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Nigel Allison: The 35mm Photographer Capturing the Streets and Music Scene of Our Generation

Co-founder Tom Nixon met Nigel just over a year ago at Hyde Park Book Club. It was raining and he was sat editing some of his images that caught Tom’s eye. He has since become a photographic staple around the Leeds gig scene; it’s rare to a show without seeing him crouched down looking for his unique and unusual angles.

TN: When did you start shooting?

NA: It was around three or four years ago. I got an iPhone and started taking photos of architecture and realised I have a bit of an eye for symmetry. About six months later, I got a digital camera; six months after that a friend of mine got me into film photography and I’ve never looked back. He also showed me how to develop my own film, which is one of the ways I cut down costs. The developing also adds to me enjoying the process. There is a nice surprise element when you scan the photos in, or when you look at the negative and think ‘Oh I remember that shot’”.

Why do you dedicate so much to what you do?

I think that is something I’m still trying to answer. Initially, I think it’s because I can produce images that I am proud of. Not all of the time, but a lot of the love for it lies in the process of being able to capture something that looks and feels interesting.

Why do you primarily use black & white film?

I’m a really big fan of contrast: I love heavy blacks. In the developing process, I’m more attuned to pushing the film to try and get as much contrast as possible. It’s one thing less you have to worry about in comparison to colour; you don’t have to think about how the colours work.

You started mainly doing street photography; what made you start shooting gigs?

I first started shooting gigs because I was looking for something different to try. I messaged a few bands and asked if I could go down and take some photos. The first gig I shot was in 2018 and it was Tugboat Captain at The Fox & Newt. The lighting conditions were really bad but some came out actually looking ok, which spurred me on. I think film lends itself quite well to music. It gives me a bit of extra grain and atmosphere. I found that I didn’t get that with digital. I tried digital at a gig once, but the reason I chose film was to get something a bit different. When I started using film, it was a test to see how to do it and if I could. Then when they came out ok I just stuck with that going forward.

You have chosen two photos to show us, what is this first one?

This particular image is of Lowkey, a rapper I’d wanted to see for ages. Some of the images came out too overexposed and bright; but then for some, like this one, the conditions were perfect.

This image demonstrates your great use of angles, is that something you focus on?

Because I also do a lot of street photography, I try to bring that element into gigs composition-wise. What angles can I find? What can I use around me: the crowd, or the speakers, or the microphone? Also, when you take photos of bands, as opposed to MC’s, there is a huge difference between them. With MC’s or rap artists, their microphone is generally to their mouth. But with bands, they usually step off away from the mic. When an artist starts playing, you’ll find that they do specific things, whether it’s the way that they dance or the way they move or how the band interacts together, they will generally do that repeatedly. Because I only have a limited number of shots, I will think: ‘Right, that’s the shot I want to get’ and I will wait for it to happen. That’s something I picked up from street photography, waiting for that composition to come into place.

You recently had a brief visit in New York and you’re currently working on a zine of the images you captured there. Although you were only there for 20 hours in total, how was it to shoot in New York?

Because I was only there for a limited time I was dashing through the city. There was no pressure to take amazing photos or to produce something that was fantastic, which I think ended up meaning that I made something better. When I passed through New York, I captured images like a woman on the street in a tutu, a sequence o a fire engine and the picture of people coming out of the station. It’s simple but I love it. When you go to new places everything just feels different.

Who have been some of your favourite artists/events to shoot?

At the moment; Morpher, Kojey Radical and Hanibl X Dante. Leeds is full of just great venues and great music. I am really lucky to be in the epicentre of music. Living in Hyde Park is great, music is everywhere. Throw a rock and you will most likely hit a musician. Music was always something I have been into, but more passively. Whereas now I feel like I have become a lot more interested in it, and all that is because of photography. It’s been great meeting musicians and becoming a fan of their music.

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