Neil Libbert: a witness in the background waiting to “pounce on that unguarded moment, because once people are aware, they pose”.
The 60-year career of photographer Neil Libbert: born in Salford, moved to Manchester where he studies at the Regional College of Art and later starts to work as a photographer for Manchester Guardian where one of his first features was a series about homelessness.
“I had a keen interest in watching and observing people, a witness to events.”
In 1961 he moved to London where he collaborates with Guardian, The Sunday Times, the New York Times, Granada TV and the Illustrated London News until 1968 when he became a freelance photographer.
“What I do is often on the border between being an intruder and an observer – it’s called clandestine photography.”
His work has been exhibited at the National Theatre, Camden Arts Centre, Whitechapel Gallery, Zelda Cheatle Gallery, Michael Hoppen Gallery and the Stables Gallery, New Mexico among others, and 16 of his works are held in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery. In 1999 he was Nikon News Photographer of the Year and won a World Press Photo Award for his exclusive coverage of the bombings in The Admiral Duncan pub, Soho which made the front page of the Guardian.
Libbert has also received an award for his coverage of the homeless and has made his enduring reputation through street photography and reportage, which includes coverage of the Brixton riots in 1981.
Whatever his subject and whenever it was shot, Libbert’s knack for capturing those tiny moments that tell a thousand stories make each photograph as brilliant and revelatory as the next.
“ Looking back I see little difference between early work and what I do today. It is still about the power of observation, and one is just a witness to events.”
Today most people can take a photograph anywhere, at any time, but just because someone can take a photograph doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a photographer.
So what does he think makes a brilliant photograph? “I wish I knew…” says Libbert. “It has something to do with the coming together of composition, light, subject matter, or as Cartier-Bresson said, it’s the ‘decisive moment.’ There are no rules.”