Intense chance encounters: equipped with the new Leica Monochrom Q2, the Nigerian-born, British photographer, Misan Harriman, portrayed people belonging to the anti-racist movement in London. He explains what it is he appreciates about the digital, full-format, compact camera, how you can learn to listen with your eyes, and what black and white photography means to him.
You photographed on the streets of London – how would you describe the current atmosphere there?
Like many of the great cities around the world, London is having a moment of deep reflection. A global pandemic and the largest civil rights movement in history made it feel almost like a dreamscape to me.
How did the people react when you approached/photographed them?
I was photographing people who are doing everything they can to support the anti-racist movement. They gave me their trust to tell their story with grace and humility.
In what way is photography a kind of need, or help, or even support during these demanding times? How is it for you, and maybe also for the people you photographed?
Dorothea Lange once said, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” And we need people to see now more than ever before. This is why I have to keep shooting.
You worked with the Q2 Monochrom – what does black and white photography mean to you?
Black and white images speak to the inner soul; they allow me to paint with light.
How did the Q2 Monochrom perform?
The Q2 Monochrom becomes one with you, making you forget it’s even in your hands when you’re using it.
What did you like most?
The tonal range in any lighting scenario is remarkable on this camera.
What kind of photography would you recommend the Q2 for?
It is the perfect camera for observing and documenting the human condition.
The new Q2 has got a very elegant, pure and discrete design – didn’t you actually miss the red dot?
With the best cameras, you don’t tend to notice such details. They should be helping you focus on making an image; that’s their only job.
Your series shows a lot of intense portraits – why did you focus on portraits?
I hope my work will be a custodian of our time, showcasing the full spectrum of who we are. Portraiture can do this uniquely within the medium of photography.
And – in your opinion – what kind of skills must a photographer have to realise a perfect portrait?
The Robert Frank quote says it all: “The eye should learn to listen before it looks”. I firmly believe that we must educate ourselves about the history of the still image, and the immense privilege of wielding a camera, before taking any photos. We must look inward to shoot outwards.
Please share your experiences photographing the Black Lives Matter protests…
It was a life-changing experience; I was shooting my own trauma. This is something nobody can prepare you for. These protests showed me the hope and solidarity of London, in ways I never dreamed I would see. We have a long way to go, but we now have a collective tribe of good people who will carve out a more inclusive future for us all.
How would you describe your photographic approach?
It is an eternal search for truth. I look for the parts of ourselves that we didn’t know we were hiding from….
Please complete the following sentence: Photography is…
… a way to see the world with celestial eyes.
Photographer, creative director and cultural commentator, Misan Harriman is the first black person in the 104-year history of British Vogue to shoot its cover: for the September 2020 issue. His strong reportage style and unique eye for narrative have captured the attention of editors and celebrities around the world. From documenting historic moments in history – most recently the Black Lives Matter movement in London – to photographing high profile celebrities, including Meghan Markle, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Giorgio Armani, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Olivia Colman, Harriman is a photographer of extraordinary range. His commissions include royal, private and high profile portraiture, as well as reportage documenting and covering behind the scenes at major awards, music festivals and film sets. His striking images have featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue UK, Harper’s Bazaar, People Magazine and The Telegraph, among others. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.