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Photography with an Oliver twist; images of London by Juan Mateus

When photography becomes art, the quality of the image transcends its two dimensional framework and instead delivers its message in a multi-dimensional sensory experience. That’s something I’ve only recently learnt.

photographs by Juan Mateus

Londond' character in images by Juan Mateus

Often when we look at photographs these days, we look at them in a context of familiarity, because we were there when they were taken, because they belong to people we know – or perhaps because the sheer volume of imagery is now so great that we view them in momentary and cursory fashion, no matter how dramatic or interesting the subject.

It takes an exceptional talent then, to break that mould and show us something different. Well that’s what Juan Mateus does with his extraordinary gallery of photographs entitled “Home Sweet London”.

Juan is a native of Colombia, classically trained in music from the age of 5, studied Biology and Veterinary Medicine at university – and came to London in 2003, the city he now says feels more like home to him every day. And it is his passion for this city, in all its diverse aspects that comes across in his work. The photographs range from cityscape to street minutiae, and incorporate humour, social commentary, architectural appreciation, fashion, love, pathos – as full a canvas of comment and characterisation ofLondonas you could possibly imagine. Juan “sees” a message or a story in so many ways, in anything from the smallest of details to the broadest of views. His ability to depict that is both refreshing and exciting – and his sense for colour and light is exceptional. I haven’t enjoyed a gallery of photos so much since… well I can’t remember when. And that was really unexpected.

When I was first introduced to Juan, we chatted about his love ofLondonand his interests and he told me about his fascination with the work of Charles Dickens. It was an interesting conversation, to hear him talk with such passion about an author so well known in this country and yet so little personally understood despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he is a school curriculum regular. What was extraordinary for me, was seeing so many connections between the way in which Juan capturesLondonphotographically and the way in which Dickens did so with the written word. I took the time to read up a little more on Dickens as a result and found an interesting paragraph that sums up his style and approach:

“….features that were to be blended in varying proportions throughout his fiction:  attacks, satirical or denunciatory, on social evils and inadequate institutions; topical references; an encyclopaedic knowledge of London (always his predominant fictional locale); pathos; a vein of the macabre; a delight in the demotic joys of Christmas; a pervasive spirit of benevolence and geniality; inexhaustible powers of character creation…”

… if you view Juan’s gallery, you will find similar styles and approaches, though naturally updated to a very contemporary view. I’m sure all of us can visualise a scene (or probably quite a few) from one of Dickens many novels, it would be interesting to know if

Spray can photograph

A twist of defiance for authority

any of you can make a direct comparison between one of them and Juan’s photos. One that made me smile and brought to mind a scene from Oliver Twist, was the photo shown here of the spray can. It made me think of the Oliver Twist scene where Oliver defies authority, holds out his bowl and asks for more…. I wonder if a present day Oliver would use the f word!

Juan describes his love ofLondon, the work of Dickens and how it related to his own work best himself:

I lived in Brighton when I was twenty and originally I wanted to go back there as I love the sea side but ended up in London instead, I don’t know if I could call it fate but a couple of months after moving here I completely fell in love with the city and the affair has only grown stronger, it feels like home every single day. I love how colourful and diverse it is, how I can literally change my route on a whim and then find so many different streets that actually look like some city I have not been to, even some places (like the Heath) look and feel completely different from season to season. At the moment I am fascinated by Dickens, and not only by his work but also by the London he knew, so different to the London we know yet the personalities and interactions between his characters seem so current and real. I would like to believe that there is a parallel between the way he captured the soul of the city with his words and the way I aspire to do just the same with my camera”

Juan also takes on commissions and it was also interesting to talk to him about a recent project he had been involved in for a ballet school – the school had wanted him to take pictures of the pupils for parents – Juan’s vision however, meant that the school ended up with far more that the typical gallery of headshots. His fascination with the behind the scenes antics of the children and perception of their characters resulted in a pastiche that told the story of the children’s talents, their relationships and their desire to dance.

I really would recommend that you take a look at Juan’s work at http://www.photoplasty.wordpress.com/ if only to know that you will spend some very worthwhile time being charmed by it. The pictures are available as signed prints in limited editions – and if you are in need of a photographer whether it be for a corporate campaign or a private event, then I would have to say unequivocally that you should hold a bowl out to Juan, he’s bound to give you even more than your greatest expectations. You can contact Juan by email juanmateus@me.com.