Behind the lens with Callum Robson

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County Durham undoubtedly has its fair share of some of the most picturesque spots in England. As seen on Instagram, Durham City appears somewhat irresistible to cameras. Taking mostly photographs of people, Interview spoke to Callum Robson [pictured below], a street photographer and TEFL teacher originally from nearby Merton, and now residing in Oviedo, Spain about his street photography experiences in cities across the North East and, North and Central Spain.

“I remember being interested in photography when I was young and asking for a camera for Christmas. It wasn’t the most expensive camera, but it was just something for me to get started with at the time. At university, I started taking photos of all sorts of things. Looking back on them, they were probably not very good but it’s that enthusiasm and passion that moved me forwards. I was part of the Snooker and Pool Club, and took on a very active role in promotion by taking photos for their events that were also used for the posters. Overall, I was trying to be as creative as possible with my camera and photography pursuits.”

It is very easy to become quite protective of what you create

On his photography style, Callum reflects on its beginnings: “I was part of a photography group in County Durham for a little while and everyone did their own thing – taking pictures of mostly landscapes and flowers which did not interest me. So, I started taking photos of people and thought ‘oh that’s good!’ Back then, I was the only person who did so.”

“Eventually, the street photography thing pushed me on, and I was one of the runners-up for the 2014 Port of Tyne Reflect Photography and Film Competition in the category: ‘Reflect Life’ for a photo of this guy playing a trumpet with enormous cheeks in Durham. Despite being runner-up, it was displayed in The Baltic and moved around the North East as part of the exhibition. Now, the problem has been with Covid. Of course, I have continued to take photographs, but I don’t have any major projects now. Maybe that will change but the last couple of years, life really, has meant that I still do it but not as much as I used to and hopefully that will change with time.”

Inevitably, we move on to discussing Callum’s biggest project, Humans of Durham which ran from 2014-2015 and how he wished to capture the local community. “Again, it goes back to what I was saying about people and street photography. I had at some point followed the mother of all these projects known as Humans of New York which had millions of followers online. The truth was that I wanted to replicate that in the community along with getting experience. I had seen other versions done across the board and I felt that I wanted to do it well. All the photos were in colour and tried to reflect the feelings of what was said by the people who were interviewed. That was my goal. I met some amazing people and took some brilliant photos. Even now, it is still very important to me that I was able to do it given what was happening at that time.”

Callum Robson

Likewise, I ask Callum whether he would consider reviving the project and what he’s working on now. “Well, I have tongue in cheek mentioned it to people and they’re like ‘do it here then!’. My Spanish is decent now, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable going up to strangers and doing the same thing. With Humans of Durham, I had this feeling that it wasn’t going to last forever, since I had other things that I wanted to do. However, like any artistic venture, I feel like it is one of those tasks that I would like to continue doing myself since it is very easy to become quite protective of what you create.”

“I’d love to say that I have done twenty thousand things and that everything has been wonderful, but that simply hasn’t been the case. Part of the reason that I did Humans of Durham was because I was looking for work. I took it on whilst doing some voluntary stuff in Durham to keep myself going and felt as if I needed to keep ticking over. So, Humans of Durham gave me that push. Sometimes it was tricky since it could be hard to find people to approach or I wouldn’t be feeling it some days. Shortly after finishing the project in 2015, I moved to Spain and I have pretty much been here ever since and haven’t really been back to the UK since January 2020. I can’t believe it myself.”

Since Callum moved to Spain, we ponder the differences in taking photos there and in his home area: “I always felt at home in Durham whilst taking photos. Was everyday a successful day? No. But I would like to think that there is always some buzz in the city, something happening which I can take photos of. I suppose where I’m situated now, I’ve lost a bit of motivation due to Covid and didn’t want to have a catalogue of people wearing masks. Personally, there aren’t any major differences, just different cities. Durham and Newcastle are quite lively and in Madrid? There’s constantly something there to take photos of.”

Regarding future plans, Callum seeks to stick to his craft. “ I want to go to another big city since there’s so much to discover whether it’s a back alley or a square. It’s an endless experience since everywhere you look there is something. Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities for this. I would like to go to loads of places, there’s no fixed plan.”

You can view Callum’s work on @callumstreetphoto on Instagram.

Image credits: Callum Robson

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