London's secret street photography: Hiding in plain sight with artist Steven Quinn
Clandestine snapping with just an iPhone 5, London
Journal > London's secret street photography: Hiding i…

London-based artist Steven Quinn is a man of many talents. In addition to his creative output, he is also a photography obsessive. 

Without the knowledge of his subjects and equipped only with his tool of choice, the iPhone 5, Steve captures fleeting moments on the streets of London. We met with man behind the lens to find out more.

When did you start taking the secret photos?

Not exactly sure when it all started really…15 years ago maybe? I use an old Rolleiflex and a few digital SLRs too. I have always used a very wide angle lens so you can get very close, and a telephoto just in case. Until I ended up in an exhibition with Slideluck at Photoville, New York I hadn’t really taken the iPhone seriously as a camera, but now I’m ok with a pixel or two in an image.

Was the idea preconceived, or was it spontaneous?

This ongoing project “iPhone 5ecrets” was both, really. After I had gathered more and more images I began to rethink what I had been doing. The iPhone stuff is a photo diary I suppose, and with Instagram I like that things are uploaded dated and geotagged. It’s a conscious thing now to have the iPhone camera for moments I feel it would be unwise or rude to photograph with my ‘proper’ camera.

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Does it feel different to take a clandestine photo than other photos?

I suppose so, but I never feel guilty if that makes sense? I do feel now though some people are suspicious of cameras. It does feel good to capture something that will never exist again, and it’s a feeling I don’t get from working in portraiture. It always takes a while to get a natural shot from a model or a band but you can get a raw, candid moment off someone in the street in an instant.

Have you ever been spotted taking the photos?

It’s rare, but yes. Top three would be:

  1. A guy selling phones in Chinatown NYC who followed me shouting.
  2. A crazy woman in London who actually ran over to me, shouting.
  3. The FBI & Immigration in New York. Eight men! After arguing about my rights and losing, they took my phone and just deleted three photos I had taken of a security guard.

The frequency of getting caught isn’t that high though. At this stage I like to think I’m good at it. Ha.

What do you think it is that sets apart photos taken in secret from other photos?

For me it’s hard to explain. Sometimes if someone looks down the lens it ruins it a bit and sometimes it can make the photo. I know it’s something I find fun to do. With other photographers who do similar work often I find myself thinking, ‘How did they get that?’ So it’s something I want to achieve myself. I used to get embarrassed showing the work and even taking it, but I’m kinda over it now, so when people look at the images I want them to think ‘How can you just walk up to someone and do that?’ and ‘Do they know?’,’Did you ask them?’. ‘No’ is usually the answer. I don’t ask, I don’t feel bad.

Can you tell me anything else of interest about the photos and photo set?

I think it’s interesting that technology has progressed so much. I started on film but I was always interested in digital cameras. I have had so many bad ones but now most people have a decent camera in their pocket.

When I got caught by the FBI I remember saying to my girlfriend at the time, “I wish you could upload to Flickr once you take a photo” and now you can. With street photography I always tried to take covert photos overtly and now I can take overt photos covertly. If that makes sense?

With my big DSLR everyone notices it so I’ve devised many ways of taking sneaky photos – whether it be under umbrellas, people’s sleeves, under my coat, in a bag etc. but with this new project I can just wave my “phone” around and most people don’t even question the idea that I could be taking photos.

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Enjoy the full photo gallery of secret photos, a broader selection of Steven’s photography, and find out more about his art

Interview & Text: Jonny Tiernan