Barry Lewis built a career around his signature style of photographing with speed and precision for publications such as Vogue, National Geographic, and Life. At the age of 71, this legendary English photographer is showing no signs of slowing down.
His new book, Miami Beach 1988–1995, published by Hoxton Mini Press, offers a contrast to this speedy mode of working. To make these pictures, Lewis changed his workflow in the late ’80s and into the ’90s by shooting on a larger camera with fewer shots at his disposal, which meant taking the time to slow down and build relationships with his subjects. The results are as much a unique portrait of the era as they are a love letter to the beautiful city of Miami.
Here, Lewis shares with BuzzFeed News a selection of pictures from his new book and speaks on what drew him from the streets of London to the beaches of Miami:
To understand the significance of Miami for Brits, you have to know what England is like in December — it’s sort of this bleak, dark place for several months. In contrast, Miami is exotic. There’s an otherness to the city. Plus, you can get into the water without getting hypothermia!
For a Brit, it’s easy to feel accepted. Well, I think the British accent helps, though I don’t quite know why Americans are so attracted to that.
I spent 10 years in and out of Miami Beach, and I didn’t have any bad experiences, which is very unusual for heavily populated areas. You’re almost bound to have nasty moments as a photographer — especially doing street photography. I had none of that there.
My introduction to Miami began with the photographer Mary Ellen Mark. She was based in New York but had been working in Miami Beach for some time. She was the one who told me to “go out there, take the family, and I think you’ll love it.”
Then it became one of those weird chance things. She gave me the names of a couple of photographers living there, and a few of them were planning on buying an office space. I took the chance and decided to pitch in. You’ve got to remember that this was in ’88 and Miami was unbelievably cheap. I just thought why not?
I’m mainly known as a photographer who works in color. Around ’88, I was on contract with Life magazine and photographing a great deal in full color. I just wanted to slow myself down, and that’s what happened in Miami Beach. I got an old Rolleiflex camera and told myself I was going to shoot in black and white.
When I’m with my 35 mm camera, I shoot very quick. I tend to shoot at least 10 rolls, about 400 pictures a day. I’m in and out, like a hunter. But with a Rolleiflex 120 mm camera, you only have 12 shots to work with. Shooting far fewer pictures meant there was more time to meet people and talk.
In a typical scenario, I would go up to people and say, “Hi! I’m English! I just spend winters here. This place is amazing!” In the end, the photograph became an affirmation of talking with people. It became evidence of a relationship.
What I think comes across is a kind of warmth between the people and me. Every time, I would spend at least half an hour chatting with these people. This fit quite well with my personality. I like to chat with people, I like to tell stories. Maybe it’s just my naivete, but I found Miami to be very open and warm.