His background is impressive. He has, in a word, ‘always’ been out there, pushing time and space around to create art. Initially as an assistant photographer and then as an assistant director working on music videos with Madness, Ian Dury, Dexys Midnight Runners and The Stranglers. An arena where soaring musical talent collides with exciting visual interpretations.
The street photography of Kim Aldis is not that different. Put simply, the mercurial translation of a moment in time emerging as a single frame of action ( stopped) in space. That iconic invisible fusion of the artist and their subject(s) in one specific photograph – forever locked together.
“I just like taking photographs of people,” Aldis says simply when I try to discover the man’s drivers. “It’s not really much more complicated than that. I think Saul Leiter had it : ‘I don’t have a philosophy, I have a camera’. So, I just take pictures.”
Is he being evasive, elusive, modest? Am I being paranoid? I, personally, find his street photography, at times beautifully and cleverly understated, but with an edge to it that can make it compelling.
Copyright ⓒ Kim Aldis
A woman, her face obscured by her hair, a pair of sunglasses on her head stares down at her phone in her hand. She is totally focused on what she is doing and completely oblivious to the photographer. The shot is taken from an interesting angle and Kim, in one frame, neatly captures the two main states of modern society. The ‘high quality’ focus needed for our periodic integration with our mobile phones, social media and digital equipment, while all around her the world sails on with its own agenda(s). Essentially the woman becomes a metaphor for how lost most of us are in the modern digital technology of the day : Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al. She is hidden behind her hair and for these precious moments of her life she is at one with her device, in stark contradistinction to Aldis who while watching everything around him has zeroed in on her.
So how did it all get going?
“My mother, when I was about 15, decided I needed to work out what I wanted to do with my life,” He told me. “The two of us trooped up to London where she’d made an appointment for me with a careers guidance organisation. It was all very scientific; they asked me a lot of questions, threw all the answers into a computer which spat out some graphs and they decided I’d be good at architecture, landscape gardening or photography, pick one. Photography sounded like fun so she bought me a horrible little camera and a bunch of Paterson dev & print gear. I messed around a bit and had fun but the real turning point came when she bought me a subscription : Life Library of Photography, a fabulous series of books, one a month, from Time-Life who had been commissioning awesome photography for decades.”
There is something charmingly honest about Aldis’s work which I find intriguing. He has the ability to take quite straightforward photographs which when we look pull us into other, more fascinating, worlds.
Copyright ⓒ Kim Aldis
There is nothing more ordinary and/or everyday and/or candid than a man who has fallen fast asleep in a bus or train station, but it immediately and dramatically sparks our curiosity. Is he innocently waiting on a train/bus, is he just so tired he has found the nearest seat to slumber in, is he homeless? Perhaps he is waiting for someone?
It reminded me (at a stretch) of Estragon, who dozes off in Samuel Beckett’s classic play : ‘Waiting For Godot’. Estragon’s companion Vladimir rouses him but doesn’t want to share his dreams, perhaps they might be too dark and unbearable? As Vladimir tells his friend he does not want to listen to his ‘Private Nightmares’. We can only wonder what ‘private dreams’ this man is having?
“I’ll be forever grateful to my mother, who passed last year, for that subscription to the Life Library of Photography; so many really great photographs by so many really great photographers that it’s difficult to know where to start,” he states when asked about those photographers who have gave him inspiration. “In those days I don’t think we used the term ‘street photographer’. If you photographed people on the streets you were a reportage photographer or a photojournalist. Cartier-Bresson, obviously, Arbus, Weegee. Quite a few photographers who weren’t by any stretch street photographers – Bailey, Irving Penn and I loved Avedon’s work. During and after my college years, Brian Griffin was a great influence because he was busting conventions. More recently, Parr, Dougie Wallace for his utter fearlessness and his eye for the mad. William Egglestone, Saul Leiter, Alex Webb continues to astound. I was also very taken by the work of Dennis Hopper which showed at the RA a few years ago.”
We follow this with some discussion of a shot of some people in a car which is reminiscent of a series of car photos by Garry Winogrand.
Copyright ⓒ Kim Aldis
“Yes, of course,” Kim says. “That was a few years ago, 2007, I think? I’d just picked up a new M8 and was seeing how it worked in low light. This is still one of my favourite shots.”
I ask him about how he likes to operate on the street and he tells me that because of a lack of patience he likes to keep moving. But like all street photographers he is always looking.
“People and light, always,” he responds when I ask him about what he is searching for on the street. “What else is there? I’m less interested in composition, maybe because honestly I think it’s overrated. If your subject matter is right and if you tell your story clearly then honestly, pretty much anything works.”
In addition to his street photography Kim Aldis’ body of work contains some great documentary shots. A group of photographs taken in one of his local boozers called The Devon Arms are a set of my own favourite photographic groupings.
But we return to his street photography and one of my favourite shots, a mirrored photograph brilliantly based on the theme of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five.
Copyright ⓒ Kim Aldis
“This was at Paddington railway station in London,” He explained. “I was killing time waiting for a train back home, hanging around the entrance which is the only place smokers can go for a cigarette. It’s an attractively odd place because that’s all they do; smoke and hide in their phones, tucked away in their own worlds. I’d already taken a shot of the guys at the back; they were interesting in the way they were evenly spaced and oblivious but I’d wandered up the way to see what was going on there. And, then [I] saw a plume of vape smoke out of the corner of my eye. I took myself back and planted myself in front of the five of them, waited for the next plume, which took ages, and there it was. It’s amazing how you can hide in plain sight in situations like this. I was on a 24mm lens so I was pretty close. In the five minutes I was there, not one of them spotted me. Except the guy on the left found the shot on Twitter about six months later and had some nice things to say.”
The photograph, unsurprisingly, was shortlisted for the 2019 Street Photography International awards. But, for me, it summed up Kim Aldis : ‘Brilliantly understated moments of life’.
Visit his website to see more of Kim Aldis