As a photographer working across art, fashion, and print media, Benjamin McMahon spends much of his working life trying to establish a connection with his subjects – be they award-winning actors, retail tycoons, renowned artists or politicians. “I usually get between five minutes and an hour to make a portrait of someone, and there's lots of chatting, and moving around, and energy required to make something from that time,” he explains. So when it comes to his days off, it should come as little surprise that McMahon’s photographic pursuits lead him not to more of the same – engaging and and conversing and connecting with the people he encounters on central London’s busy streets – but rather to watching them from afar. Or from up-close, as the case often is, and captured from down low, where they don’t immediately spot his camera.
He has been working on a personal series of portraits snapped in the streets of the English capital for several years now, he explains. “It started on my days off from doing commercial shoots and portraits for magazines. I was wandering around town and taking pictures all the time.” The invisibility that the busy streets afforded him came as something of a relief after working so hard to establish a connection to his subjects on professional shoots, he continues. “I think I was trying to shoot in a conflicting style, so that meant no interaction at all,” he continues. “I was just walking past, seeing something that caught my interest and pressing the shutter so I could remember it later. Really fleeting moments in W1.”
The dramatic perspectives he stumbled upon by shooting from the waist went some way to recreating the odd, overbearing sensation London often has on newcomers, too – enlarging passers-by to giant-like status. “Every day I had off I ended up wandering around. There’s a route I always end up doing around Soho and Green Park. I just kept on going around and around and around in massive circles, taking loads of pictures, not necessarily of anybody or anything in particular, just anybody that who sort of caught my eye as I was walking past.”
McMahon is mindful – awestruck, even – of the work of his predecessors in the realm of street photography, citing the likes of Robert Frank, Gus Powell, Trent Parke, Anders Peterson and Tom Wood as just a few of his inspirations. “I'd do a job, and it sort of goes alright, then I’ll treat myself to a book, so I’ve got tonnes and tonnes of books of them,” he says, suggesting that his frame of reference only serves to elevate his own vision. Likewise, he has yet to encounter any hostility from unexacting subjects – even when they do spot the camera. “There’s no posing, none of that,” he says. “I mean, occasionally people will see the camera and they’ll just kind of look up and grin at me, so there’s a few pictures I’ve got of people smiling at me which is really nice. Nobody’s really gotten mad about it, I suppose because nobody really knows what I’m doing. Why would they?”