Photography has the power to tell stories and convey emotions. Can you share an experience in which one of your photos had a significant impact on people or on yourself?
What has been your most challenging photographic project to date and why?
A few years ago I got a job as a security guard at a meat processing plant in Noel, Missouri (USA). I wanted to photograph my day to day life there, but photography was strictly prohibited, so I shot for a year using my iPod camera. That time, that place and the people I met and got to know challenged me daily and I was very much in over my head. Many of them have now passed away and I recently heard the plant has closed and I fear economic blight might be coming in its place. I am editing this work at the moment and it continues to be challenging for me because I know that I need to return to the area and finish it. Some key landscapes are missing. I call it “The Missouri Book of the Dead.”
I keep things simple. I like to have a flash with me. Spare battery, lens cloth, and a plastic bag to keep the rain off my camera.
There are many genres in photography, from portraits to nature photography. Do you have a favorite genre in which you feel most comfortable or enjoy shooting the most? Why?
Maybe it's because my father was a musician (he was the guitarist in the rock band Free) but I have always really enjoyed photographing bands and I would love the opportunity to shoot more of them. At one time my dream assignment was to follow a band out on tour and document it from the inside, like what Annie Leibovitz did with the Rolling Stones. A few years ago one of my photos was used for the cover for the New Sincerity Works album Nowadays and I consider it an honor to have been asked. If any band out there is reading this and looking for an album cover, I have that photo in my archive, so please get in touch.
Can you share an interesting or unusual anecdote you've experienced while taking photos?
When I was at university in Brighton (UK) my partner was a photographer whose personal assignments often explored gender and identity roles. Once upon a time we left town to visit her family in Oslo and were gone for about a week and we did not tell anyone we were leaving. Before we left I helped her take out her trash which contained some recent colour work prints she had made which depicted her floating naked in a bathtub full of blood with needles sticking out of her body in all directions. These self portraits of hers would have been considered alarming to the casual viewer so she made sure she ripped them into small pieces before tying them up securely in a black plastic bag and leaving them outside her flat for the trash collectors to pick up the following day.
That night, while we were traveling to Norway, a dog got into her trash and opened the bag containing her ripped up work prints and had left the pieces scattered around outside her flat in the busy North Laine of Brighton. A passerby had then picked these pieces up and after reassembling them in a local cafe, called the police in horror. An investigation was then launched but as my partner and I could not be located, there was concern that something terrible had happened to her and I was somehow involved but had skipped town. This all took place in 1997 BC (Before Cell phones).
When we returned from our Scandinavian getaway my roommates told me a police officer and a detective had visited the house and asked them a lot of questions about the whereabouts of me and my partner and left a message for me to make contact with them the moment I showed back up. My roommate then handed me the detective's business card and no other details than that were given. When I dropped my travel bag off in my room I could tell people had been in it and my dreaded drug drawer was open and full of my dreaded drug paraphernalia. It was then I got scared and wondered if I might actually be in some sort of trouble after all.
When I got to the police station my partner was already there and the whole mix up had been sorted out and everything was ok and we all got to carry on with our lives. Then 2 years later not long before graduation my partner and I had to be excused from our classes to talk to the police again. This time they told us they had come into possession of 2 photographs and wanted confirmation that they had nothing to do with us. One of the policemen then opened a folder and took out a ziplock bag with 2 Polaroids in it. Both Polaroids were of a young woman with blonde hair laying face up near a river and a bridge at night. She was dead. The policeman's thumb covered the woman's body. The pictures were virtually the same. 1 was taken 2 steps closer than the other. They were without any poetry whatsoever. Like the kind of photo a UPS driver would later take of a package on a doorstep as proof of its delivery.
Many photographers find inspiration in other visual artists or everyday life. What are some of your sources of inspiration?
During this phase of editing and production I have found myself returning to the work of my teachers by way of tracing the echoes of those whose work continues to inspire my own. Of these teachers the work of Paul Reas and Mark Power stand out most for me. When I was a student their influence was ambient and it has only been in recent years that I have really been able to see and acknowledge that this is where I come from photographically. Even though much time has passed and I have found my own way, how I approach working on a project remains just how they taught me. I have much appreciation.
Editing and post-processing are essential parts of photography. Do you have a particular focus on post-production of your images?
I don’t use presets. They have their place though. I try to deal with each image individually. I have found that each image wants to be edited in a certain way. The atmosphere or mood of a picture will already be present in the original image file (captured at the time of exposure) and editing is about holding onto these feelings somehow, it’s not about clicking them in from the sidebar.
For aspiring photographers who may be reading this interview, what is the most valuable piece of advice you've received in your career, or what advice would you like to share with them?
If you want to work on a personal project, take your time with it. Strong bodies of work take time to come together. Personal projects also need time to see what they want to become. Be patient and don't ever feel like you should be in a hurry, but shoot like your time is running out. After a year make prints of the 12 best photos and look at them together, away from the others. These 12 photos will tell you everything you need to know about the project so far and will tell you what you need to do going forward. They will also tell you about your own approach and the choices you have made. The story will also be in there and you'll know how much of it is really true. 12 good photos in a year is a strong start to a personal project. That’s 60 photographs in 5 years and that’s a book!