We love a good documentary photographer here at Cotton On MCR, and Stefan Byrom (aka Es.Bee) is no exception. His work tells it like it is. They don’t hide anything, they are an upfront, honest description of life and struggles of people. It makes you take another look at your surroundings, and take notice of the areas we live in, that we might otherwise try and ignore, or brush under the carpet.
Check out the interview below to find out more about Stefan and his work, and check out his products in the Cotton On MCR Shop!
Cotton On MCR: How would you describe your work?
Stefan Byrom: ‘I always find this type of question hard to answer because I’m never quite sure what the best way is to describe it. I suppose it’s an honest representation of everyday life in middle/lowerclass towns and cities in the north, but it’s by no means poking fun. I actually quite admire that they are not trying to be something that they aren’t, it’s that northern charm, it’s the art of getting by and to me it’s nostalgic of growing up in the north.’
‘I think with the north what you see is what you get, it’s really down to earth and I think we definitely have a different way of doing things, for sure. I mean there is a lot of struggle around and it’s cool for me at least to see how people adapt to these times of austerity, money is tight and even for me growing up, it was the same. I often try to show that side of life in my work.’
CO: A lot of your images depict poorer areas, run-down, decaying – do you purposefully try and show that side of these areas?
SB: ‘I wouldn’t say I purposely go out looking for run-down areas, I mean I guess I live in a town that’s working/lower class in some respects – big up Rochdale! Haha! But these areas are on my doorstep really. With my work I am telling a story about the average everyday life we all live and breath and I hope my images work together as whole to create that. But I don’t intend for it to come across as bias, I love where I live and I think everywhere is similar if you really look. Every town/city has its quirks but because we are so used to seeing them they just pass us by we don’t really take notice a lot of the time or we choose not to.’
CO: You are part of the Common Collective, which I believe one of our previous Manc of the Month’s Luke Saxon is part of too, can you tell us more about that?
SB: ‘Ahh yes Common, there are four of us now chipping away at that haha. Basically the aim behind Common is to give photographers who maybe aren’t as well known a place to get their photography work seen and receive some feedback and to also network with other photographers. We recently added – Tom Scioli and Pat the Lad who handles the website and Tom handles the curating of the page, and then me and Luke sort of oversee everything. By the way, what Tom doesn’t know about photography and the history isn’t worth knowing, haha! He’s really knowledgable like the Miagi of photography haha.’
CO: What other photographers do you reckon we should follow?
SB: ‘I will list a few Instagram accounts for you, especially the ones who are inspiring me at the moment and who are always happy to help or give advice.
@the.muted The connoisseur of photography as mentioned before.
@street.dweller (Pat the Lad) One of the first people I met on Instagram, but he’s another relentless photographer and probably has the same work rate as me so we usually push each other. We also have both suffered from Instagram stalkers which was a weird experience.
[The same girl kept adding and contacting Stefan but under different account names and pictures]
@jordanmurray96 Really great B&W street photographer from the toon aha. Another guy who’s just out there pushing photography and other photographers.
@northern.35 another amazing northern photographer really has a nice style.
Oh nearly forgot!
@mathroberts1 This guy, every time I talk to him he has the craziest stories, if you ever get chance to talk to him ask him about the glow sticks aha. He really pushed me to be more confident in the street though, his work rate is crazy on his good weeks haha.
There is a lot more out there though, seeing new photographers everyday.’
CO: What is Rum Dogs? Can you tell us more about that?
SB: ‘Haha the Rum dogs collective (not sure if many people even notice that in my bio) it started one night when I was getting a bit boozy with some friends, and basically it’s one of those great ideas you have at about 5 in the morning after you have been drinking all night and your going to change the world. It sort of started as a collaboration crew where we could come together and just create whatever we wanted like artwork and clothing etc and anyone interested could get involved. It just so happens we all like Wu-Tang so one of the first things we made was a homage to them and our town. There are plans for more but I usually get really busy so a lot stays on paper aha…’
CO: We love this image (above) – does it have a name – where was this taken?
SB: ‘I remember you liking this actually aha. When I look back it seems quite a dull photo but that’s just how the day was, but I do like some of my photos looking that way I think you get more of a feel for where it was taken. I also get these little obsessions with my photography and this was in the wall stains era aha. I also just liked the dull yellow and the bare tree it’s a really grim looking scene, it seems like a simple image but there is a lot going on. But yeah no name for this, I don’t usually name my images for some reason aha maybe I should. BTW just to finally answer – it was taken outside a world foods all you can eat restaurant in Rochdale aha.’
CO: Do you have a favourite piece/a piece of work you are most proud of?
SB: ‘One I am proud of to some degree is the first ever meat van image aha. I was on a photo outing with Math Roberts and Luke Saxon, watching them work is quite inspiring so I was on a hype that day. It was one of the rare occasions where anxiety didn’t stop me approaching humans haha.’
CO: What is the best exhibition you have visited and why?
SB: ‘I recently visited the Martin Parr exhibition which was good, but I think I would have to say the Manchester Contemporary exhibitions, they had some good work on display and a lot of variety plus the free beer which is always good, and Luke also had some work up so it was a win all-round really.’
CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art and photography scene and what do you think it needs more of?
SB: ‘From what I’ve seen its really good, there seems to be stuff happening all the time not just with photography but all avenues of art, when is the Cotton On exhibition haha?’
[that made us chuckle – maybe later this year]
SB: ‘I think just creating more opportunities for artists to show work would be a good thing and more networking opportunities it’s always good to meet new photographers.’
CO: What’s next? Do you have any new projects, or any exhibitions coming up?
SB: ‘There may be an exhibition with a few people but we are still waiting on dates and venues etc, and maybe some zines at some point with Luke.
Now winter seems to be getting out of the way I want to throw myself at photography a bit more, but who knows what’s around the corner, I really want to exhibit some work before the end of the year though. I also just started a mini-series called ‘Anywhere But Here’ exploring peoples attempts of escaping from their surroundings but that’s still early days aha.’
CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?
SB: ‘It would have to be ‘Our Town’ by L.S Lowry, one of my favorite artists, great inspiration and his work just reminds me of home for some reason, even though it’s from a time before me, would have loved to photograph that era.’
‘WU-TANG FOREVER! UP THE DALE!’
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