An interview with Chris Hilton

September 16, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

An interview with Chris Hilton 




CopyRight: Chris Hilton 

RH: who is Chris Hilton 

CH:  I'am a photographer based in Dorset, England. I still hasn’t decided what I really want to be when I grow up ... oh yer I like hats ...





RH: What attracted and inspired you to your current documentary project?


CH: The thing that really attracted me to my current project was the travel … I am currently processing photographs from a recent trip to Uzbekistan. So I guess the question, for this particular project should be; what attracted me to Uzbekistan?

A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, The Silk Road, Samarkand, the desert, Bactrian Camels, the Mongol Hordes, Ghengis Khan and Kubla Khan, The Great Game, the Soviet Union and it’s dissolution, the photographs of Rodchenko used in Stalinist propaganda, Russian trucks, architecture, the hats, the clothes, the colours, the people … anywhere that is a melting pot of people is interesting. Throw in a few millennia of turbulent history … and what’s not to like?



RH: Can you talk us through the planning stage for your project?


CH: As odd as it sounds, the planning stage is really born from another project. About three years ago I started a project called ‘The Things I Saw Today’. The idea was to shoot whatever caught my eye, for whatever reason, be it a colour, a shape, a shadow … anything at all, without any regard for content or meaning. Without even wondering whether it would make a good image or not. I quite quickly found myself photographing things I would usually walk by or photographing things that might not ordinarily seem ‘worthy’ enough.

I take a photograph most days but I am not religious about it, if I don't feel like it then I don't ... it's not forced. There is no plan, no reason, it's entirely visceral. I just react to the things that draw me and, over time, patterns and themes start to emerge ... and it is from them that you start to see the stories ... the real ones, the ones that are already in your subconscious and they are the stories you need to tell, not the ones you feel you 'ought' to be telling.

So what was the plan for Uzbekistan? To shoot with abandon, to shoot what might not seem important, to shoot enough material that themes start to emerge and to hope that when you recognise them there is enough content for a coherent project.



RH: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?


CH: If I were a rich man, I’d have two trips. The first would be identical to the one I’ve just done but instead of trying to glean a finished article from it, I would treat the images as exploratory notes and return to expand on any emerging themes. It’s something I have done before albeit closer to home. I am in my third year of photographing a particular military marching band but the first images I took of them were actually whilst photographing the event that they were a small part of. As a result of those first images I have returned to that annual event twice more but with a greater defined narrative.


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CopyRight: Chris Hilton



Implementation and Completion


RH: How have you dealt with any challenges and difficulties within your project?


CH: The main challenge will be whether to treat the body of work (once processed) as a whole, to run with one of the themes running through it, or take a few threads and weave them into something unusual. 

I once toured four Asian countries and ended up with a collection of interesting but disparate photos. But I found that in the majority of the images that were jumping out at me; there was a plastic chair … not always obvious, sometimes in the background but present nonetheless. 


The ‘Plastic Chairs of South East Asia’ ended up as a book, albeit with a very modest print run but it sold, and it was a useful method of linking images that, ordinarily, would have been difficult to sequence.

At the minute, I am sorely tempted by the title the ‘Gas Pipes of Uzbekistan’. In Uzbekistan they are omnipotent so most street scenes will contain them … problem is, I have a few belters where the pipes are absent … it’s all a process and, as yet, I am still in its midst.



RH: How long do your projects tend to take from start to finish?   


CH: They vary greatly. This particular one, from stepping on a plane to producing a book will probably be the best part of a year ... others are still on-going after five, yet I feel I have barely begun.



CopyRight: Chris Hilton

Editing and Sequencing


RH: Do you have several images to edit of one fleeting moment or do you have one well-constructed precise image that you have captured?


CH: I tend to shoot both ways. If it is ‘off the cuff’ then I tend to edit a stream of images down to one. I will frequently shoot wide and crop in order to improve the composition when things are a bit less hectic, sitting in front of the computer.

By contrast, sometimes I will know exactly what I want and will wait to get it.



RH: Within the editing stages, have you felt the project has taken on a different narrative than first envisaged?


CH: Nearly always ... if I’m not discovering something as I’m going along then I’m just not trying hard enough.


CopyRight: Chris Hilton

Tips and hints 


RH: What would you recommend for people starting their own photographic project?

CH: To be realistic … to photograph what you have access to. 

It’s no good deciding you want to photograph the social tensions of the Brexit vote within rural fishing communities. Communities that are full of second home owners who voted to remain … if you live in Birmingham and work five days a week … Projects with real meaning take time, and you need to be there. Sea Coal by Chris Killip springs to mind as an example of what can be achieved if you have equal measures of time and tenacity.



RH: Does the camera really matter? 


CH: Yes and no …

No … because the most important thing in a picture is the photographer’s input. It’s the thought process, it’s the vision. Whoever said “the most important part of the camera is the bit two inches behind the view finder” nailed it.

Yes … because whatever you ‘do’ use has to suit you and your way of working. For some people that might be phones for others it will be pixel count. Whatever floats your boat?



RH: Any books you would recommend reading to get the creativity started?


CH: I have recently bought two books compiled by David Campany. 


One is ‘Modern Colour’ featuring the work of Fred Herzog. Starting in the late forties he shot two rolls of Kodachrome slide film a week. He did it in Vancouver and he did it for the best part of five decades. It is a beautifully produced book that is worth having for all sorts of reasons but chief amongst them has to be the reproduction of the reds captured by Kodachrome 64.


The second is ‘The Open Road’, a sort of greatest hits of the American road trip. There is an extensive forward by Campany from which I will quote;-


“Along with Walker Evans and Eugene Atget before her, [Berenice] Abbott understood that what is most familiar to modern life is often what is most fleeting, and its significance may only become apparent once it has disappeared. In this regard one of the highest callings for a photographer, and one of the toughest challenges is to document the present for the sake of the future. It requires acute attention to the things around you that others are taking for granted.”


RH: Would you recommend attending photography workshops?


CH: Yes … but not the ones where they tell you where to put your tripod and what setting to use on your camera!





RH: if want to find out more about Chris and his work, click on the links below 

Website …


Instagram …



CopyRight: Chris Hilton

CopyRight: Chris Hilton






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