Interview with Matt Stuart on Street Photography, Ethics, and the Future of Photography

Eric’s Note: When I started street photography, one of the photographers whose work always amazed me was that of Matt Stuart. He is part of the international street photography In-Public, and has caught some of the most incredible images I have ever seen. I was always curious about how he was able to capture his moments. In the video interview with Miniclick, he talks about his thoughts on street photography, commissions, ethics, his interest, and the future of photography. 

For your convenience I have also written together a transcript of the interview below, so read more to get all the goodies. Photographs courtesy of Matt Stuart.


New Bond Street. Photograph by Matt Stuart

Hi, so my name is Matt Stuart. I’m in Brighton to do the Miniclick talk- which I am very flattered to be invited to do. I’m a street photographer, I work in London, I’ve been a street photographer for 18 years now. And I work as a professional photographer as well.

On street photography

Covent Garden. Photograph by Matt Stuart

I think we are living in a world where everything is photo shopped or fake- and the fact that street photography is a trend for people to document what is going on in their lives and what is in their street, museum, or park—and showing these very insightful peaceful moments that actually existed, happened. I think it is fantastic- more relevant than ever.

On commissions

Commission for the Tate Modern, Photograph by Matt Stuart
Commission for the Tate Modern, Photograph by Matt Stuart

The dream assignment is actually to not do street photography. Generally those assignments have conditions attached. They must be ‘aspirational’- and it starts to condition your way of thinking. You are not as free as you should be. But the dream assignment would be, working in a museum- photographing people in a gallery. Same way in the streets—no discussion, take what you see,.

And there is another way I work, I do advertising, corporate work. So people will phone me up and say we need an advert that it looks like it is a captured moment, but we need the lady to be wearing a red jumper, the car to be green- and the dinosaur to be fluorescent pink. So you can’t obviously stumble upon those things. So you get the lights, the camera the action—and that’s what I do for work. Advertising, is totally different from street photography, which is no models, dinosaurs, no jumpers—oh sometimes you can get dinosaurs, but very rarely.

On ethics

Shaftesbury Avenue. Photograph by Matt Stuart

I think it depends very much on the individual, and the person who is actually capturing the moment. I know personally, I’m not doing anything wrong as far as I’m concerned. I’m not hurting anybody. The moments I’m looing for generally are harmless, they’re not incriminating, I think some photographers work in different ways. I think there’s a fine line between what you should and shouldn’t do as a photographer in public.

As a street photographer, in comparison to paparazzi, we’re talking a different game. They’re about stealing unfortunate moments that they can spread around the world to embarrass people. But I think the ethics, the ethics I have, and those who I admire—they are admirable and they care about the people they photograph.

On the interest in street photography

Trafalgar Square. Photograph by Matt Stuart

I mean the appeal in my work is obviously the wit, and humor, and also the fact that its something that anyone can do. I really do mean that, someone can pick up a camera and pick up these things in the streets. The fact that I have been doing it obsessively for 18 years means I get more of those moments than more people. But I do think it is very accessible.

A lot of people say, I sort of saw something like that—maybe I can do something like that. As a collection it may look like I’m some sort of roving lucky eye—but it is just hard work. I think people can relate to that.

On the future of photography

Trafalgar Square. Photograph by Matt Stuart

I think street photography is in a very exciting place. Well, 10% of the pictures ever taken were taken last year. So everyone is taking pictures- and the most accessible one is going out of your house and snapping in your streets. So we are in an avalanche of street photography enthusiasts. I think in the context of the galleries and art world, we are way at the bottom—and I like that.

Because I’m not particularly interested in the art world, the galleries—I’m interested in photographing people in the street. I don’t need to edition pictures and plonk them up on walls.

More photos by Matt Stuart

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Other Video Interviews

Stolen Moments: Interview with Matt Stuart, 2010

Conversations in Modernism by Ben Sherman with Matt Stuart

Other Interviews

Follow Matt

Matt is also leading a workshop with In-Public members David Gibson, Nils Jorgensen, and Nick Turpin in London on May 18-19th. More info here

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