Let's Explore Journal: Simon Bray

Together with Simon Bray, I published his Journal: ‘The Limited Findings of a Westerner’s Short Stay in Rajasthan’, which is available here. I decided to do an interview with him, to introduce the maker and of course our co-production.


Simon Bray is a Manchester based documentary & landscape photographer. His work has been exhibited at The Whitworth, Manchester and Brighton Photo Biennial. He has also displayed work at The Southbank Centre and Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. His work has been published in The Guardian, BBC In Pictures and Outdoor Photography.


Check out his other work and follow along on Twitter. and Instagram.

‘The Limited Findings

of a Westerner’s Short Stay in Rajasthan’

Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray

Who are you and what is your background?

I grew up in a city called Winchester in the south of England, where I spent the first 19 years of my life, mainly spent playing football and music. I went on to study music at degree level in Manchester before working as a musician and within the music industry. Music had always been my passion, but having explored lots of different avenues, it ended up being something that I didn’t want to pursue as a career. I began taking pictures when I first moved to Manchester for university. It was a significant shift for me, leaving behind the rural countryside which was all I’d known and living in a city that just felt huge and overwhelming. I would walk everywhere, I wanted to engage with the city, get my bearings, piece it all together, understand where all the roads led, and as I walked, I took photographs as a response to how I was feeling about my new surroundings, not in a factual way, in a more expressive way, everything was new, shiny, grand and taking pictures enabled me to feel at home. I’ve been taking pictures ever since, developing my own projects, taking on commercial work and creating collectives and making work for books and festivals.


I remember seeing an image in a newspaper then I was about 13 and being very moved by it. It was of a young Iraqi girl looking through the bullet hole of a shattered window, according to the caption, the bullet had killed a member of her family. It was shocking, but there was such vulnerability and empathy within the image. I cut it out and stuck it on my bedroom wall as a reminder that I had it easy, that I needed to be grateful for what I had, but looking back now, it was the first time I’d really engaged with photojournalism, the idea that an image could tell a story and that it had the power to move me and evoke something within the viewer.

Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray

Who are you as a photographer?

I saw a guy yesterday in Manchester carrying two full frame DSLR bodies, a belt with lenses, a big backpack with a tripod strapped to the side of it, whilst wearing a headset connected to his phone. He looked a bit like a robot photographer! I’m the opposite. I like to keep my photography simple, on my feet, camera in hand. That allows me to engage with my surroundings, I don’t need to be weighed down by choosing lenses or carrying gear. it means I can respond instantly if I need to, but also all myself to contemplate that place that I’m in without having the distraction of gear and set ups.


I’m engaging with imagery every day, though Instagram, reading magazines, newspapers and engaging with stories told through imagery. It’s hard to pin down a specific genre of work, purely because I engage with so many different areas, documentary, landscape, travel, photojournalism, I don’t like to be confined, so I’ll seek out all sorts of work and allow that to feed into the variety of projects that I work on.


I would like to allow more of my personal projects to inform my commercial work, it’s a case of finding the right opportunities and people who will allow you that freedom, but I still feel like I’m only just starting out, so there’s plenty of time yet!

India: with mostly sonorous echoes of worship chants that wash across the city, accompanied by the relentless horns from cars and rickshaws, not sounded in aggression, but more of an “I’m here”.
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
India: vegetable curry, every night. Food poisoning from badly cooked rice. Finding a snake in your bedroom that was just “a little bit poisonous”.

Where do you get your inspiration?

My points of inspiration are always evolving, mainly because I don’t seem to be able to stick with one style of photography, so I get excited about lots of different bodies of work depending on what I’m working on at the time. Photographers like Alec Soth and Wolfgang Tillmans both continue to make amazing work. I’ve taken great inspiration from the guys at Cereal magazine, who showed me it was possible to build space into my landscape work, that the part of me that is quiet and contemplative in that space could be demonstrated within my imagery. I love finding new photographers on Instagram as well, I like to observe how people construct their style and see how it evolves.


In the past few years, I’ve created work within personal projects, but I’d love to start creating more editorial work for publications. I have a huge affinity for print, books, journals, magazines, so I always jump at the chance to get my work printed.


Outside of photography, I like reading John Berger, Alain de Botton and Geoff Dyer, each of them gets me to see the world in a different way, which is never a bad thing.

Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray

What kind of project is “The Limited Findings of a Westerner’s Short Stay in Rajasthan” and how did it come together?

The book about Rajasthan came about after my wife and I took a trip to India last autumn. We wanted to take the chance to visit a place that was unlike anywhere we’d ever been before and it certainly fulfilled that expectation! I hadn’t intended to make the book at first, but once I got home I had people asking me to see the pictures, so I printed out a few hundred images, worked on pairing them up, piecing together an edit and the book came together relatively easily after that. As a result, in terms of the photography, I didn’t really have huge expectations for the trip, it was nice just to explore new places with my camera and take the pictures that I wanted to take without any pressure to create something specific, which is always the best way to shoot, much easier than commercial work when you have the expectations of a client hanging over you!


The images for me certainly romanticize the experience that we had, it wasn’t an easy place to visit, just because it’s so overwhelming. The culture is so vastly different, it often felt like an attack on the senses and it was hard not to have our guard up all the time, not because we felt under threat, just because we had no idea what to expect next! Hopefully, the range of images within the book display the huge array of situations that we found ourselves in!


I’d like to keep on creating work in this way. I made a similar book about a trip to Italy a couple of years ago and I can certainly see how my work has evolved over that period, so it would be good to get another trip booked in soon, I’m not sure where yet though, although probably somewhere more familiar than India!

India: Saffron buns and masala chai for breakfast. Not trusting the guide book. Peace, no sense of anger or aggression.
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
India: a place of beauty, devout religious practice, colour, spices, a rich history, and all the things you’ve seen in the films. That doesn’t even come close. This place taught me more about myself than anywhere else I’ve been.

What are your plans for the immediate/short-term/long-term future?

I’ve got an exciting year ahead actually! I’m delighted to have launched the Rajasthan book, it feels like a strong evolution from my previous projects. I’ve also got another publication up my sleeve that will be released later in the year, something very personal actually that will require lots of thought to make sure I get it right!

In the meantime, I’m going to be working with Manchester International Festival, a biannual arts event that commissions world famous artists for a 3-week festival. I’ve been selected as one of 6 to take part in a fellowship and partner with an artist called Samson Young who is creating work for the festival, which I’m very excited about!

I’m also continuing work on my project Loved & Lost, exploring how we each respond to grief and loss and encounter life changing events.

Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray
Let's Explore Magazine x Simon Bray

Do you have a lesson learned/life lesson/quote/advice you would like to share?

Throughout my development as a photographer, it’s been important for me to find my own voice. There were many times when I took direct inspiration from other photographs and used found imagery to inform my own, but it’s important that you start searching for elements of your work that make it your own, a way of shooting that is your own and from there you can begin to put more or yourself into your imagery, that’s when the fun really starts!

‘The Limited Findings of a Westerner’s Short Stay in Rajasthan’

Photobook by Simon Bray

for only €12,–

(free world wide shipping)

‘The Limited Findings of a Westerner’s Short Stay in Rajasthan’
& Let’s Explore Magazine issue 01, themed Crossroads

for only €35,–

(free world wide shipping)

In the Netherlands, we have a children’s tradition of writing in each others “friends” books, following a same set of questions. This is derived from the “confession album” which was popular in nineteenth century Britain and provided a questionnaire about one’s personality, made famous by the French writer Marcel Proust when he answered such an album when he was a teen. Below is my version of such a questionnaire.

What is your chief characteristic?

I like to complete tasks, get things done, tick things off my to-do lists and this drives me forwards, helps me progress in the areas I work in. It means that when I have space to think, I can focus on creative thoughts and ideas rather than what I need to do what I get in!


What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

I get great encouragement from my friends, the way they relate to one another, support one another and share life together is really fulfilling, and they always seem to find nice things to say about the photographs I take!


Who is your hero/heroine? And why?

My dad. He was always there for me, he had the answers, or questions to help answer my questions and I’m sad that he’s not around anymore for me to share everything with.


What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? And why?

I’ve always liked the idea of being a farmer, but I’m not sure it’s an especially economically sensible move right now! My wife is a midwife, and I think I’d learn a lot if I went to work with her, just for a day though, that would be enough.


What is your favorite food and drink?

A fresh bowl of spaghetti carbonara followed by tiramisu and a cup of good coffee.


What is your least favorite food and drink?

Coriander, it tastes like poison to me!


What is your favorite word?



What is your least favorite word?



What sound or noise do you love?

I grew up in a very musical family so I’ve always played and enjoyed music, it’s what gets me excited, helps me express how I’m feeling, always me to feel introspective and let it all out, it’s a great companion. There’s nothing like putting on a great record and enjoying it in that moment.


What sound or noise do you hate?

I once accidentally closed the car door and trapped my wife’s finger, the scream she let out was terrifying, I’d rather not hear that again!


What is your present state of mind?

I’m excited for the next few months, I’m working with an artist as part of the Manchester International Festival, which feels like a big deal, so I’m filled with anticipation for the opportunities and prospect of that!


When and where were you happiest? And why?

Life’s pretty good now, I have a beautiful wife, a great family, amazing friends and I live in a great city, although I’ll always pine for the fresh air of the countryside. We used to travel to the family farm in Cornwall when we were kids, those were extremely happy times.


Where would you like to live? And why?

Great question! Right now, I’m torn between life in the city and the solace of the countryside, but somewhere in England that isn’t far from our friends and family.


What is your most treasured possession? And why?

I have a photograph of me as a 3-year-old sitting in a tractor on my Dad’s lap, which is very special to me.


What is your favorite motto?

You have to develop a style that suits you and pursue it, not just develop a bag of tricks. Always be yourself.

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