never made a conscious effort to combat them whilst actually taking photos. The reason being that most of these narratives are fuelled by prejudice and ignorance, and are so wildly distorted because of it, that by just photographing what is really happening and what is really being shown, you are automatically combating them.

Still, I think it can be very easy to fall into following these media narratives and for those subjected to it as well, and I think there’s a responsibility which lies in the photographer to be aware of this and the potential power a photograph can have in this context. But that is what I love most about photography, that it holds this timeless ability which separates it from any other medium. A powerful photograph is universal and will touch a person irrespective of any barriers which might usually separate them.

In terms of the future, I’m looking at not necessarily slowing things down, but narrowing them into more dedicated, concentrated projects. 2019 was a whole array of things packed into a relatively small amount of time, but what it did for me was set a foundational theme in my work. Whilst I love fleeting moments and the beauty they hold, my passion for photography is beginning to go beyond that and lie more within the people and things I meet through it, with my interest being focused much more on the people and topics themselves than the potential photo of them. When I’m with my subjects I want to be there as Alfie, not Alfie: the photographer. I don’t like this concept of being just a detached observer, I want to experience what they experience and really be present with them, the photos will come regardless, that much is certain.

Towards the end of last year, I shot my first editorial style shoot as well as my first ‘event’. These were really fun and fall under a branch of my work which I’m looking to explore further. I have been experimenting with video more lately too and think that is something which will begin to appear more in some of these future projects.

I’m becoming drawn towards the youth and the anxieties we face at this age, individually but also as a collective, and how at a base level these carry over regardless of your location, but also how they can become more and more nuanced depending where you are from. I’m hoping to continue photographing the country Gibraltar this year, and a group of skating youth I met out there last May – they’re awesome.

I’d like to release a book one day, once I’ve got a cohesive body of work, a solo exhibition too. I’d love to be an artist’s photographer and go on tour with them as well – probably just the once though. In the last couple months of 2019, I assisted an incredible photographer and printer, Eddie Otchere, on a workshop held at Rugby Portobello Trust, a youth club in West London. It was a 10 week workshop in partnership with Dazed+Labs, and was the most fulfilling and grounding experience. I’d love to do more stuff like that in the future and teaching in general, I think that’s my favourite type of work.

I’m not going to pretend like I totally know what I’m doing though, I initially pursued photography because it was the most logical decision at the time, the other option being an electrician apprentice… and that still seems ideal at times. It probably seems a bit random to just end it at that, but I worry that with the way social media portrays everything, people might look at what I’m doing and instantly compare themselves, as I know I have many times in the past. This is just an assurance that just like nearly everyone else, I’m totally winging it.