Richard Battye is gaining an increasing reputation as one of the city’s best photographers. His artistic work has won plaudits and international acclaim. We catch up with him at his studio in Digbeth to find out more
Richard Battye has spent his whole working life in Birmingham, moving from Yorkshire to the Midlands as a student in the 1980s. After several years working for photographic agencies, he branched out on his own and moved into studios at the Custard Factory, Digbeth. He’s still there; now using it as a base for his commercial work, as well as his own personal artistic endeavours.
”I’m the longest serving resident at the Custard Factory. I first visited it in the early 90s before it had been converted into individual units. It had this really interesting feel to it. I have also always loved Birmingham, I have often thought of leaving but never have. There’s something about the place which keeps me here.” Throughout the 90s, Battye pursued commercial work to pay the bills, while also following his own vision.
His first exhibition to really cause attention was ‘This England’. A series of uncompromising shots, bordering on the grotesque, of the UK’s underground scene at the turn of the century. “I have always been on the side of the underdog and I love to support these people” says Battye. “At the turn of the century people were just getting going with tattoos and body piercings, so it was still quite shocking then.”
In order to create ‘This England’, Battye spent much of 1999 on the road finding people and handing out his card adorned with the words: “You look great, can I shoot you.” But it paid off. The exhibition toured for three and a half years across the country, and as far afield as Los Angeles. Favourable press coverage brought more work with the likes of Birmingham Royal Ballet, the BBC, the Arts Council, as well as commercial clients such as Harley Davidson. “I love doing arts stuff, but I am still a commercial photographer,” he says.
Battye’s next portfolio was ‘Still Dancing’. Here, he found there was great potential in working with dancers and performers, something which he still regularly does. Crucially, he was able to capture their movements while they were in ‘mid-flight’, presenting us with images that would otherwise be lost in the blink of an eye. “I was working a lot with dancers and I just said ‘show me what you can do’ and we started to get some really strong images from this.” Battye’s current project is called ‘Body of Work’; an exploration of the human body, its movements, and potential as both model and canvas. He has released one untitled shot for us where he turns a female body into a landscape. “Artists have always been interested in nudes. I am just trying to do something interesting and artistic.”
When asked about his future ambitions, Battye says it is a hard question to answer but says there is much more to come. “I just want to be recognised for the work which I am really good at,” he says.