Andy Aitchison – Capturing Folkestone
Andy Aitchison is an internationally renowned photographer based in Folkestone. He moved here with his family in 2015 and has been involved in the creative scene since then. Folkelife met over coffee to find out why Folkestone had such an appeal.
“We were living in a small flat on a council estate in Hackney, East London. We wanted to move for a bit more space and it was either Zone 6 of London or move to be by the sea. Friends and family had told us about Folkestone so we came to visit for the 2014 Triennial. We were blown away by the concept of an open-air art gallery but it was the volunteers that clinched it for us. We walked around meeting all the young marshals who worked for the festival. There was a real positivity coming from all of them, about art, about Folkestone, they were happy; we could see our children going down the same path.”
People make the place
“It wasn’t just the artwork that was the draw – it was the location but mainly the people that made it for us. We quizzed the young people about what it was like to grow up in Folkestone. We got a good guide of what it’s like in those teenage years here. It was at that point we thought ‘yes, this is it, this is the right place for us’. That’s when we decided to move here.”
“So we came down a few more times and got to meet people. We’d ask friends and family if they knew of any connections which helped to meet more people. By the time we moved down here we had a small core of friends; it just made sense.”
“It doesn’t matter where I’m based for my photography work. One week I’ll be in Belgium, then next in Scotland. I travel to wherever I’m asked to go.
“My wife though is more stable with her work; she’s a nurse. She worked in cancer screening in Kent for quite a while before moving to the Covid team for Public Health England during the pandemic. She now specialises in TB and is the Clinical Lead in the South East region.”
portraits & Documentary
“Each photographer has their specialty and portraits and documentary are my thing. I like to document what people do. It takes a bit of time but you need to get to know the person you are working with. It’s not just about taking their portraits, but working with them and trying to understand a bit about their life and what they do.
“I got involved as a contributor to The Salt Festival for a few years. As we know, Folkestone is a fishing town, but there are only a few trawlers left working today. I spent a few weeks working with the fishermen but particularly making portraits of them and their trawlers. Those photos are now in the Folkestone Fishing Museum on The Stade. That was part of the legacy of the project; once the portraits had been on display for the festival we gave them to the Museum.
“I did another series of photos for that festival by just walking along the shoreline and taking photos of people I met there. There were all sorts of people, from metal detectorists to holiday makers, surfers and runners. It was a great way to meet loads of different types of people.”
“I’ve done some work with Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN) and Care For Calais working with those seeking asylum here in the UK. There’s a lot of disinformation around the topic. I really enjoy working in that area, meeting interesting people; teachers, doctors, skilled people who’ve been through a tough time. They, like everyone, just want a better life for them and their families.
“That’s a personal project of mine and it’s hard for a photographer to stop working. I need to do enough to pay the bills, and then get my work and family balance right. When I’m not working I am spending time with the kids, but I think the asylum seekers stories are important to tell.”
“My wife and kids will tell you that if we’re out walking as a family they’ll realise I’m somewhere behind because I’ve stopped to take a photo of something. The beauty of living around here is that there are so many different areas of stunning scenery that change from one day to the next. You have to keep on revisiting these places because they look different each time you see them. I have favourite places in town but they are different for different times of the day. For example: Sunny Sands beach is brilliant really early in the morning when no one is there, but at 2 in the afternoon it’s a completely different place.
“I love cycling along from Folkestone to Sandgate, and that’s also different depending on the time of day you go. The thing is, there are so many lovely places to visit in 20 minutes of walking distance, we’re so lucky. The Zig Zag path from the Leas to the Lower Leas is another favourite.
“I took my son to see Steve Backshall at the Leas Cliff Hall the other week and we went out on the balcony at the back there during the interval. My son had never been on that balcony and saw the town from a different point of view. I love using these different places in town for portraits as well. The Anthony Gormley statue under the Harbour Arm is another favourite place… It’s really important to get to see Folkestone from different angles. I think that helps you keep a good perspective on life and all that happens in it.”
All photos credit to Andy Aitchison