The British Press Photographers’ Association is commemorating not one year of great photography, but two. With the world having temporarily been put on pause for much of 2020, the Assignments 2021 exhibition is covering stories from April 2019 onward. One hundred images have been selected, representing the best of the best reportage photography in the country.
One selected image is Samir Hussein’s transcendent shot of Stormzy performing at the 2019 Brit Awards – one of the last live music events to happen before lockdown. A moment of strange calm in the midst of a kinetic performance, Samir’s image captures the essence of one of the country’s most important artists of the moment.
As the exhibition prepares to open, we spoke to Samir to learn more about how he captured this incredible shot.
Jon Stapley: Congratulations on a fantastic exhibited image, Samir! How did it feel to learn that your image had been selected for Assignments 2021?
Samir Hussein: I was absolutely delighted. The BPPA have done a great job of bringing together the past two years’ worth of pictures – maybe more due to Covid – and they got so many great photographers from all over the industry, so to have a picture or two included is amazing. They must have had so much incredible imagery to go through.
JS: Tell us about capturing this image – do you remember the few seconds when you clicked the shutter?
SH: It was at the Brit Awards; it was the last music I shot before we went into lockdown. I shoot the Brits every year, and I’d shot Stormzy the year before and got a really great image. He’s just amazing live, and always seems to produce these incredible images with so much energy.
I remember it was quite a spectacular show, but there was this one point – which was when the picture was taken – where all these people came together as one, dancing like crazy. I remember thinking it would make a lovely moment. I could see all the people around him going crazy with so much energy, but what I really wanted was something from him to show his energy. Because a lot of the time, he had a mic to his mouth, and the energy wasn’t really translating.
But then there was just this one moment, and you can see it in the picture, where he had his arms to either side and was looking up. It did seem to capture something from him and really brought the picture together; it was just a second or two when he made this expression, and it all came together as a picture. I remember just trying to capture that amongst all the madness.
JS: That’s very interesting – because you’re right, it’s a beautiful expression and positioning from him, but probably wasn’t something he was doing very often during the performance.
SH: No, he wasn’t. And it wasn’t like I was getting bad pictures by any means, there were still great pictures because of everything going on, and the lighting looked amazing. But I was just looking for that moment from him that would really bring it all together, and that was the moment.
JS: You’ve photographed plenty of different artists live throughout your career – do you find you have to approach them differently? Does photographing Stormzy require a different approach to photographing, say, Taylor Swift?
SH: Well, you’re always looking for that same little moment of emotion, to help to translate to the viewer what it might be like to be there. Obviously someone like Taylor Swift is going to be quite different to Stormzy; it’s a very different kind of show. But all the same, you’re just looking for those little moments that mean the viewer can look at the picture and the energy of that show is translated. It can often be just a second or two.
With some artists, it’s a lot easier than others. Some artists, you know that every time you photograph them you’re likely to get a standout image, and Stormzy is definitely one of those artists. I’m actually going to be doing Reading Festival this weekend, and he’s one of the headliners so I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings along to that one.
JS: So Reading is your next job? Have you done it before?
SH: I haven’t, actually. I normally do Glastonbury every year, and a few of the big London gigs like Hyde Park. But because there’s no Glastonbury on this year, I think Reading is probably the biggest one that’s been able to go ahead, so I thought I’d give it a go. It’ll be great to be shooting live music again; I photographed Tom Jones a couple of weeks ago, and that was the first live music I’d shot for a long time because of Covid.
JS: It must be so nice to be back into it again.
SH: Definitely. I do a lot of events, showbiz and Royal photography and stuff like that, which was all largely shut down. Now all these things are coming back so it’s really exciting.
Samir Hussein is on Instagram as @samhussein1 his website is samirhussein.com. The BPPA Assignments 2021 exhibition runs at Bargehouse London, Oxo Tower Wharf, London SE1 9PH, from August 27th to September 5th.