An interview with Mark Power on the occasion of his visit to Greece for a workshop organised by VOID and American Suburb X.
Yannis Karpouzis talked with Mark Power about his work and his view on the medium, about memory and emotions in photography.
Mark, you are one of the photographers who made pictures of European landscapes using the deadpan approach – large colour pictures, clinical, straight and not emotionally charged. Could you please share with us some thoughts about this?
I’m not sure I agree that they are unemotional. While on the surface they may seem distant and unengaged, in fact I have a great affinity, respect, and even love (most of the time) for what I photograph. I keep a respectful distance because I’m often a foreigner, someone from somewhere else. Also, I’m interested in ‘topographic survey photographs’ and, indeed, in Poland (for instance) I was attempting (albeit naively) to produce a survey of the entire country. But at the same time the work is interspersed with portraits of people who were usually, if not always, my friends.
Your first book, “The Shipping Forecast”, is quite different from other projects of yours− and by this I do not only refer to differences regarding form. I feel that it is a book of “mysticism”, giving a sense that reminds of ancient religions built by the sea and huge Krakens hidden beneath the cold waves. In general it is a book holding tight a lot of secrets. How do you feel about this work now?
How do I feel about it now? I’m still very proud of the work, and I think it continues to stand-up today, although in hindsight I would edit the book differently. But it is work of its time. I’m going to disagree with you again because actually I think it shares many similarities with other projects I’ve made since, and perhaps most especially the work I’m currently making in America. Both projects share a genesis in childhood memories and imaginary landscapes born during my formative years, and my search (and failure) to find either. Formally, yes, they are very different, but this is driven, as much as anything, by the change in format. There are more people in “The Shipping Forecast” because I used a handheld camera and fast film. All subsequent work it is tripod-based, using a large format camera with slower film. Inevitably there are fewer people and less ‘action’. But there are more people in my pictures post Shipping Forecast than you might think; it’s just that they’re smaller.
The things you see in “The Shipping Forecast” are interesting to me, but they are not what I see. To fully understand my intentions you have to understand the Forecast itself, and to have grown up, like I did, listening to the radio broadcast all your life. It’s a British institution, close to the hearts I of millions of people. In fact, many of them didn’t like what I did because it denied then their ‘radio dreams’ and destroyed their own imaginary landscapes. At least, that’s what I was told again and again…
“26 different endings”. For me, it is a huge chapter concerning the history of deadpan photography. Through a minimal text description and pictures of areas finally dissolving into nothingness you really created a kind of a genre. The topic of city limits has been very common in Greece through the last years and I believe we should give you a credit for this inspiration.
Thank you. It’s really good to hear that. I don’t think I realized at the time, while I was making the work, what a good idea it was. When the book came out it was extremely difficult to sell. In fact I almost got kicked out of Magnum, which I’d only recently joined, because most members simply didn’t like the new direction my work was taking (remember I‘d been voted into Magnum largely on the strength of “The Shipping Forecast”!). But now it’s very different; it’s a book I sell through my online shop over and over again (I now have very few copies left). It seems to be very popular with students because it’s an idea you could apply to any city. It’s simple but at the same time conceptually multi-layered.
Last year you made a big road trip in USA in order to make new pictures. Share with us please some moments of your journey and some “photographic” differences you saw between the US and Europe.
Again not true! I’ve been working in America since 2012, and, all being well, I’ll continue until 2022, so the project covers a decade. During that time I’ll produce five books; Good Morning, America Volumes One and Two have already been published, although Volume One has sold out. Your question requires a very complex answer and I’m afraid I don’t have enough time, but what I like about America, as a photographer from elsewhere, is that it is both familiar and strange in equal measure.
My final question is a question on the issue of the equipment. Do you still use medium and large format film cameras or do you think that it is outdated and we should move on to digital media?
I used a large format camera for 20 years but now I own a digital equivalent. But I still use a tripod, still see the image upside down and back-to-front on a ground-glass screen, still have to cock the shutter and use a cable release… but it’s digital. However, I continue to work in much the same way as I did when I was using film; just because it’s digital doesn’t mean I now make thousands upon thousands of photographs. I’m still quite frugal and prefer to make choices in front of my subject, rather than on a computer screen in my studio.
I certainly don’t think film is an outdated; one should choose to work in whichever way is appropriate. I changed to digital because I simply couldn’t afford to work in large format film anymore, but now I’ve changed there’s no going back for me. But I really don’t mind, or care, if the photographer uses film or digital… It’s not important. The idea is everything, along with the intent, and the ability to communicate in interesting and innovative ways.
Thank you very much for your work all these years and thank you for this short dialogue.