My name is Cam Crosland, otherwise known as “CJ” Crosland. I live in Surrey in the UK, close to London. I started out as a Modern History & Political Science graduate and musician working as a software tester. I’ve always been fascinated by visual art, my favourite artist being Edvard Munch, and wanted to create images which made me feel the same intensity as his paintings. I considered learning to paint but never really had the opportunity to pursue it. When I left my job in 2009, I began dabbling in photography, inspired by Aaron Siskind (who was in turn inspired by the abstract expressionists) and by Walker Evans. Their work showed me that interesting and beautiful images can be made in very ordinary, prosaic circumstances. Then I discovered the Street Photography Now project in 2010 – I became hooked and soon realised that I was in it for the long haul.
I’m drawn to colour, energy and extreme or beautiful lighting conditions. My main project is “Fishing With Dynamite” using off-camera flash, which I’ve been working on since the beginning of 2017. Using flash provides me with a new way to create pictures expressing the intensity with which I experience the world. Often the information flooding into my senses is a source of great delight but it is also frequently uncomfortable and overwhelming – it can bring me to the point of sensory overload. Flash is a tool which allows me to shed light on things both metaphorically and literally; it’s a way of highlighting not only details, colours and textures but also the gestures and interactions which grab my attention. It’s about energy. I use it as a way to point at something and say, “Look at this!”. I love the creative possibilities, the freshness and the potential for making images which are vivid, cinematic and dramatic. I’m interested in how people express themselves through what they wear, in their expressions, body language and interactions.
Whilst I love going on holiday, exploring somewhere new and having time devoted to roaming around making pictures, there are actually so many small opportunities in day to day normal life. As many of us have found, once you’ve trained your brain and eyes to look for pictures, it becomes impossible to switch off that mode of seeing and it remains a constant habit.
I shoot anywhere and everywhere I can. My most amazing one-off photography experience so far has been a trip to New York. There are so many depictions of New York on screen, in photographs and in songs that I wanted to see what it looked and felt like through my eyes and from own my personal experience. I loved the energy of the place and I would love to go back when circumstances allow.
But my favourite place to shoot is right in the heart of central London, around where my grandma used to live many years ago. I love the mix of tourists and people at play, intermingled with busy and sometimes jaded locals going about their daily business. As a young flaneur accompanied by my grandma, I often used to stroll around Covent Garden, Leicester Square, China Town, Soho and Oxford Street. Not that I knew at the time that there was a fancy French word for it! Decades later, apart from life experience, the difference now is that I have a camera. Back then, I just took pictures with my eyes. More and more I realise just how much I’m still drawn to the same subjects – I am going back to my roots, as well as pushing forward with something new.
The drive to create – and having an outlet for it – gives me a sense of purpose in life. It’s something that has kept me going through a really long period of chronic illness.
My philosophy for life is to squeeze every opportunity out of my circumstances, to appreciate what I have, rather than focusing on what I’m lacking. So I always ask the question: “what picture can I make with what I have right now?”. When I first started Street Photography, my opportunities to go out and shoot were very limited, so I couldn’t afford to be picky about lighting conditions or subject matter. Using ambient light was a very important value for me for a long time, as was being able to make art anywhere, rather than having to go to an exotic or conventionally “interesting” location.
After many years of feeling out of control and overtaken by life’s events, things began to change for me at the start of 2017. I took a conscious, deliberate decision to embark on using flash as a way of taking control and being more pro-active in my picture taking, and at the same time celebrating my new-found zest for life… and thus “Fishing with Dynamite” was born.
I’ve always made pictures that come out of my life experiences and emotions – reflecting who I am as a person – and it’s not by chance that I started using flash at a key time in my non-binary gender transition. Making changes to my body and appearance finally allowed me to feel comfortable and confident in myself and to feel confident with being close to people – and comfortable with being seen by people. After taking control of my life by legally changing my name and finally gaining a sense of ownership over my life, picking up a flash enabled me to take control artistically, by allowing me to go out and pro-actively make pictures in a way that I hadn’t been able to before.
Right now, because of the pandemic, it’s not really practical to get close to people, so I am working on projects which are completely different to “Fishing With Dynamite”. I hope that these will refresh my vision so that I can return to “Fishing With Dynamite” with renewed energy, when the time comes.