A documentary photographer with more than two decades of experience, Andrew Aitchison has devoted his photographic life to recording social and environmental issues. We sat down to chat with Aitchison about two of his projects in particular, “British Prison Life” and “Orthodox Jews of Hackney,” series that required Aitchison to gain access to worlds that are difficult to enter as an outsider.

Crossing the threshold into these restricted, private spaces was no small feat. According to Aitchison, working in Britain’s prisons at times felt like “going into a different country…you need your passport to get in.” The social dynamics within the prison also required careful consideration and thought: “Working there are a photographer is a real challenge, because it’s a fine line to walk between the prisoners and the prison officers. You have to please and get along with both of them.”

Similarly, photographing the Orthodox Jewish community that surrounded him in North London was an exercise in mutual trust. He started to become interested in his neighbors and their traditions after observing festivals and other social events. He realized that other people living in the area weren’t privy to these traditions and rites of passage, and he only started photographing freely after he met members of the community around him. “Access to something [private] that you really want to photograph isn’t impossible,” he says. “You just have to keep asking, and eventually you’ll ask one person who will let you in.”

Toeing the line between documentary and portraiture, Aitchison’s work gives us, as viewers, a unique glimpse into these unique, intimate worlds.

—Coralie Kraft

Aitchison was a finalist in the 2015 LensCulture Portrait Awards. To see more of his work, visit his personal website.

If you’re interested in seeing more work on similar topics, we’d recommend these previous features: The Auburn System, a documentary report on the penal system in America; Life on the Inside, dramatic black-and-white images that capture daily life within Belgium’s prisons, and Daughters of the King, Federica Valabrega’s portraits of Sephardic and Ashkenazi women from around the world.