DUNCAN JAMES - MAD MODS AND A CAMERA

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Duncan James, the man behind the lens. Duncan set out to capture the Mod scene on camera as part of a project, to say this has evolved would be an understatement, Duncan has flown to far reaches of the globe and has been welcomed into the Mod fold with open arms! Suit Yourself caught up with the man with the eye for all things cool to talk to him about the project, his fantastic website, his love of the scene and a future for the man with the golden lens........

Hi Duncan, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you live and how you got into the world of photography.

 

Hi, I’m Duncan James - born and bred in North London, trained at college in Watford and now based in Enfield. 

I suppose I got into photography at secondary school. I was taking A-level Art and Photography was another option. They seemed to fit together, so I decided to take the Photography A-level, too. And I just fell in love with it.  

So, when I studied Art and Design at Watford college, I had the option to continue my interest in photography. Naturally, I took that up and it allowed me to hone my skills in the printing process. So much so, that I was able to rent a stall at Camden Market selling my photography to pay my way through college.

Once I started work as an Art Director in the advertising industry, photography still played a big part in my career. I’ve been doing that for over 30 years now – I still work for an agency in the Kings Cross area, and I’ve worked with a number of professional photographers. So, in a lot of ways, I haven’t stopped learning. 

Over those years, for some reason, I didn’t really continue to take my own photographs. To be honest, I don’t really know why. But, then on Remembrance Sunday in 2015, something sparked inside me!

 

Where did the idea of ‘Mad Mods and a Camera’ come from? 

It was Remembrance Sunday, 8th November 2015. I was heading back home with the Sunday papers and as I passed a local cafe I saw that a number of Mods with their scooters had congregated outside. By the time I got home I’d decided I was going to go back to photograph them. Don’t ask me why, but I knew I had to go back.

Bear in mind I hadn’t picked up a camera in years, so I was a bit nervous, to say the least! Outside the café I asked if I could maybe take a few photographs, not knowing what kind of reaction I’d get, if any. Then Smiler, as he’s known, replied, “Of course mate, where do you want us?”

When I look back, that whole experience is an utter blur. What I do know is I was nervous as hell. After getting a handful of shots and saying polite goodbyes, I jumped back into my car and headed home. The big question was, had I captured anything worth showing?

So, a huge thank you to Mad Mods and Englishmen. If it wasn’t for the way they welcomed me that day, Mad Mods and a Camera might never have happened.

 

How did the first connection come about? And where did your travels take you?

When I got home I posted a few of the images on their Facebook page and the response was really positive. They invited me to one of their regular meetings, and I found out about all the charity work they do at Christmas, surprising the kids in the local children’s hospital with presents. I was really impressed.  

That was when the penny dropped about what I could do next. I could tag along to scooter rideouts and start documenting them through my photography. So, that night I came up with the name and Mad Mods and a Camera was born. Now I had a real creative direction.  

The same night, I was introduced to Martin Heath of the Forester Scooter Club. Before I knew it, I had my second shoot sorted – you can see the results on the MMAAC website.

Since then I’ve covered a variety of different rideouts. The first was the Wasp of London SC Kickstart Rideout, but I’ve been to Brighton, Southend and most recently to the XI Rally Scooterista de Marbella and with the Awfully Pleasant Scooter Association before they set off on their rideout. 

I’m starting to get a really good body of work together and people really seem to enjoy the images I’m capturing. But, for me, its not just about the events – it’s the people. There’s plenty more to cover and you can see on the MMAAC website how I’m doing this. For example, the way I photographed the Bracknell Mod Squad was a bit different. And I recently did my first modette shoot with Charlotte Farrow – that’s going to be on the MMAAC website very soon.

 

Can you tell us one or two stories about the people you have met along the way and what happened?

 

I truly put my hand on my heart when I say everyone’s been utterly wonderful towards me from day one! One of the nicest compliments I’ve had is: “You so get it, Duncs,” which is great to hear and tells me I’m going in the right direction. So, to be honest it’s a bit unfair to single individuals out. 

Having said that, there are three people who have been brilliant and really helped put Mad Mods and a Camera on the map - Gary Horwell, Perry Tomlin and Jo Lamb; their input’s been priceless. But I’ve made so many true friends since this project started and had so much great support and encouragement. 

So, I’ve got to give a shout-out to Stuart and Claire Peverill, Tony Wildman, Martin Heath, John McNair, Neil Kidwell, Ray Bridger, Joe Wakefield, and the Bracknell Mod Squad, and ModWear UK, who were the first to pick up my images on Twitter and started re tweeting them. Not forgetting Joe Mellor, who’s run three stories about MMAAC on www.thelondoneconomic.com

But really, the list is endless. So I do apologize if I’ve missed anyone out!

For instance, I got in touch with Lucas Bon Vivant, after he came across one of my pictures and retweeted it. I thanked him – and the next thing I knew we were sorting out a date when I could go to Spain to photograph him. After that shoot, he invited me over for the XI Rally Scooterista de Marbella in June 2017 – the images from both these shoots are on the MMAAC website. 

I can definitely say I’ll be going back next year, if they’ll have me back. So, Mad Mods and a Camera has taken me from a few photos outside a cafe in Enfield to the old town of Marbella in less than two years - what can I say!

 

Your photography is fantastic; can you tell us about your early work and what influences you.

 

Like I said, I really started being interested in photography at secondary school. I did some photography at college, but it died off once I started work. So, I don’t really have any early work, apart from my college stuff. But my passion for photography as an art form was always there.

I’m a great admirer of the wonderful work of Richard Avedon, who was truly ahead of his time as a photographer. In fact, I remember seeing his ‘Evidence 1944 – 1994’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I was blown away by his work. When you see it for real, rather than in a book, it takes on a totally different dimension. His photography invites the viewer into whatever world he is viewing. Truly mind blowing, utterly brilliant. 

A quote from Alfred Eisenstaedt sums up my approach to photography and the MMAAC project: “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” 

For me it’s all about gaining that trust. If you do that, the authenticity comes through in the images. That’s what I’m aiming for with my photography – something that’s true and authentic. So, what I look for in a shot is that moment in time that completely captures the scene. When I do that, Mods themselves say that it’s spot on. 

 

Have you had any of your work published?

Not yet. Although I’ have been approached by a print company to produce a book. I’m working on that at the moment, while juggling my full-time job and processing images for the Mad Mods and a Camera website. I posted some initial designs for the book on the MMAAC Facebook page and Instagram account and the feedback has been great. So, right now I’m looking at the beginning of 2019 as a publication date. But, as this isn’t my full-time job it could take longer to sort out. 

If I’m really honest, I’d love to put a show on to launch the book. So, if anyone knows some real cool wall space going free or an independent art gallery, then give me a shout! If not, it will be another thing to add to my ‘to do’ list.

 

We know that ‘mad mods and a camera’ was a year long project but where are you going from here? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline connected with the mod scene?

 

I love the scene so much and the friends I’ve made during the project meant there was no way I could walk away from it after a year. But I want to take it beyond shots of the rideouts to really attempt to capture the Mod scene as it is today. 

My idea is to create a sort of ‘what happened next’ to follow-up that great book Mod: A very British phenomenon. So, I want to capture the fantastic people who are keeping the Mod culture real. 

You can see on my website that I’m starting to do that by photographing individuals, as well as the whole scene. For me, it’s all about the people, the fashion, the scooters, the Mod life. And in my own way, if I can capture and add to that scene with what I’m doing, I’ll take that. 

The thing about my work is that, as more people in the Mod scene find out what I’m doing, one thing just leads to another. For instance, I’ve just done my first studio shoot. It’s taken a while to arrange it – and August probably wasn’t the best month to set up a shoot, because people are away on holiday – but it was the only date that I could do a deal with the studio. 

After I’d got the studio, the next step was to approach people in the Mod scene who I thought might be interested in taking part. And it wasn’t long before I had a list of takers. So, I have to say a massive thank you to the guys who took time out to come to the shoot in Clapham – John, Darren, Steve, Charlotte, Andrew, James, Lee, Jo, Perry, Tony and Gary. I’m planning to have the shots uploaded to the MMAAC site by the end of August – and to try and fit another shoot in before the year’s out. 

 

Spending time with the mod scene, has it affected your own lifestyle? Were you part of the scene before?

I’ve never been active in the Mod scene. But I’ve always loved the look and the music. And right now, I’m loving the fact that I’m standing on the sidelines, documenting the scene, enjoying every moment and making great friends! What more can I ask for?

 

Can you tell us how you felt about the project, have you made new comrades and what inspirations you took from the scene.

 

To say I’m loving this project would be an understatement. I think the best way to answer this is with something that happened at the Buckingham Palace Rideout last year. 

I spotted a Mod coming through the crowds on his vintage Lambretta – you can see the image on the MMAAC site. As I photographed him, he was totally unaware, but another Mod whispered in my ear: “Keep spreading the love, Duncan.” That was when I knew I was heading in the right direction. 

I’ve made true friends during the project and each one of them has added their take on the scene. I draw inspiration from every single one of them and each rideout adds another creative layer. If I can walk away from any shoot with one image that captures that particular day, I’ve done my job.

So, it’s really the mod scene who can truly answer that question.

 

Lastly tell us about your website and the fantastic photography that can be found on it.

When I post images onto the MMAAC website, I set myself a bar in terms of the quality of the image and each one has to pass that before making the final cut. 

I think it’s best left to the people of the Mod scene, the culture and the way of life to judge how well I’m doing. The feeling I get is that people really appreciate what I’m doing and understand what I truly want to achieve with my photography. 

So, I thank everyone who’s taken part to date, and I look forward to adding more friends and more images along the way. Because, as I said earlier, the quote from Alfred Alsenstaedt on my home page sums it up for me: 

"It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter."

© Suit Yourself Modernist Culture 2019

EST 2016