Photographer Jake Millers captures Manchester’s independent spirit
Jake Millers is a Mancunian photographer with a strong visual identity. Born and raised in the North, he has a strong cultural understanding of the region, and has risen to prominence thanks to his sharp eye for fashion and everyday life. That’s what made him the perfect choice to shoot the explosive Manchester rapper Aitch, whose critically acclaimed mixtape, Aitch20, has cemented him as a beacon for UK hip-hop. In the following essay, Millers explains his journey as a photographer and why Aitch is the man of the moment.
Great things have always come out of Manchester. We gave the world everything from Oasis to the Happy Mondays, and don’t forget Rolls Royce came from the Hulme neighbourhood. That hunger is still alive here today. When you walk through Ancoats or the Northern Quarter you can see from all the graphic design, music and photography studios that the creative scene is booming.
I know from experience that if you want to make it in Manchester, you need to immerse yourself in the community and take every opportunity. I think the rapper Aitch really embodies this. I discovered him a few years ago when a friend played me “Straight Rhymez”. I began listening to his other releases. We met for the first time while doing this shoot. We’re both from Manchester, so we chatted about everything from artists like Shifty and the music we grew up on to the best local takeaways like Fresh Fuel Bar and Trap Kitchen.
I think when you shoot an MC you want to capture their passion, energy and personality. Aitch’s personality is sick. He’s very Mancunian, but he’s also young and cheeky with it. These days, if you talk to anyone about the music scene here, they mention his name. He’s doing good for our city right now.
My family lived on an estate in Miles Platting, just fifteen minutes from where Aitch grew up. It was homely and communal, everyone there really got on with each other. Summers were the best. Me and my mates would have a kickabout, and there would always be music blasting from the side of the pitch through a rubbish little portable speaker, usually grime or rap by local MCs.
I got a camera for my 13th birthday and started taking photos of everything from family holidays to abandoned buildings. I’d go wandering around the city centre with this camera. A group of people I knew were really into streetwear and they asked me to start taking shots of them for their Tumblr. Somehow these photos gained traction and I got a big following on there. Without the internet, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten the opportunities I did. It’s even more important now than it was back then – it’s crucial that new and upcoming photographers and artists use the internet to their full advantage. That’s always been a part of my philosophy as a photographer – use whatever opportunities you can both to shoot and share your work.
I still remember the very first time I took photos at a live show. I was 17 years old and it was in a venue in Manchester that has now closed down called Sound Control. The performers were Stormzy with Avelino supporting, but it was only 2015 so he was still only just getting known. It was absolutely packed, there must have been about 500 people in there. From that night on I got hooked on capturing artists, always trying to get my camera into as many gigs and raves as possible, whether it was in the pit or blagging an AAA pass to go backstage.
I still believe it doesn’t matter about the quality or size of your camera, as long as you are capturing interesting moments. A photographer with talent can use any format or tool to create a good image, it just depends on what you have with you at that point in time. I’ve started to become really dependent on the camera on my phone, especially when it comes to posting on Instagram, scouting locations, or just unexpected moments.
One of my proudest achievements since becoming a photographer is the work I did in Indonesia. I went on a holiday there and took loads of portraits, just of locals and street life. I met some great people and stayed in contact with them. A few weeks after I returned I found out that a bad patch of earthquakes had struck where we’d been, and damaged or destroyed the homes of many we’d met. I decided to start a crowdfund project and create a zine of all the photos I’d taken. Thanks to the internet buzz around it, I was able to raise £500 for them.
I travel a lot, but I’m always pleased to be back in Manchester. The city can feel so cosy and local sometimes. Everyone knows each other, and that makes it so much easier to develop relationships and connections. Social media helps with this too: you can meet someone at a party or in a clothing store, and be looking at their photography or work through your phone on the way home.
I still get so much inspiration from the people and places in my hometown. People think it’s grey and isolating, but I’ve always appreciated things that other people sometimes think are ugly. I love brutal architecture and modernist interiors and I’m always trying to incorporate them into my work. There are so many interesting buildings dotted around the city that most people walk past without a second look.
But my main passion is shooting artists like Aitch. Being able to sit down with a like-minded artist and get portraits which capture their personality is special. Especially when there’s common ground. I think what I love about it is that you get to see their progression. You never know what they are going to represent in the future, or where your photos of them might end up. They could be in an exhibition one day for all I know. That’s why I always think about that night I shot Stormzy. I had no idea who he would become, and that he would be headlining Glastonbury four years later. You just make sure you’re there and capture the moment.
To hear more from Jake on photographing live performances and the art of the freestyle according to Aitch, head to O2 Freestyle