We catch up with our very own multi award-winning photographer and talk about his passion for photography, and the importance of capturing family life for posterity.
or two years running now Matt Pereira has come away from the South East Master Photographers Association Awards laden with trophies. For someone who used to work in IT, and is entirely self-taught as a photographer, this is pretty impressive – but it’s clear from talking to Matt that he is a man who believes in following his dreams.
It’s a sunny, crisp day when I drive down to meet Matt at his new business premises in the picturesque Surrey Hills, and, over lunch, he explains his rather circuitous journey on the way to becoming a photographer – at different points he considered becoming a professional chess player and a scuba diving instructor, instead.
A few years ago, while he was still working in IT, Matt had a dream of living in Italy. So, in what I take to be a characteristically wholehearted manner, he learned Italian, found a job, and moved to Frascati. “Socially, it was brilliant,” says Matt. “I had a great time. But I’d had to take several steps back, career-wise, to work in Italy, and I was beginning to get tired of my job.”
Having ticked living in Italy off his list of things to achieve, Matt returned to the UK with a new dream – that of doing something more creative with his life. “I’d always loved photography as a hobby, so I bought a new camera and started taking some nature and wildlife shots.” Matt quickly realised that he had quite a talent, and he enrolled in a course to teach him the business side of becoming a professional photographer.
For a couple of years Matt managed to combine a budding photography business with his day job in IT, but eventually he took the leap and became a photographer full-time. And he hasn’t given office life a backwards glance.
For Matt, it’s not just being able to exercise his creativity that fuels his enthusiasm for his work, it’s also the opportunity to work with people during important moments in their lives – for example when photographing their weddings and children. “The best thing, by far, is the fact that I get to meet so many new people on an almost daily basis. If I can leave everyone I meet with a positive thought, a positive feeling or a smile, then my job is done.”
Matt is a passionate advocate of the importance of photography. “Children’s characters are changing constantly, and it’s important to have a record of that – but it’s not just the children, it’s the whole family. How would you feel if something happened to you, and your children had no photographs of you all together?” To illustrate his point, Matt tells me the story of a family photo shoot that he took in Richmond Park. The grandfather of the family was having difficulty keeping up as they walked around to take different shots, and Matt becomes visibly affected as he describes how he subsequently discovered that the grandfather had only weeks to live. “You know, it’s not just about having pretty pictures to hang on the walls, it’s about capturing memories for the future.” It’s clear that Matt very much puts his heart into his work, and I suspect that it is this emotional connection with his subjects, as much as his technical ability, which enables him to take such successful photographs.
Although he doesn’t yet have any children himself, Matt particularly prides himself on his ability to put his youngest clients at ease. “Even with the shyest of children – usually within minutes – I manage to make some kind of silly joke and get them on side.” And it is working with children that seems to give Matt the greatest satisfaction in his job. “I love their pure, uninhibited honesty. The Fairy Tea Party I photographed for the Summer issue of this magazine was brilliant – the children were amazing to work with and the images we got that afternoon totally epitomised summer as a child. There is one image, a girl running through the sprinkler with her eyes closed and a huge grin on her face, which just melts my heart.”
This is not to say that the technical side of photography is not important to Matt – it is. “I’m a boy, and I love gadgets! Whenever I get a new piece of equipment I sit down and read the instruction manual from cover to cover – I don’t want to miss anything.” And, of course, a crucial commodity for any photographer is light. “I’m obsessed with finding the best light on any shoot,” says Matt. “It sounds a little obvious, but so many people don’t realise the importance.” The light issue can sometimes be challenging for Matt, because he chooses to photograph people in their homes, or on location in a place that’s important to them, rather than in a studio. Again, it comes back to his desire to give people a tangible memory, something that they can treasure in years to come. “Studios are very clinical. In people’s homes there will always be a memento around, something in the background, that will remind them of a specific time and place.”
So, having established a successful photography business, what’s next for Matt? Well, apart from continuing to work in family photography, and doing more children’s fashion shoots, he’d like to reclaim some of his work-life balance. “The worst part of running a photography business is the sheer volume of admin that takes place behind the scenes. I’m desperate for some kind of PA to come and make it all better.” And now that he is established in his new office, taking on a member of staff to help with paperwork is likely to be Matt’s next business move – one which he hopes will enable him to have a little bit more time off. “I’ve put so much time and effort into the business over the past few years, and my social life has really suffered. I’ve been working way too much and not taking enough time for me – I’d like to change that.”
Though he might be focusing on fun, as well as work, in the future, Matt is determined to continue winning those professional accolades. “The awards give me something to aim for. My work has changed so much over the years, and I’m always striving to improve.”