MEMBER FOCUS: Arnhel de Serra
12 February 2020
Arnhel de Serra focuses his camera on British tourism in his quirky new series The Queen’s Guard; a visual exploration capturing tourists making self-portraits of themselves with the guards on duty. His work connects humour and heritage, a theme reflecting his anthropological slant on exploring human behaviour through the lens of his Leica. We chat to Arnhel to find out more …
What was your inspiration behind your series on the Queen's Guard?
Tourists taking selfies of themselves with the guard behind builds a potentially strong narrative to my way of thinking. Photographers have been looking at the selfie culture for years but I have never really found an idea that stimulated me enough to want to go out and shoot a project around it until now.
What I love about the juxtaposition of the tourists in front of the Queen’s Guard is the potential for different layers of meaning.
Dress code is the cornerstone on which this series is built. Casual and modern, formal and ceremonial.
References to history through Britain’s colonial past…
I love the mix of races which feels very appropriate to London, and I love the structure of the project as a series of studies which is embedded in the visual juxtaposition of the tourist and the guard.
Finally, there is the added dimension where these soldiers are on active duty, which ties in with the story going back to Queen Victoria’s reign as to why they are here in the first instance…...but I will leave those curious enough to search google to find out why?
What is your approach when capturing these people?
It is very straight forward. I use a Leica M9 camera, and simply hang around, waiting for people to take selfies of themselves. Bank holidays and weekends are good because the footfall is much higher, and these tend to be days where tourists will be travelling for a short break, or longer holiday to the capital.
Returning again and again is key to getting strong images...
Do people mind you taking their photo? Is this ever an issue?
It varies. Some are interested to ask what the project is about, most are indifferent, and occasionally some people have a real issue with it.
What I find interesting is the person who takes great offence at me photographing them but who seems unable to make the connection when it comes to them taking their own photographs of themselves in front of the sentry on duty!
As the series has developed, what have been your learnings?
I haven’t been shooting this for very long but I am conscious that continually returning to Horse Guards Parade is important.
This is something I tend to do these days when working on personal projects.
What is your favourite image from the series and why?
I do like the image of the South East Asian family simply because they set up a tripod and put their phone on self-timer and unashamedly just snapped away. Although, the journey isn't over and I am excited to unveil more interesting characters as the series unfolds!
What projects have you got your eyes on for 2020?
I have recently joined an agency called JSR so I am focussing on my commercial work for a while. In terms of personal projects I have a few ideas bubbling under the surface, with plans to shoot them this year… but you will have to wait to see those I am afraid!