When did you first think of becoming a photographer and what/who got you started?
I didn’t really think about becoming a photographer as such, when I moved to America I liked the scenery and I had always liked taking photos anyway. I had a phone so I used the camera on the phone and I was taking photos of the scenery in America. I had a shitty camera phone so when I got back to England I got an iPhone and that when I really started thinking “yeah, I like taking pictures in a photography kind of style”.
How would you describe your style? How would you describe you in relation to other people?
I guess I’ve taken inspiration from the culture I’m in really. I try to take photos of things that people want to see, or say you are at an event, peoples favourite part and how it made them feel. I like taking pictures of scenarios where people are in their feelings basically, where you can see the emotion, even though they don’t know the cameras are around, so it’s true emotion.
How often do you have a camera on you?
I should have my camera on me every day because that’s what photographers do, but I have my camera on me when I want to have my camera on me, I’m not inspired to take pictures all the time. There’s not always things there to take photos of. I feel like there are so many people taking photos out there who are forcing things because they want to make things look a certain way, but sometimes you just can’t, you’ve got to make them look more natural.
A lot of your posts on social media are of trainers and sport, I suppose these are hobbies and interests of yours, is that something that encourages you and inspires you or is just something you’re interested in separately?
Yeah trainers go into that, there were lots of pictures of trainers that inspired me to take pictures.
Not for taking the photography but the photography that Ronnie Fieg uses on his Instagram and the pictures he takes of his product. You can tell he’s put a lot into it and it’s a lot about the visuals and how its put across so people buy it.
What kind of assignments in editorial and advertising do you like? What kind of branding?
There’s a few guys on Instagram, whose names I don’t have to hand, that travel around Tokyo, Singapore and just places like that, the pictures they take of architecture and things like that are crazy. So, I like architecture themed things and the way things are built up to make you see something in a bigger picture. The details and the windows that make up a whole building.
Was there ever a point where you were like I’m a photographer, I take photos, that’s what I do?
No, I don’t even think that now really, like I just think I’m someone to likes to take pictures and it’s almost like a hobby to me. I don’t think I would ever, unless I really got onto the circuit and do gigs and taking photos all the time, I wouldn’t be like “yeah I’m a photographer”. When I go out taking pictures I take them for myself really.
And then if people like them, even better?
Yeah, yeah. Like if someone wants to pay me.
Is there anyone that you’ve worked with recently or in the past?
Carhartt, I did an event for Carhartt. They just messaged me on Instagram, said they’d looked at my stuff and seen me around Bristol. A couple of people are starting to know me more which is the best, but when people are contacting you because they like your work it’s a great feeling.
How’s living in Bristol?
Yeah, I’m born and raised, and it’s just amazing, the best place.
Do you think Bristol shapes the way you work and the way you react with your photography?
I have a more laid back attitude towards it because Bristol is so laid back compared to other cities in England, especially places like London and Manchester where you’re fast paced and opportunities come and go. But here I guess people kind of give you the leeway and the trust to work on it longer or they know that you need the time to get the thing right.
From a lot of your posts online you do a lot of stuff to do with music. What kind of music are you into? What are you listening to at the moment?
Hip hop, always. At the moment, I’m listening to A2, yeah that’s what I’ve been listening to recently. Also, there’s an G-worthy album and then Rapsody.
Is there anything or anyone that you’d really like to go and take photos?
NBA all-star weekend. There’s this guy I follow on Instagram called Don Charleone and he takes pictures of the NBA and he got invited to take pictures backstage, like locker room stuff. So, he’s got pictures of them like tying their shoes and joking around with each other, the shots that no one else sees. There’s a thousand photographers at a game but there’s not that many guys who get those intimate moments between players.
Because basketball is big in terms of what you’ve done, do you want to say a bit about how basketball affects your photography?
Yeah, I played basketball since I was 10, so it always been a part of my life. The whole culture behind it is involved in black hip hop and just black culture and I just think it’s quite cool to document because people are in that situation for 10 or so years, that’s how long their careers last. To document people doing something that only a certain percentage of people get to do, it’s like an exclusive life style and its cool to get an insight. And so many people never see that obviously.
When I was doing my scholarship I wasn’t taking photos, basketball was just the go-to. And then, long story short, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and so I had to stop and that’s where photography came in because that was my outlet. I was still being around the team and just being involved still. I just wanted to document it, especially to get my mind of it and I wasn’t going to be living in America forever.
Explain how your vision affects your photography.
So yeah, I went blind in the March of 2015. I had a really bad headache one day, I went to bed woke up the next day and was blind in my right eye, like pitch black blind. It came back and then went a little bit and now I can see about 10% in my right eye, it’s as if there is a black sheet across my eye.
At first I thought I was dying, but it’s not that bad. You can still see just as much with one eye. It doesn’t affect you as much. I can still drive and I can still play basketball, I just had to switch my shooting eye. I had 20/20 vision before in both my eyes, but it’s not my eye, it’s something to do with the nerve behind my eye and the connection between my eye and my brain. My eye is physically ok, there’s nothing wrong with my eye it works fine and looks like a normal eye. There’s just a little bit of depth perception that’s off.
Do you feel it affects your photos a lot?
No, not at all. If anything, it makes them better because I have to use my left eye and concentrate more.
Does your photography take you out of the city for jobs or personal work?
No, I haven’t had opportunities to go to other places and take pictures. I guess because I haven’t put myself in a position to have those opportunities but I go to other places I will shoot. I went to Marbella in the summer and shot, and it was cool to shoot there because it’s really different with the culture architecture and the people are different. I like doing things like that, but like I said I only shoot something I’m inspired to shoot. If I’m not feeling it on the day I just won’t.
Is there anything coming up for you in terms of photography? Anything you’re really excited for?
Obviously, I’ve put out my first t-shirt which has my own photography on it. It’s something that really personal to me and it’s an achievement to put it out because it’s another platform
Do you want to make photography more of a predominant thing, more of a job thing?
I’d like to be able to live off it and have no stress. When you do something for your job you don’t want to have any stress. Yeah, I would like to put myself in a position where I’m working and providing for myself through photography. Who knows, photography could take me anywhere.
What’s your favourite project in terms of photos?
The most recent project which I did was the t-shirts and I loved doing that because I personally knew the guy for like a long time, and he actually introduced me to basketball and I knew him at a closer level. He’s actually got 2 kids now and I took photos of his kids and made them t-shirts and stuff, so that was really cool to do that.
One of my most favourite things to do is, one of my friends has a BBQ every year, in Leeds, because his birthdays in June so it’s a summer time thing and every year, I shoot the BBQ. Two years ago, he rented a horse box, and he put decks in the horse box and had set times of people who were playing. They are just really proactive people, it’s 4 brothers that live in the house and they just do whatever they want, whenever they want and its really active. So, shooting that every year it’s cool to see how people change and the people who are still there that were going like 4 years ago.
In terms of the quality of the photos, what is your favourite shoot that you’ve done that you thought was the most visually engaging?
At the Bristol botanical gardens for FAWAHODIE, which is a brand I’m shooting for and that was cool to shoot in there because they have the different climates in the greenhouse, so it was pretty much like you were shooting on location in the jungle. The quality of that was nice because I was shooting close up and you could really see the textures and colours. It really added to the aesthetic of the pictures in the end, people were very impressed. The companies end goal is to provide jobs for women in Africa, basically making clothes for that. So, they have like a strong link to that sort of environment I guess.
How do you educate yourself to take better photos? Do you feel you have progressed in your photo taking and how have you done that?
With experience really, just take pictures you want to take. Don’t spend ages, well me personally, I don’t spend ages being like “shit, I need to alter this setting” or “I need to change the flash”, just get in there and take the picture. Someone sat on a computer is going to see it on a blog and they’re not going to be squinting at the screen like ”hmmmm” because it’s not as in focus as you think.
Is there something you’re saving up for?
The Roc-A-fella Air Force 1, they have an off white sole and a Roc-A-fella recorded embroidered on the back.
What equipment do you use?
Sony A58, and I would highly recommend it. And a 50mm lens.
It’s just my preference. It’s just good for everything really. If you can’t spend like 20grand on equipment.
Courtney Lewis is a photographer born and raised in Bristol. A lot of his work focuses around basketball and music, as he aims to take photos where you can see the emotion. He enjoys projects where he can be involved with proactive people and has worked with people such as Carhartt. When he was 19 he got multiple sclerosis, this resulted in him having only 10% of his sight in his right eye. This meant he could no longer play basketball which he had a scholarship for at the time, so photography became his outlet and a way to stay close to the team. Courtney Lewis his work on social media sites, such as Instagram (sir_corneliusj).