As renowned street and portrait photographer Sean Tucker settles in Yorkshire, Bethan Andrews sits down with him to chat all things art, life and what brought him to the north
Internationally acclaimed visual artist Sean Tucker recently made the move from London to Yorkshire, which means that our county is suddenly being cast out to his 350,000 Instagram followers and 500,000 YouTube subscribers in an incredibly striking and beautiful light. That’s because Tucker is a fiercely talented photographer, with years of experience in beautiful product, food, portrait, and headshot photography. But, more recently, having gone out on his own as a freelancer, he now creates a visual scrapbook of his captures out and about – with Yorkshire, and York in particular, featuring heavily.
Although born in the UK, Tucker did a lot of his growing up in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa, where he started his career working as a pastor. He left the church in his late 20s and, having been doing photography on the side of his regular work, decided to chase this as a career instead. “I came back to the UK and moved to London in 2012, which is where I worked as a product photographer for six/seven years while building my own thing on the side,” he says. “I got into portrait and street photography because it was more creative.”
In 2015, Tucker started making videos to put on YouTube and talk about photography. Today, he speaks to his huge following about photography tips and tricks, how to deal with creative block and jealousy. “It’s about the more philosophical side of making and the journey with the photography,” he says. “Something clicked in that and it felt like what I used to do with the church, and that I was speaking to people and trying to inspire them to live better lives.” It clearly clicked with his audience, too, which continues to grow.
I wonder what it is about street photography that Tucker loves so much. “I’m a bit of an introvert,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to do something where I can just go for a walk, take a camera and see what I see. I’m a less traditional street photographer, which is often shooting people on the streets in human interaction reportage. I’m more interested in capturing light and shadow in spaces out on the street. If people are in the shot, it’s more to give a sense of scale to the space or interest to the light – it’s a bit more abstract. With portraits, I wanted to engage with people one on one and love the challenge of that.”
Despite his huge global success, Tucker takes it all with a pinch of salt. “I don’t trust any of it,” he laughs. “I can see things changing online so I’ve always tried to build out what I do beyond YouTube and social media. The landscape is changing fast, so you have to build a business outside of it, too.” Tucker wrote a book last year called The Meaning in the Making, which weaves personal anecdotes with advice on how to put meaning into your creative work. In other diversifying, he recently ran his first creative retreat in Tuscany, too, and this is something that he hopes to do much more of. In fact, he’s hoping for two or three a year. He’s incredibly grateful for what YouTube has afforded him, though, and he hopes that the platform means that his retreats will be a success. “It’s afforded me some name recognition and I can advertise things to an audience who cares about what I’m doing,” says Tucker.
So, in all of this, what brought Tucker to Yorkshire? “I started coming up to York for business a few years ago and fell in love with the area and the city of York itself. I’m not really a big city person, but I needed to do London for work,” he says. “I’m not based in the city of York itself, now, I’m about 20 miles north in the North York Moors. I got to choose somewhere that is just stunning to look at and to be in. I’ve always been someone who likes to get out, take long walks and be in the natural world as much as possible and I can do that here. I couldn’t be happier!”
Tucker tells me that there are an awful lot of things that make him love York and the surrounding areas of the county, but the landscape is a huge part of it and he’s excited to bring his photography to the area and show it off to the world. “The combination of having these beautiful coastal towns and villages like Whitby, Scarborough and Robin Hoods Bay, as well as the moorlands that are stunning and the forests which are incredible, it’s just amazing,” he says. “I love history as well. I keep posting photographs and people think I’m making it up! You can just walk through a field or a village and pop round a corner and there’s an abbey that was built in the 1200s. It’s absolutely gorgeous, it’s like Harry Potter land!”
When it comes to York, the history has clearly really drawn Tucker in, but what exactly has Tucker enjoyed photographing the most since moving? “It’s early days and I’m still trying to work out my photography, so I’m travelling around the county as much as I can and learning about my local area,” he says. “Village life is really interesting round here, and there are lots of old churches, letterboxes, phoneboxes and then the farmland and nature is really interesting, too. There’s so much to see, so I’m trying to create collections of images in different themes across Yorkshire.”
As we chat through where he’s been exploring since moving, he tells me how aware he is of coming into a new place and learning from those who have come before. “I’m coming here as someone who is new and I’m aware that there is a long list of good photographers in Yorkshire who have worked in these areas for decades, so I want to bring my sensibility, my visual aesthetic to this area and see what that yields, but I also want to learn from those who have been doing it for ages,” he says. “I’m trying to learn from what’s been done, but also trying to find those things that have perhaps been overlooked. It’s early days but I’m coming in with humility and understanding that I’ve got a lot to learn about Yorkshire.”
I wonder if there have been any standout moments for Tucker since moving up here. “Oh, there’s been a lot!” he beams. “There was a night that I went into York earlier in the year when it was pouring with rain. I just went in to walk around and capture photographs of wet cobbled streets. It was a lovely evening of getting very, very wet and it made me excited to go back as I found the potential for a place I could keep revisiting and develop a rich body of work.”
Tucker talks of how much he has enjoyed photographing the North York Moors and the Hawardian Hills and York itself, how much has enjoyed venturing into the Dales and also how much love he has found for capturing the coastal areas, too. “I really need to explore the Dales more, there seems to be plenty going on there.”
And finally, what can we expect from Tucker over the next year? “I’m changing things up a bit so I’m going to combine writing with photography, so I’ll be producing more topical zines focusing on particular subject matters and it will be more narrative,” he explains.
Sean Tucker’s favourite Yorkshire captures, in his words
I was visiting my local farm shop just after a storm had passed through and the light was cutting through the low cloud in such a beautiful way, but I had made the rookie mistake of leaving my camera at home. Thankfully nowadays we all have a camera in our pockets in the form of our phones, so I was able to pull mine out and get this shot anyway.
I have made a habit of visiting Whitby regularly, especially during the winter off season when it’s quiet, because you get some beautiful misty conditions as the mist rolls in and the light softens towards golden hour.
A few months back I drove into York one night when I knew there would be rain passing through, just to focus on neon light from nighttime restaurants reflecting off the wet cobblestones. There’s a lot more to explore here, but I got a couple of shots which showed the potential of this subject matter.
One of the huge benefits of moving to this beautiful corner of the world is being able to take regular walks in the local surroundings. I always endeavour to have my camera on me because you never know what opportunity will present itself and, even though I wouldn’t call myself a landscape photographer, I am enjoying the challenge of training my lens on new subject matter.
I don’t have the tall buildings of London any more to cast line straight shadows for my street images, but in the absence of skyscrapers I’ve been enjoying photographing light and shadow as it falls in shop windows in York.