• Jo Armstrong

Alfie Winters (a23) - A Rising Young Talent Behind the Lens

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

Sometimes you find a social media account that makes you take notice - even more so when realising the content creator is only 16 years old! Under the working name of ‘a23’, Alfie’s Instagram is a striking collection of street photography and experimentation. Now aged 17, he is the youngest person to have exhibited independently in the Leigh Art Trail, has displayed at the National Portrait Gallery and is currently organising an exhibition for charity! Undeniably a creative talent, Alfie also praises his Leigh-on-Sea hometown for providing great opportunities for emerging artists.

A passion for skateboarding inspired a love of the camera. Inspired by skater videos and films, his creative journey began with filming skater friends at the tender age of 11! He began developing an interest with video editing before focusing on photography and discovering a love for street photography in particular.

Inspired by photographers such as Martin Parr and Daniel Arnold, he is drawn to unconventional scenes with a backdrop of bold cities and unique characters. His camera accompanies him to new places and photography becomes, he explains, “a good way of documenting what people are like through time”. Catching his eye are, “the way (people) express themselves, which could be through their body language, distinctive clothes, make-up or hair colour”. He explains the ethos of his work is, “it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, what you look like – everyone can express themselves openly”.

Creativity runs in Alfie’s family. His grandfather was a cartoonist, his uncle both an artist and photographer and his father a draughtsman. His talent caught the eye of Leigh-on-Sea artist Emma Bell when he was just 14 years old. She offered him a two-week slot in a ‘Gallery Takeover’ programme at her gallery, 70 The Broadway. Alfie displayed 15 images which started what he describes as a “snowball effect”.

Amid tough competition, he was chosen last year to be an independent exhibitor at the Leigh Art Trail, which attracts thousands of visitors. He displayed images of Leigh-on-Sea, London and America. One of the photos, ‘Stoned & Plastered’, shot in a London market, proved a great talking point as it had just been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery!

Visiting the Gallery for Martin Parr’s ‘Only Human’ exhibition, featuring portraits from around the world to explore British identity, he entered an accompanying Instagram competition to submit pieces inspired by the show and had two photos shortlisted. ‘Stoned & Plastered’ went on to win second place in the Youth Category.

Incredibly, both the Leigh Art Trail and ‘Only Human’ win occurred in the same month as taking his GCSE’s. After sitting one exam, he travelled to London that evening for the ‘Only Human’ awards ceremony - meeting the artist and taking to the stage to discuss his prize-winning image.

Exhibiting at local music & arts festival Village Green and Leigh Town Council’s Youth Market were other highlights of last year. Alfie states, “Leigh-on-Sea has so many opportunities for young people and creatives. The Leigh Art Trail is the biggest. It was great seeing so many different artists – graffiti, ceramic, textiles … all coming together for one big event. The Youth Markets are great and good fun along with the Artists Markets - everything they have to offer in the town is great and it’s good to get your name out there, do things and get exposure”.

Possessing a unique style is a great asset for gaining recognition and Alfie's creativity in this area is perfectly illustrated by offering personal delivery of one of his products via skateboard! Inspired by Leigh-on-Sea’s views, he produced a T-shirt line featuring our beloved Gypsy Bridge. Arising almost by accident after sketching his photos and realising this particular one would work in this way, sales were a great success. “It was a great feeling and taking whole evenings out to deliver them was really fun”, he remarks.

Lockdown necessitated an adaptation of his creative practice and he focused on photographing simple images to document the period stating, “we’re never going to get a similar event in our life time. It was also a good opportunity to learn new things and look back at my old work”.

However, post-lockdown will see a new exciting project for Alfie when he returns to gallery '70 The Broadway' to arrange and curate a new exhibition - 'Cardboard'. In aid of local homeless charity, HARP, it will feature pieces created on cardboard from various artists. He’s already received a great response to his open call, ranging as far afield as the Netherlands! He’s also pleased to give an opportunity to those contacting him with no current social media platform or limited experience – “I tell them I don’t mind what it looks like as long as you’re creating your own piece and you love what you’re doing”.

Alfie is generous and supportive towards the community and other artists, perhaps inspired by the support he has himself been given. He states, “Leigh-on-Sea is full of creative people and it’s great to be around them. The area has been very supportive to me and everyone shares and helps each other. I would love to assist and collaborate with more local artists”.

At the risk of sounding patronising, I am so impressed by Alfie’s talent, achievements and maturity of attitude at such a young age and it’s wonderful to hear he's received recognition and support from the community. Alfie’s inspirations change regularly and I can't wait to see what he does next. I have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more from Alfie Winters (a23) in the future!

Check out Alfie’s Instagram page here