Jason Wilde

Photographs / I'll Kill All Your Fish

I’ll KIll All Your Fish


A room inside a home dedicated to grooming and hygiene has evolved as a response to fundamental needs for sanitation and our changing attitudes towards privacy and modesty. In 2004, while employed as a door-to-door portrait photographer, I surreptitiously photographed inside the bathrooms of strangers living on the housing estates of London and its satellite towns. In these bathrooms people eat, drink, smoke and workout. They leave messages, keep pets and play games. These images of universal intimate life celebrate the idea of the modern bathroom as a private place used by all members of the household for a variety of activities.

Interview with John Duncan, Editor of Source, Source Issue 81

Jason Wilde was a watchmaker by trade who retrained as a photographer with a Masters degree at the London College of Printing and now produces photographs for Camden Education Department and magazines including theTelegraphand New Scientist. His own projects include Somers town,looking at changes in this formerly close knit community; Greenacres, a caravan site whose residents have a traditional ‘cockney’ ethos and portraits made in Clarence Way housing estate that attempt to counter negative media stereotypes of the area.Wilde also operates his own free portrait Studio in Camden. His first job after college was as a door-to-door photographer and for this issue we talked to him about this work and publish a personal project that came out of it I’ll Kill all your fish.

John: Can you tell me about your job working as a door-to-door photographer?

Jason: The company I worked for pitched up on council estates, mostly London satellite towns like Tilbury, Southend, Watford. The sales team knocked on doors of these council estates and they had framed portraits of kids, a head and shoulders shot with a big smile, with a mottled blue or pink background and a sheepskin rug. The reason they approached council estates was because the portraits were cheap. They were fifteen quid, twenty five quid, thirty five quid and you could pay weekly, interest free and a lot of the mums – because most of them were mums – used to want photographs of their kids and would book an appointment for the next day. The sales team made eighteen appointments for the photographers, in between the hours of two or three and eight o’clock, three every hour, so twenty minutes per what we would call a ‘take’. It was my job as a photographer to go to that little area. You’d knock on the door and then in you went and you made photographs of the people who wanted to be photographed.


John: How did you get the job, how did you know about it?

Jason: Through a friend, I was not long out of college. He knew the owner of the company.


John: Were they interested in the fact that you had studied photography?

Jason: We are talking a big cowboy outfit – it was in a barn in Epping – but a slick cowboy outfit, no interest in the degree or anything like that. It was just ‘Get in and do the shots and get out and let’s make some money’.


John: What was the first day like?

Jason: The first day I went round with the owner of the company. He’s not a photographer, I think he used to work in a lab and went on to do door-to-door. He did two or three days work as a photographer and I shadowed him. For the other two days, it was my turn and he shadowed me, and then the next week I was on my own doing the work.


John: How did you take the pictures? What was the set up?

Jason: I carried a Bronica medium Format camera. Attached to that was a Metz flash gun that you could bounce off the ceiling. When you went into the room you had to make sure that there was a white ceiling. If there wasn’t a white ceiling in the sitting room sometimes you ended up photographing in the bedroom or the bathroom or the kitchen, where the white ceiling was. You had a sheepskin rug and collapsible nine-foot backgrounds, one pink, one blue. You would get a piece of furniture, you’d put it in front of the background, you’d lay the sheepskin rug over it and you’d put the person in between the piece of furniture and the background and pose them. And that was it. I had four or five film backs and spare battery packs for the Metz.


John: I’m surprised that it was being done on medium format film.

Jason: I suggested to him to go digital but he didn’t trust his photographers, he thought they would go behind his back and sell prints to the clients, he wasn’t a very trusting man.


John: How come medium format and not 35mm?

Jason: Quality, I think he respected the quality in the print, some of the prints were three foot on the longest edge.


John: Was part of your brief to convince people about the size, how they were going to be framed, the number of images?

Jason: No, that was the sales team that got the takes, the guy’s mum and aunty. These two lovely ‘old ladies’ used to knock on the doors and the after-sales team were very good looking young men. And it was their job to go along with the contact prints and try and get the sales.


John: And did you ever get feedback from them about the quality of the images?

Jason: Only if there was a problem, if I wasn’t producing what was supposed to be produced i.e. that lovely happy smiley pose. That rarely happened.


John: Was that determined then, the pose and the facial expressions?

Jason: I don’t know if you would call it a classic pose, the person would be kneeling or sitting behind the piece of furniture, both elbows would be placed in front of them, at a slight angle to the camera. Then make them smile and that was what you were after. It would look nice with a marbled background. But then you might photograph three people… and when you start getting about six or seven in front of a nine foot wide background… some of these pictures were terrible because you could see the wallpaper on either side of the background… and when you get a group of eleven or twelve, and some people have got their eyes shut and there are kids messing about… But it was brilliant. I loved it. It was a baptism of fire.


John: How much time would you have had in each house to make these pictures?

Jason: Twenty minutes in each place, so you’d be ‘please be one person’ and hope that person would smile on demand, because if they wouldn’t smile, you would spend ages trying to get them to smile. But the person who was having the portraits made it. It might be the mum or the dad, they might want one of each kid – say there are three kids – then they might want three together, two together, they might want one with mum and dad in. Then nanny and granddad could be involved and they might want different combinations of a family of five. There could be potentially seven or eight combinations and that’s much longer than twenty minutes. If that happened you would hope that one or two ‘takes’ would cancel because that would mean you would catch up. But it all seemed to work.


John: Would the people have been quite formal, would they have dressed up in their Sunday best?

Jason: Some did, most of the sitters were children. There were the odd few that just sort of threw them in, there would be tears and there would be dirt, they just didn’t care. It would be ‘just photograph them’. Maybe they had no intention of buying prints, maybe they felt they were forced into it. But a lot of them did dress up and dressed their kids up in what they thought were their best clothes. There were a few Africans and Indians and they would get dressed up in their traditional clothing which was quite interesting with their gowns and headwear. If they weren’t ready when you turned up they would take ages to get ready. You would explain to them that this is a ‘head and shoulders shot’ but they still carried on ironing their trousers to make sure their trousers looked nice.


John: Did you get a sense of why people felt they needed you there to take a photograph? What was the difference between your picture and a photograph that they might have made themselves?

Jason: I think that they were sold on an idea that they would get this lovely framed print. The frames were quite ornate. The type that you would see in somewhere like the National Portrait Gallery and I think most people wanted that. Also that idea of a professional photographer coming in and making a wonderful picture of them and their kids. I think it’s a tradition, I remember having it done when I was a kid, when photographers knocked on our doors, Mum would always snap it up and the school photograph as well. I think, especially in places round here, people always want professional photographs especially cheap ones. In terms of cameras, I’m from round here – I grew up in Somers town – and I know that as a kid I didn’t notice that kind of stuff. But then, doing that job, I didn’t know so much poverty existed in this country. Going into some of these houses was hell, it was horrible. Not horrible for me, horrible sounds like a stupid word, but very surprising. I didn’t know it still went on.


John: Were there any tricky customers or any particular awkward moments you remember?

Jason: There were tricky customers in terms of men mainly, men with their snakes and spiders trying to scare me and shit like that, and their dogs as well.


John: Why did they want to scare you?

Jason: I don’t know. It’s men really, fucking weirdoes. I mean a couple of times I was surprised by girls wanting to have the photo topless. I didn’t expect that to happen and that wrong footed me. It was like ‘Oh really? It’s for your boyfriend? No problem.’ They just got their kit off and it was like nothing, that was very surprising. Not really awkward moments no, but I did get offered sex. Then there was the crying.There was a young lady there and she was in bits. She wouldn’t stop crying and her mum said ‘if you don’t stop crying I’m going to kill all your fish’. Another one was ‘if you don’t stop crying I’m going to stab your paddling pool’. One was ‘oh please stop crying, go on please I’ll give you some Calpol.’


John: How did you feel about those in comparison to other portraits that you’ve done?

Jason: I very rarely saw them. I gave the rolls of film over to the lab and it was only when I would go in to pick up new rolls of film that I would see prints and some of them were mine. There was much more of a fun element to the ones I was making for the company, I had to be chirpy, I had to have a load of spiel. If mum was shouting I had to have the skill to say ‘come on mum stop talking, let me deal with the kid make the kid laugh’. When I do my other stuff, for myself, it’s all a bit more silent, a bit more thought about.


John: What did you think about the connection you were making with these people? Is that what made a good portrait?

Jason: I felt it was pretty good. I was quite good at it and I became very good at it. And I felt that even though it was a commercial enterprise, nothing to do with art or documentary, I would say 99% of the people that I met, I’d treat them they way I would have done if it was my own project. It was just a bit speeded up. Sometimes I’ve been doing my own work and someone has agreed to the photograph being taken but they’re not really buying into to it, and you’ll stop. With the commercial job I had to do it, I had to get the shot.


John: Did it ever happen that you knocked on the door and the person decided they didn’t want to be photographed?

Jason: Some would have second thoughts, they’d say ‘yes’ to the two girls and then I’d turn up and you’d know straight away the body language they didn’t want you in, but it was my job to talk my way in. Then one day I knocked on the door and the couple who answered didn’t really have an awareness of what was going on. They should not have been booked in by the sales team and I said ‘I’m not going to come in’. Also, I found out that the aftersales team – who would be collecting money on a weekly basis and getting invited in to have a cup of tea with the person – they would find out the birthdays of the kids in the house. Then, when the birthdays were coming round, when Christmas time and school holidays were coming round, they would offer loans to the people. The maximum loan was £300 but the payback was extortionate, people couldn’t pay back the loan, they would sell on all the loans to a collection company. When I realised what was going on my take rate, which was 18 a day, went to about 4 a day over a period of a few weeks and I got sacked very quickly.


John: How about the project that came out of this work ‘I’ll Kill all your Fish’?

Jason: As soon as I was on the job, coming out of college, I knew there was a project there. But because of the time factor, because you go from one place to another, it was very difficult to find a strategy for shooting. I couldn’t use their cameras or their film so I carried a compact camera on my belt and in between takes, going along balconies, I would shoot over the balcony or I’d shoot up the stairs or down the stairs or out the window. Then one day, in a take, I needed to use the toilet. Whilst sitting there, I saw something, snapped it and when I got the film processed that image was the project. So everywhere I went, every take I went to, I would ask if I could use their bathroom, and off I went with my little contact camera, had a quick look round and if I saw something I shot it. Ideally I’d have loved to have done six months shooting on the project. I’d just got into my stride but I ended up getting sacked. I continued the project over the last few years, in homes I visited through friends, to get three or four images to end it.


John: Have you ever talked to the company since or have you ever thought of approaching them to see if they still have the negatives?

Jason: I have thought about approaching them again with a completely different project, just to shadow one of their photographers. I’ve also mentioned the archive to Val William and her ears pricked up, she thought it would be a great archive and it would be a great thing to get her hands on. But the guy that runs it, there’d be a price to pay and I don’t trust the fellow.



I’ll KIll All Your Fish BIo

  • 2015 - Athens Photo Festival, Shortlisted
  • 2015 - Source Photographic Review 2015
  • 2014 - H Photobook Show, London
  • 2008 - Group Show, Photofusion

I’ll KIll All Your Fish


A room inside a home dedicated to grooming and hygiene has evolved as a response to fundamental needs for sanitation and our changing attitudes towards privacy and modesty. In 2004, while employed as a door-to-door portrait photographer, I surreptitiously photographed inside the bathrooms of strangers living on the housing estates of London and its satellite towns. In these bathrooms people eat, drink, smoke and workout. They leave messages, keep pets and play games. These images of universal intimate life celebrate the idea of the modern bathroom as a private place used by all members of the household for a variety of activities.

Interview with John Duncan, Editor of Source, Source Issue 81

Jason Wilde was a watchmaker by trade who retrained as a photographer with a Masters degree at the London College of Printing and now produces photographs for Camden Education Department and magazines including theTelegraphand New Scientist. His own projects include Somers town,looking at changes in this formerly close knit community; Greenacres, a caravan site whose residents have a traditional ‘cockney’ ethos and portraits made in Clarence Way housing estate that attempt to counter negative media stereotypes of the area.Wilde also operates his own free portrait Studio in Camden. His first job after college was as a door-to-door photographer and for this issue we talked to him about this work and publish a personal project that came out of it I’ll Kill all your fish.

John: Can you tell me about your job working as a door-to-door photographer?

Jason: The company I worked for pitched up on council estates, mostly London satellite towns like Tilbury, Southend, Watford. The sales team knocked on doors of these council estates and they had framed portraits of kids, a head and shoulders shot with a big smile, with a mottled blue or pink background and a sheepskin rug. The reason they approached council estates was because the portraits were cheap. They were fifteen quid, twenty five quid, thirty five quid and you could pay weekly, interest free and a lot of the mums – because most of them were mums – used to want photographs of their kids and would book an appointment for the next day. The sales team made eighteen appointments for the photographers, in between the hours of two or three and eight o’clock, three every hour, so twenty minutes per what we would call a ‘take’. It was my job as a photographer to go to that little area. You’d knock on the door and then in you went and you made photographs of the people who wanted to be photographed.


John: How did you get the job, how did you know about it?

Jason: Through a friend, I was not long out of college. He knew the owner of the company.


John: Were they interested in the fact that you had studied photography?

Jason: We are talking a big cowboy outfit – it was in a barn in Epping – but a slick cowboy outfit, no interest in the degree or anything like that. It was just ‘Get in and do the shots and get out and let’s make some money’.


John: What was the first day like?

Jason: The first day I went round with the owner of the company. He’s not a photographer, I think he used to work in a lab and went on to do door-to-door. He did two or three days work as a photographer and I shadowed him. For the other two days, it was my turn and he shadowed me, and then the next week I was on my own doing the work.


John: How did you take the pictures? What was the set up?

Jason: I carried a Bronica medium Format camera. Attached to that was a Metz flash gun that you could bounce off the ceiling. When you went into the room you had to make sure that there was a white ceiling. If there wasn’t a white ceiling in the sitting room sometimes you ended up photographing in the bedroom or the bathroom or the kitchen, where the white ceiling was. You had a sheepskin rug and collapsible nine-foot backgrounds, one pink, one blue. You would get a piece of furniture, you’d put it in front of the background, you’d lay the sheepskin rug over it and you’d put the person in between the piece of furniture and the background and pose them. And that was it. I had four or five film backs and spare battery packs for the Metz.


John: I’m surprised that it was being done on medium format film.

Jason: I suggested to him to go digital but he didn’t trust his photographers, he thought they would go behind his back and sell prints to the clients, he wasn’t a very trusting man.


John: How come medium format and not 35mm?

Jason: Quality, I think he respected the quality in the print, some of the prints were three foot on the longest edge.


John: Was part of your brief to convince people about the size, how they were going to be framed, the number of images?

Jason: No, that was the sales team that got the takes, the guy’s mum and aunty. These two lovely ‘old ladies’ used to knock on the doors and the after-sales team were very good looking young men. And it was their job to go along with the contact prints and try and get the sales.


John: And did you ever get feedback from them about the quality of the images?

Jason: Only if there was a problem, if I wasn’t producing what was supposed to be produced i.e. that lovely happy smiley pose. That rarely happened.


John: Was that determined then, the pose and the facial expressions?

Jason: I don’t know if you would call it a classic pose, the person would be kneeling or sitting behind the piece of furniture, both elbows would be placed in front of them, at a slight angle to the camera. Then make them smile and that was what you were after. It would look nice with a marbled background. But then you might photograph three people… and when you start getting about six or seven in front of a nine foot wide background… some of these pictures were terrible because you could see the wallpaper on either side of the background… and when you get a group of eleven or twelve, and some people have got their eyes shut and there are kids messing about… But it was brilliant. I loved it. It was a baptism of fire.


John: How much time would you have had in each house to make these pictures?

Jason: Twenty minutes in each place, so you’d be ‘please be one person’ and hope that person would smile on demand, because if they wouldn’t smile, you would spend ages trying to get them to smile. But the person who was having the portraits made it. It might be the mum or the dad, they might want one of each kid – say there are three kids – then they might want three together, two together, they might want one with mum and dad in. Then nanny and granddad could be involved and they might want different combinations of a family of five. There could be potentially seven or eight combinations and that’s much longer than twenty minutes. If that happened you would hope that one or two ‘takes’ would cancel because that would mean you would catch up. But it all seemed to work.


John: Would the people have been quite formal, would they have dressed up in their Sunday best?

Jason: Some did, most of the sitters were children. There were the odd few that just sort of threw them in, there would be tears and there would be dirt, they just didn’t care. It would be ‘just photograph them’. Maybe they had no intention of buying prints, maybe they felt they were forced into it. But a lot of them did dress up and dressed their kids up in what they thought were their best clothes. There were a few Africans and Indians and they would get dressed up in their traditional clothing which was quite interesting with their gowns and headwear. If they weren’t ready when you turned up they would take ages to get ready. You would explain to them that this is a ‘head and shoulders shot’ but they still carried on ironing their trousers to make sure their trousers looked nice.


John: Did you get a sense of why people felt they needed you there to take a photograph? What was the difference between your picture and a photograph that they might have made themselves?

Jason: I think that they were sold on an idea that they would get this lovely framed print. The frames were quite ornate. The type that you would see in somewhere like the National Portrait Gallery and I think most people wanted that. Also that idea of a professional photographer coming in and making a wonderful picture of them and their kids. I think it’s a tradition, I remember having it done when I was a kid, when photographers knocked on our doors, Mum would always snap it up and the school photograph as well. I think, especially in places round here, people always want professional photographs especially cheap ones. In terms of cameras, I’m from round here – I grew up in Somers town – and I know that as a kid I didn’t notice that kind of stuff. But then, doing that job, I didn’t know so much poverty existed in this country. Going into some of these houses was hell, it was horrible. Not horrible for me, horrible sounds like a stupid word, but very surprising. I didn’t know it still went on.


John: Were there any tricky customers or any particular awkward moments you remember?

Jason: There were tricky customers in terms of men mainly, men with their snakes and spiders trying to scare me and shit like that, and their dogs as well.


John: Why did they want to scare you?

Jason: I don’t know. It’s men really, fucking weirdoes. I mean a couple of times I was surprised by girls wanting to have the photo topless. I didn’t expect that to happen and that wrong footed me. It was like ‘Oh really? It’s for your boyfriend? No problem.’ They just got their kit off and it was like nothing, that was very surprising. Not really awkward moments no, but I did get offered sex. Then there was the crying.There was a young lady there and she was in bits. She wouldn’t stop crying and her mum said ‘if you don’t stop crying I’m going to kill all your fish’. Another one was ‘if you don’t stop crying I’m going to stab your paddling pool’. One was ‘oh please stop crying, go on please I’ll give you some Calpol.’


John: How did you feel about those in comparison to other portraits that you’ve done?

Jason: I very rarely saw them. I gave the rolls of film over to the lab and it was only when I would go in to pick up new rolls of film that I would see prints and some of them were mine. There was much more of a fun element to the ones I was making for the company, I had to be chirpy, I had to have a load of spiel. If mum was shouting I had to have the skill to say ‘come on mum stop talking, let me deal with the kid make the kid laugh’. When I do my other stuff, for myself, it’s all a bit more silent, a bit more thought about.


John: What did you think about the connection you were making with these people? Is that what made a good portrait?

Jason: I felt it was pretty good. I was quite good at it and I became very good at it. And I felt that even though it was a commercial enterprise, nothing to do with art or documentary, I would say 99% of the people that I met, I’d treat them they way I would have done if it was my own project. It was just a bit speeded up. Sometimes I’ve been doing my own work and someone has agreed to the photograph being taken but they’re not really buying into to it, and you’ll stop. With the commercial job I had to do it, I had to get the shot.


John: Did it ever happen that you knocked on the door and the person decided they didn’t want to be photographed?

Jason: Some would have second thoughts, they’d say ‘yes’ to the two girls and then I’d turn up and you’d know straight away the body language they didn’t want you in, but it was my job to talk my way in. Then one day I knocked on the door and the couple who answered didn’t really have an awareness of what was going on. They should not have been booked in by the sales team and I said ‘I’m not going to come in’. Also, I found out that the aftersales team – who would be collecting money on a weekly basis and getting invited in to have a cup of tea with the person – they would find out the birthdays of the kids in the house. Then, when the birthdays were coming round, when Christmas time and school holidays were coming round, they would offer loans to the people. The maximum loan was £300 but the payback was extortionate, people couldn’t pay back the loan, they would sell on all the loans to a collection company. When I realised what was going on my take rate, which was 18 a day, went to about 4 a day over a period of a few weeks and I got sacked very quickly.


John: How about the project that came out of this work ‘I’ll Kill all your Fish’?

Jason: As soon as I was on the job, coming out of college, I knew there was a project there. But because of the time factor, because you go from one place to another, it was very difficult to find a strategy for shooting. I couldn’t use their cameras or their film so I carried a compact camera on my belt and in between takes, going along balconies, I would shoot over the balcony or I’d shoot up the stairs or down the stairs or out the window. Then one day, in a take, I needed to use the toilet. Whilst sitting there, I saw something, snapped it and when I got the film processed that image was the project. So everywhere I went, every take I went to, I would ask if I could use their bathroom, and off I went with my little contact camera, had a quick look round and if I saw something I shot it. Ideally I’d have loved to have done six months shooting on the project. I’d just got into my stride but I ended up getting sacked. I continued the project over the last few years, in homes I visited through friends, to get three or four images to end it.


John: Have you ever talked to the company since or have you ever thought of approaching them to see if they still have the negatives?

Jason: I have thought about approaching them again with a completely different project, just to shadow one of their photographers. I’ve also mentioned the archive to Val William and her ears pricked up, she thought it would be a great archive and it would be a great thing to get her hands on. But the guy that runs it, there’d be a price to pay and I don’t trust the fellow.



I’ll KIll All Your Fish BIo

  • 2015 - Athens Photo Festival, Shortlisted
  • 2015 - Source Photographic Review 2015
  • 2014 - H Photobook Show, London
  • 2008 - Group Show, Photofusion


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