Essay Lead page - chris hilton

Essays and Articles


The Great Dorset Steam Fair ... published in the Decisive Moment.

The sound of the steam whistles and the fairground organs, the smoke, the soot, the mud and the dust ... the cacophony and chaos that is the world’s largest collection of working steam engines comes to a small corner of Dorset once a year ...

There are show rings and side stalls, market stalls and junk stalls ... modern fairground rides cheek by jowl with steam gallopers and the Wall of Death. There’s music, singing, drinking, fighting, food stalls and Ferris wheels.

There are old diggers and tractors, bygones from the farm, old tools and even older spares. Flags are flying, people are building roads, cooking bacon on the fire and towing steam trains. People are playing with cranes and slews, ancient rotovators and vintage one arm bandits ... and then there’s the people ... so many people ... they’re in top hats and bowler hats, there are flat caps and neckerchiefs. Waistcoats and pocket watches, hobnail boots and clogs.

They sleep in ratty old canvas tents and vintage caravans, beautiful guilded showman’s wagons or Gypsie wagons ... barrel topped and Mollycroft. Sheperd’s huts and camper vans, new ones, old ones, even the odd one made out of a cement mixer.

There’s heavy haulage, light haulage, recovery trucks, motorbikes, milk churns, models and collections of blow lamps ... there are heavy horses and monster trucks, stunt teams, vintage fire engines, birds of prey, dancing sheep and acres and acres of portaloos.



Contemporary Travel Photography; what is it?

Well, to start with, it’s probably easier to say what it’s not ... it’s not about sunsets, selfies or social media ‘likes’. It’s not about those super saturated, ultra crisp looking landscapes. Its not about that picture of you so close to the edge of the cliff, canyon or crocodiles mouth that you risk life or limb ... its about something else ... its about freeing yourself from the shackles of whats expected ... its about recording the world the way you really see it.

I’ve looked at a great deal of photographs, probably a lot more than your average bear. To begin with I was looking at them in order to emulate what I saw. Later on, I became a bit more critical and started to question what it was about certain images that I liked.

Did I actually like the picture or did I just admire the skill set that was being presented to me? And then, later still, I began to become bored. Bored with the endless perfection, bored with images that were technically good but failed to stir my soul ...

And the thing that these ‘perfect’ photos had in common was that they were all so ‘clean’. They were uncluttered. They were devoid of ‘stuff’ ... yet my world is full of stuff. I see it everywhere. But as photographers we are trained to exclude it all, to step around it, to put it behind us, to keep the mess at our back and point our lens towards beauty.

The act of framing a photograph is very important. What we leave out, is just as important to the finished image as what we leave in. And it was the stuff we usually left out that was beginning to interest me ...




The Wedding ... I've been asked many times to shoot a wedding and the answer has invariably been 'No!' ... but this time was different. The request came like this "Chris, I have a proposal for you; can we meet up next time I'm in Dorset?", well, coming from a fellow photographer working in the big city, I was intrigued.

The meeting came ...

The question came ...

And the answer was  no ... as usual ...

But then came the line "we don't want a single traditional portrait, just do what you do and if we end up with a load of pictures of the forks, all well and good" ... and that was too delicious to turn down, I just hoped the cutlery would be nice ...




Does Street Photography Really Need to be Quite so Aggressive?

Street Photography has always been a 'thing', but it has only relatively recently been named as such. Once upon a time it was just 'taking photos' ... and things were much simpler then. Things weren't bound then, as they are now, by arbitrary rules.

Back then, the pictures weren't full of startled looking faces, shocked at the sudden intrusion into their space by a photographer with an enormous flash gun. Yes, some of the pictures were 'gritty' but they were also full of warmth, full of humour ...

When I view the streets I don't see a populace that looks as if its been caught like a rabbit in the headlights;  I don't see the majority of people looking angry. Street photography that shows me that doesn't reflect what I see as walk around. I see things that make me smile and I see visual absurdity that delights me ... 

The current trend in street photography is very confrontational, it puts the perpetrator at odds with their subject. Perhaps being less 'in your face' would yield better results for most photographers? It certainly works for me ... and it feels better doing it too ...




Plastic Chairs of South East Asia was published as an article by the adventure travel website adventure.com.

As part of their brief they required lengthy captions for each image so the style of the article ended up being very different, albeit equally enjoyable, from the original book which can still be purchased on eBay.



Do We Need Words  to accompany the images we make? There is a long tradition of coupling photography with the written word but an equally strong one of attempting to tell a story within a single image ...

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange is used to tell of the collaboration between photographers and the author John Steinbeck during the catastrophe that was the Great Depression.



What's in a Definition? And does it really matter that certain quarters seem hell bent on pigeonholing the work that we do? On a certain level ... perhaps not, but then again, some of those rules that are used to define a certain genre can be quite restrictive.

This article was printed in 'The Decisive Moment', the magazine published by the Documentary Group at the Royal Photographic Society.

I confess that I was particularly pleased to see my image on the front cover.



Tales of the Road ...  Another article in 'The Decisive Moment' (magazine of the Royal Photographic Society's Documentary Group). It documents the birth of a project looking at lines.

The project started with this image that I took in Sydney, Australia, it's a bit of an homage to Dorothea Lange's photograph 'Man Stepping off a Cable Car'.

Turn to page 58



To Photoshop or not to Photoshop? That is the question … The Sports category of the 2015 World Press Photo Competition was mired in controversy when it announced that awards were only to be made for first and second instead of the usual three. All other images that made it through to last round were subsequently disqualified for ‘excessive manipulation’. In fact twenty per cent of images across all categories that made it through to the penultimate round were thrown out for the same reason.

This essay arose out of "Whats in a Definition" ... the thing is that although I'd submitted that article for publication, I hadn't stopped thinking about it so I carried on writing ... this is the result.