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Mother and son hugging
Christy Hunter

Christy Hunter Everyday Street

Now Then chats to Christy Hunter―a street photographer whose candid shots capture the fleeting intimacies of everyday life in Manchester.

On New Year’s Eve 2015, Joel Goodman, a freelance photographer, chanced upon a wild scene whilst walking near Well Street in central Manchester. At that precise moment, the ghost of Michelangelo leant over his shoulder and simply said ‘now’. The result was Mancunian revelry as renaissance art―a perfectly timed, framed, and peopled photograph, which immortalised an instant of raw beauty, warts intact. The shot rapidly became a viral sensation and reminded all who saw it of just how powerful street photography can be.

Spectral intervention aside, successful street photography has a lot to do with being brave enough to take a shot when the opportunity arrives. This is what Christy Hunter tells me, anyway―and he would know. Christy is a Holmfirth-based street photographer whose excitement for the art form took off in his teenage years―a period during which he held a romanticised aspiration to become a war photographer.

Later, he realised he couldn’t withstand conflict of such a stark nature, so he began to shift his focus towards streets, public spaces, and the people who occupy them. Christy has taken several striking, intelligent photographs in locations such as New York, Sicily, Riga, Cadiz, and Manchester. I wanted to get under the skin of Christy’s work, and find out how and why he pursues his craft.

“Street photography is incredibly difficult to do well and that makes it incredibly challenging at multiple levels. The way I do street photography is that I’m, I guess, a photographic thief; I don’t make people aware of what I’m doing. So, every photograph I take, I don’t ask people to pose. In fact, I find it uncomfortable to ask people to pose because it creates a different type of photograph―it’s not my style of street photography. I like the idea that the camera can capture a single moment in time, which can’t be relived. So, if I take part in that moment, I’ve interfered with it and it becomes fraudulent, dishonest.”

Although Christy feels it’s better to stay out of his work, he admires certain photographers who take the opposite approach. “So, if you look at people like Bruce Gilden or Dougie Wallace―both of whom produce amazing work―they’ll stick a flash gun or a camera right into somebody’s face, making them totally aware of it. As a result, the photographer’s presence is there in the shot. I’m not artistically comfortable to be a part of the photograph―that’s why I like to get those special, natural moments.”

The moments he captures are undoubtedly special, but what drives him to snap them in the first place? “To begin with, I wanted to be a war photographer. I was young, stupid, and very swept up by the idea of valour―I saw war photographers as heroes. I got into the work of photographers like Eddie Adams and Don McCullin, and realised it had a real political impact; it exposed the real issues of war. When I eventually tried to do it, I was terrified―I couldn’t handle seeing people being killed or getting shot at myself. There was something in me that essentially said ‘run’.” Understandably, he listened to that something.

I begin to wonder where his youthful ambitions went after they came face-to-face with the realities of war. Perhaps they dissipated. His Manchester Street collection subtly suggests they evolved instead. “I wanted to take something from my ambitions to be a war photographer and translate it over to photographing people in the street. I had the idea of ‘Conflict on Everyday Street.’ In Manchester, I took a picture of a young boy in his mum’s arms. When you observe their body language in that moment, they could be fleeing a war zone, yet they’re in the relative safety of Manchester city centre.” I take a look at the photograph and see this arresting juxtaposition as clear as day.

Our conversation starts to explore the particularities of everyday conflict. “Everybody has conflict in their lives”, Christy begins. “Very few of us go through our lives without problems, whether they concern money, relationships, jobs, health et cetera. These types of conflict inevitably spill out onto the street. I wanted to try and capture people who were showing signs of their conflict. That said, I would never take a cheap photograph. I would never, for example, take a photograph of a homeless person, who was clearly in a dreadful situation, and use their plight to make my work look deep and meaningful. Not only do I find this approach shallow and abhorrent, but it’s also lazy. I think of it as ‘easy misery.’”

Lazy or not, it strikes me that taking a photograph of a homeless person could be viewed as a political statement. I wonder if Christy would describe any of his own work as politically motivated, especially given the influence of war photography. “I’m not really interested in taking a political stance. I’m more interested in capturing emotions and making people think. If any of my photographs lead people to think in a political way, that’s fine, but I don’t set out to make political points. If I took a photograph of a homeless person, I fear all it would really communicate is: homelessness is bad, right? I don’t think it would capture the nuances of the person’s identity or convey anything particularly insightful.”

Many of Christy’s photographs are taken in Manchester. Why Manchester? “I live close by to Manchester, which means I can dedicate a good amount of time to taking photographs and focusing on people in the street. Mancunians are very nice, very honest, and they feel life very strongly. That makes them incredibly compelling to photograph; they’re not into what I’ll describe as a clean and polite society. They are real people living in a real way.”

Capturing the real nature of human moments is at the heart of Christy’s work. I initially used authenticity as a keyword to describe his approach, but Christy prefers the word honesty; he always aims to portray the truth of a moment without encroaching upon it or interfering with it. He describes himself as a photographic thief, but I don’t think he covertly steals moments―he skilfully preserves them. In doing so, he invites us to notice the poignant human stories that run in parallel with our own, hidden in plain sight.

See more of Christy's work

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