After graduating from Newport University, Ivor Prickett won the coveted Ian Parry Scholarship and the National Portrait Gallery Photography Prize Godfrey Argent Award. He has since been published in The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and the Guardian. He tells IdeasMag about his first foreign assignment and explains why it’s important to gain your subject’s trust…
I’d decided while at school to study photography but, as a career, it only started to happen after a couple of years of intensive study.
It took me time to focus on documentary and understand what my interests are, what my style was, and I slowly managed to figure out how a career might work.
I don’t know where I’d be without that education. The course [Documentary Photography] at Newport is amazing – one of the best in the world if you want to focus on documentary. It has a long and rich history of producing that certain type of photographer.
I’ve been [living in Beirut] for a year, and was in Damascus before. If you want to work in the editorial market, it certainly helps if you’re based somewhere slightly more accessible and interesting in terms of what’s going on in the world. It’s getting harder and harder for magazines and newspapers to send people long distances to do extended photography assignments, so they’re trying to use people who are in the region. So I realised if I wanted to work on the kind of assignments that I wanted to, I needed to be based close to the kind of places I want to work.
The Kosovo story happened at the end of my second year at Newport after I got some sponsorship [from Impact photography agency]. It was about these UN-built camps for Roma people who had been displaced at the end of the war. The camps were built on toxic wasteland.
It was overwhelming; a very complex story that had been going on for quite a few years. It was a lot harder than I at first realised. It’s all well and good when you’re sat at home researching on your computer – you can cook up the best story in the world. But when you’re there on the ground, it’s always a very different story.
I’d struggled to take pictures for the first week or so, because no one really wanted me there and it took me a good couple of weeks to get my head around it, and to start to build people’s trust. It was a very emotive story with so many aspects to it, and in the end I chose to focus on one family in particular who were living in the camp, mainly because they had befriended me and taken me in.
These were people I knew. I spent time with them and became involved in their lives. They were not just figures that I used to take nice pictures. Some people talk of gaining an emotional detachment, and I can see where they’re coming from. I’ve learnt that I have to do that in certain situations. When I worked in Egypt and Libya at the start of the Arab Spring, it was a lot more fleeting, and you perhaps can’t talk to everyone you picture because you don’t have time.
But I invest myself emotionally in the people I photograph – not just to gain their trust but also to make myself feel comfortable. I’m not a quick, brash photographer – I was encouraged at Newport to understand compassion and humility and understanding, and that’s something I’ve tried to adhere to.
In Focus: Ivor’s best shot
I think the photo that best represents my work would be the first picture from the series Croatia: The Quiet After the Storm. I think that’s probably my best-known picture, but I really liked it before it became well known, because it embodies what kind of picture I aspire to take.
It’s the lighting, the stillness, and the sheer observed style. It’s intimate, and it’s come from spending a lot of time with [the subjects] to the point where they have no worry about me being there; they are just getting on with their lives. I like that subtlety – it’s just a simple, domestic scene. It’s not garish or sensationalist.
To see more of Ivor’s pictures, visit his website or his profile at Panos Pictures.
Images taken from Kablare: Posioned Earth series © Ivor Prickett