Philip Angell, a wedding photograher from East London, enjoys shooting Tango when the opportunity presents. Philip regularly supports the tango community in London and UK and is an experienced tango photographer.
These days you live in East London. Where did you grow up?
I was born just outside Paris, but we moved back to England when I was 5. We ended up moving quite often while I was growing up. Never very far, but enough for me to feel like my roots were more at my boarding school in Hampshire than in any particular town.
What do you do when you are not taking pictures?
I’m a primary school teacher.
Why did you ever start taking pictures?
I started when I was at school, just taking my camera along to social situations. People liked the pictures I took, so I kept taking them!
How would you describe your style?
Somewhere between reportage/photojournalism and portraiture. I try to capture the essence of a person, to show them at their best, but without them being too aware that I’m doing it. Someone once described my photographs as a conversation. I often shoot at very close proximity, dipping in and out of the conversation while also observing and waiting to catch just the right expression.
‘Birdseye Tango’ – This was unusual venue, with gantries going over a bright, enclosed area and a polished concrete floor. I love the simplicity of the dancers’ isolation in the frame, the texture and colour of the floor behind them and the way their movement has resulted in her dress flying out and their feet being slightly blurred as they spin around each other.
What’s the best part about being a photographer?
There is definitely a feeling of elation when you know that you pressed the shutter at exactly the right moment.
What was your first camera?
My father’s old Pentax S1a. It was a completely manual camera (it didn’t even have a built-in light meter), but it really taught me what all the different controls do!
What type of camera do you have now?
A Pentax K5. It’s a brilliant camera which works well in low light (helpful for tango!), but there’s always that itch to upgrade… As for lenses, I almost rely solely on my Pentax 43mm – a little jewel of a lens 🙂
‘Pool of Blue’ – At Negracha, London. The lighting at Negracha is different every time you go, and on this occasion, there was a single, bright blue downlight amid a sea of less intense red light. I spent a long time waiting for this particular couple dressed in white to be in just the right spot. I love the dreamlike, almost ethereal quality of the resulting contrast between them and everybody else.
What catches your eye behind the lens and compels you to take the shot?
To begin with, the social content of the photograph was more often than not the driving factor in whether I took a photograph, and even more in whether I printed it or showed it to people. This was definitely true of my tango photographs to start with as well, but more and more, I find myself looking for ways to exploit the particular lighting and perspectives available as well.
Something you’re still learning?
I would love to be able to take beautiful posed portraits. This is something I never used to be interested in, but more and more I see the excitement in creating a character, rather than showing the best of how people already are.
‘Roberto Siri’ – A live performance with his sextet at Negracha, London. He has an amazing energy, presence and sense of fun which permeated the whole set. He had just taken the bandoneon and began playing the piano with his left hand and the bandoneon with his right. He looked directly into my camera with this incredible expression of power and control.
What advice do you have for photographers just starting out?
It’s always good to understand how the different controls on your camera work, and what effect they can have on your photographs, but technique is only a small part of what gives a photograph impact and meaning. So, learn your camera, read theory and tutorials about composition, lighting techniques, etc., but then let yourself forget it all and just play!
What do you think is the greatest challenge for a tango photographer?
As long as your camera and lens can handle the low light levels at milonga, the greatest challenge I find, is to catch people at a moment which makes them look like they’re dancing, rather than wrestling! We tend to forget, when we’re watching people dance, that most of the time we are moving from one point of balance to another. Our brains are exceptionally good at interpreting movement as part of a whole, but a photograph gives no context – you often can’t tell what direction people are moving in, their speed or the quality of that movement, and if you photograph the wrong moment you can make them look ungainly, uncomfortable or both!
What would you like to get out of the Tangofolly SHOOT Project?
The Tangofolly SHOOT project gives me an incentive to not get lazy with my photography! It is already making me look for opportunities to take different types of images and not the ones I might normally shoot.