Docu Interviews is a series where we interview the person behind the camera.
Who Are you?
I’m Michael Goldrei, a Vienna-based street & documentary photographer originally from the UK. I’ve been around the Sun nearly 42 times, and have worked as a Graphic Designer for around half of those.
I spend almost every spare waking minute either taking photographs or editing what I’ve shot. I’ve published two books of my work: ‘chromorama’ (2018), a greatest hits of my street photography so far, and ‘Hoods’ (2019), a typology of the fascinating & beautiful car hood ornaments I saw in Cuba. I’m also the founder of street & documentary photography collective Optic Nerve.
As I enjoy playing around with mediums, I created what may be the world’s first one-sided photography book in 2019 as well as ‘Crossing the Street’, a virtual exhibition of street photography within the computer game Animal Crossing: New Horizons featuring work by: Martin Parr, Matt Stuart, Niki Gleoudi, Niall McDiarmid, Julie Hrudová, and more.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
Oxford, England. It’s a beautiful place to visit, but I remember finding it fairly boring as a young person, as I was not interested in hanging around dusty old buildings at the time. My first post-university job was there, designing 3D models of things like guns and dead horses for a computer games company.
I went to university in Manchester to study Physics with Astrophysics, although I was really there for the amazing music scene. I can remember far more about the latter than the former. Music plays a part in my photography as I always listen to it while editing my work, and I think it can seep in to the mood of the work. I also sometimes use song titles as the titles for my photos.
I later ended up in London, where I lived for 14 years. I totally absorbed the culture there, regularly visiting the theatre, interesting events at cinemas, being spellbound by immersive theatre performances, going to gigs, museums, etc. I’m certain that these other forms of art have influenced my photographic work. In particular, I that think my photographic scenes often look like actors placed on a stage (although the scenes are of course unstaged).
In 2017 I moved to Vienna to follow my girlfriend who was offered an amazing job opportunity, and since then I’ve been trying to navigate a new language and culture!
How did you become a photographer?
As a kid, I had always enjoyed photography and my Mum was a keen photographer of the family, so I think I absorbed that a bit. But drawing pictures was the main art form I expressed myself with for a long time. I later got a ‘bridge camera’ (i.e. one half way between a simple camera and an SLR), which I experimented with somewhat.
But it wasn’t really until one day in 2011 when I felt a sudden urge to ask to borrow a friend’s DSLR and sign up to the first photography workshop I saw. This turned out to be an afternoon photographing Shoreditch, East London with David Gibson (of UP Photographers), who I have to thank for converting me to the ways of street photography. Since then I have been addicted to seeing the world in this way, and find it very difficult to switch off from looking around an environment searching for shots.
Why did you choose photography over other mediums?
As mentioned above, for a long time I was more into drawing/illustration, as well as 3D modelling for a time. These both offer a world in which you can create anything you can imagine. After a while, I actually found this concept overwhelming, and liked the fact photography involves using what is already there. And as I’ve become older, I’m drawn more to the real world (e.g. reading autobiographies, watching documentaries) and how these can be stranger than fiction, so I also now find candid photography the most interesting form of art.
What is the most interesting project you have been working with?
Probably my Trashtopia series, which aims to see whether the trash of a given place can show a piece of the character of the location in which it was found. It’s ongoing, and I enjoy the challenge of capturing inanimate objects and seeing whether they can tell the kinds of tales of humour, politics, culture, and joy or sadness that photos of people can.
What do you usually do when you start a new project?
I don’t normally set out to start a new project. Often what happens is that I spot patterns in what I’ve been photographing and realise “Oh, it turns out I’m interested in thing X!”. Then I start a new Collection in Lightroom and add to it when I have more of these kinds of photographs. Often this kickstarts me into seeking out more of those kinds of shots. As a result, when I’m out shooting, I’m normally on the lookout for about 10 different things!
What advice would you give to young emerging photographers?
Photography is only something you should do if you enjoy the process and get a fuzzy feeling out of looking at your own work. It’s very difficult to make money from, and you’ll have highs and lows in your career, so it’s important to always be able to fall back on the thought “Well, I love what I’m doing, so I haven’t wasted my time”.
With street photography, I see similar patterns that people go through from when they start out to when they get good at it (and I’m no exception to this). Early photos seem most about getting the confidence to photograph strangers, and may turn out later on not to be the most interesting photos you’ve taken. But it’s an important first step.
What has been the most touching moment in your career?
That would be a tie between a few people having created paintings of my best-known shot ‘Lady in Red’, and speaking to the staff and patients of Moorfields Eye Hospital, London about their experiences around the subject of losing one’s eyesight, for my series ‘The Dark Green Line’. It was surprising and reassuring to me how positive many of them were. Oh, and having the work from my book ‘chromorama‘ featured by The Guardian was one of the highlights of my career so far!
What are you working on right now?
I have a number of ongoing series I’m working on, and will eventually decide which will become my next book. I also run a series of photography workshops, some of which take place in Vienna, and some which are online and can be done from anywhere in the world.
Lady in Red – (c) Michael Goldrei
Church Street Bus Stop – (c) Michael Goldrei
The Blue Door – (c) Michael Goldrei
Nest – (c) Michael Goldrei
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – (c) Michael Goldrei
Trois Garcons – (c) Michael Goldrei