Interview: Family and Portrait Photographer Vicki Hull

Vicki Hull is a family and portrait photographer whose sensitive, candid images are brimming with life, capturing the small details in the everyday. Forget composed, starchy vignettes with kitsch backdrops, these rich, reflective images are an energetic and honest approach to portraiture that is both art and documentary.

Vicki at home, captured by daughter Evie

 

“I think I’ve always had an interest in looking at photographs,” muses Vicki, as we sit down together to chat in the kitchen of her family home, a beautiful Passivhaus, built by Vicki’s husband, Nick, with far-reaching, panoramic views of open countryside. “When I was a child we’d get the Sunday Times at home and I would always go straight to the magazine to look at the pictures. I really liked the documentary images, the human stories. And I guess that’s linked to my interest in geography and international development, that’s where it all came from.

Though now a full time photographer, Vicki began her career as a geography teacher and has since worked for Oxfam. It’s not difficult to see a correlation between the different career elements. “When I was teaching I was always drawn to using images in my lessons. I would always try to look for something really striking to try to capture my students’ imaginations. One of my favourite teaching activities is to show the class a picture of something and get them to ask questions before they know anything about it. It could be anything: a farm in the Lake District, an image of aid being distributed in a refugee camp, or just an ordinary street in a town in the UK, and they would have to see what questions they could ask.

Looking at Vicki’s portfolio of family and portrait photography, there is immediately something that sets her work apart from many other photographers in the genre; a framing of the subject in such a way that the photographer is not simply taking a picture, but telling a story about the individuals in the photograph. There’s an editorial element that draws on all those hours spent, as a child, poring over the glossy pages of the Sunday Times Magazine or National Geographic.

 

I wonder what it was that prompted Vicki to make the transition to professional photographer?” It wasn’t until my youngest child Evie was born that Nick bought a DSLR camera and I started really taking an interest in photography. I haven’t really put the camera down since. I think if I’d been a photographer from the outset I might have pursued a different strand of photography, probably travel photography. I love to capture amazing locations, but it’s the human element that really sparks my imagination and I’m just trying to apply that to the family genre. I think a portrait of someone in their own context can tell you a lot about an individual, or a family.

 

“The shoot I did for Penny {pictured above} was a really good example of that. I don’t think there is one of Penny actually looking at the camera but she loves all the pictures because of the way they capture the interaction between her and the children. You have to think about the story you are trying to tell. If you’re telling a story about one individual then eye contact can have more impact. Often when I’m photographing a family together, there’ll be eye contact from one sibling whilst the others are doing other things, but it might be that you’re getting a cheeky grin from that sibling, or they may look grumpy, but you know the story about that particular person. I think it just depends on what you’re trying to achieve and I think, as a parent, you want that picture of your kid looking face on at the camera but you don’t have to do that just by saying “stand there and smile,” because that doesn’t really work. So I’ll start by setting it up and then I’ll look over the camera and I’ll talk to them and then they’re just talking to me, they’re not really smiling in that kind of cheesy way.”

 

For Vicki, the process of photography is not about capturing a bare aesthetic, a simplistic image; it is storytelling, conveying a message to the viewer about the individual and who they are, the family and their interactions. It’s the smaller details that bring those stories to life, the sparkle in a child’s eye, the brother and sister holding hands, or the way a mother reaches out to comfort her child.

 

“It’s about the connection with the person and the story”, agrees Vicki, “but it’s also about the end result, the composition. I could take a series of photos and I’ll say “that’s the one.” And quite often I couldn’t tell you why I want to choose that one but that’s my instinct. It’s called The Decisive Moment. You can see contact prints of a series of images by Henri Cartier Bresson for example, and he will have marked the one he’s chosen from that series that stands out for him. And quite often you have to wait for the Decisive Moment to happen, so you have to be really patient. You might set up your shot and then they walk into the shot, and then you take the picture. Or you just need the right expression that you can’t quite predict so you take the pictures until you get the right moment.”

So, who would be Vicki’s dream subject to photograph? I wonder.

“This sounds really weird, and it might come out wrong, but people people who have really experienced some hardships. I’d like more diversity in my images. People with really interesting stories, that’s what I’d like to take photographs of. Somebody like Malala.”

It doesn’t sound weird at all, in fact, it resonates completely with the overall spirit of Vicki’s photography, of wanting to scratch beneath the surface and see what secrets might spill out.

 

Find out more about Vicki’s captivating work over on her website http://www.vickihullphotography.com/

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *