As a schoolboy growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Chris Hill won a number of national photographic competitions. But his father didn't think it was appropriate for a hobby to become a profession, so Chris joined the family clothing manufacturing business. His true love was photography, though, and at the age of 31 he walked away from fashion and began taking pictures full time, initially of sports and theater. Since then, he has become one of Ireland’s leading photographers. Chris has also regularly photographed for the National Trust and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. In 2005, he established Scenic Ireland, the leading provider of photographic stock images of Ireland. He lives in Belfast.
Q & A
You have photographed extensively in a place called Laganside, Belfast. Tell us a bit about the project—and what you find compelling.
Laganside is a regenerated area in the center of Belfast. I was commissioned early on to document it and continued [to do so] for twenty years. It was really a once-a-year project. I would be sent each year to record all the stuff that had been completed and was allowed to be as creative as I wanted. It was a very exciting time in Belfast because there had been so much degeneration because of The Troubles, Northern Ireland’s 30-year sectarian war. The Laganside project totally transformed not only the center of Belfast, but the whole city itself.
You have done a lot of work for the National Trust in Ireland and Britain. Is conservation a key motivator for you?
Conservation is big. The first book I did was called Taking for Granted, photographing houses, cottages, and castles that had received money for restoration and conservation. I spent about 30 days working on that project, going to all these locations. That got me touring around the country and gave me an interest in conservation. I hate the bungalow culture that has occurred in many parts of Ireland, where houses with historic character have been replaced by ghastly bungalows. It’s a pet hate of mine, though having said that, I’ve got a bungalow in Donegal myself. [Laughs] But it’s not what I call a “Paddy-enda,” an Irish hacienda with horrible pillars and a tiled roof.
What inspires you in your work, Chris?
Light. It’s as simple as that: light. I can't go anywhere without a camera. When the light is dull I can relax. But as soon as the light changes I want to get out there and take pictures. With my photos, I want to open people’s eyes to really look rather than scrolling through a flood of iPhone images and selfies. People don't enjoy the moment these days. They want to capture themselves instead. I want to create a picture that lasts; an image people can look at and absorb.
National Geographic Image Collection Interview With Chris Hill By Simon Worrall