I discovered Stephen Leslie thanks to (if I recall) Alec Soth, who praised Leslie’s Show & Tell series on YouTube, and if you’re not familiar with Soth’s or Leslie’s YouTube channels, do yourself a favor. Despite being on a photobook buying hiatus, I leapt into action as soon as he announced the Kickstarter, and despite not knowing much about his actual photographic practice. Unlike most other books I bought during my (ongoing) photobook-buying moratorium, I had and have no regrets whatsoever…
Full disclosure: as you may have gathered, I kickstartered Mostly False Reports, Stephen Leslie‘s excellent, photobook-of-the-year 2023 runner up, if not grand prize winner.*
One thing on the Kickstart itself. In its earliest days, shipping fees weren’t appropriately calculated for US purchasers. Leslie reached out to backers and asked that we update our pledges to cover the cost. I updated my pledge; some/many others did not. I felt bad and sent Leslie a bit of cash to cover shipping for a few people. In return—he didn’t have to, and I didn’t expect it—he included a zine “Hereabouts” and 3 large print/greeting cards in the package. I am indeed blessed.
Ok. With that over with, on with the review.
Leslie is a capital-S, capital-A Street Photographer. I’d go so far as to call him a street photographer’s Street Photographer. Gestures, glances, interesting faces and stances? He’s got it. Strange sights, puns, jokes? He’s got them. Repetitions, series, mini-projects? They’re all here, and mostly shot while walking (or driving) on the street. Matt Stuart and Charlie Kirk spring to mind out of a failure of imagination more than anything, and Leslie holds his own without question. How have I never stumbled across his work before?
To be honest, though, as good as the photography is—and it’s great: page after page of well-paced bangers—what really grabs me, and why Mostly False Reports sits at the top of my (nonexistent) best-of list for 2023, are the short stories that accompany each picture.
Nearly every spread has one picture on the right and a short story (or statement, or chat dialogue, or whatever) on the right. Some of these go on for a couple of pages. Most are hilariously funny; some are a bit sad or strangely nostalgic (ymmv); a few seem to be more straight-ahead self examination, wonders about the craft, reminiscences, and the like, which may also be fiction. I hope at least some of them are….
Regular readers of this blog—if you even exist, thank you!—know that I’m a sucker for books that combine image and text. It’s not easy to pull off, really. Some photographers can’t really write; some writers can’t really photograph; some trigger my logophilia and make it impossible to see the photographs, for good or ill. Leslie pulls it off wonderfully, with great writing, mostly hilarious, some more poignant, and excellent, well-seen Street Photography.
Overall, Mostly False Reports earns a highly recommended, go buy one now 4.85 stars.
Strangely, I believe Leslie has copies available. His website says “You can buy a copy for £30 from me here, just send me a message via the contact page or send me a message via my Instagram.” If you haven’t already, go buy a copy now. It’s sure to eventually sell out. If you’re cynical, you should buy one just to resell for a huge profit once they do sell out; the rest of you should add it to your library for some inspiration and just to wonder at and about. Mostly False Reports is a masterwork.
Before I forget, and mostly as an aside, the “Hereabouts” zine is likewise a bit of excellence. According to the end matter, “All of these photographs were taken within walking distance of my [Leslie’s] home. …as I walked around Brokley, Nunhead, Peckham, Greenwich and Lewisham.” This seems like a pretty large area, really, especially to a Texan, but then we Texans don’t walk much, compared to people in the UK. I don’t have much more to say about it. Great stuff. If you find a copy, snatch it up.
*There is no 2023 best-of list on this blog. Apologies. I haven’t looked at enough photobooks to warrant a best-of list.