Welcome to Pellicola, Arch!
I read in your biography that you are originally from London and currently based in NYC. How did your experimentation in the world of photography begin? Did someone pass on you that passion?
Both my great grandfather and grandmother were professional photographers. One worked for National Geographic in the early days of Photography, and the other was a studio photographer, but I didn’t come to photography immediately. It’s always been a side tool to facilitate design and art, documenting work, but it began to expand from my travelling, skateboarding and just kicking about with friends. In London I really enjoyed and sought out brutalist architecture to shoot, while being in the US has helped me expand the scenes and scenarios I found compelling.
Did you study in a school? Did you follow a teacher? Or did you learn the art of photography in the field?
I did a foundation course in Fine Art – during that time I would shoot things for friends, but went directly into a design job, so a lot of what I know about compositions has come from there. Aside from my foundation course I am predominantly self-taught, always testing new materials, software and following YouTube videos frustrating myself until I get it right. Learning to use a camera and gaining a full vocabulary in photography is definitely one I’m getting as I go.
A photographer and a designer: How do these two sides of your artistic experience interact. Which came first? Do you think one compensates the other?
To me photography and design are intertwined – or at least becoming more intertwined. I used to try and keep them quite separate, both supporting very different ideas and aesthetics, each a kind of escapism from the other, but the techniques and skills are interchangeable and informing and adding back into each other more and more.
Design definitely came first, I loved type and lettering growing up, which led to graphic design and eventually Art Direction and learning 3D software. The photography I make now allowed me to get out and away from the desk, pushing for another kind of exploration and play.
About your photo collection – I found a lot of material on your Instagram profile as well as on your official website. Your compositions are more often natural than artificially projected and reconstructed in a studio. Each landscape, however, focuses on a detail; an intersection of lines, a glimpse of architecture, a shadow on the wall. What do you want to photograph and tell your viewers about the world?
I would agree I’m a naturalistic photographer – for the most part I don’t like to fake or stage images, but sometimes an idea makes that a necessity. I like the image to feel tight but natural, like all the elements belong together. Mostly I am looking to create a familiar scene, not very location specific. I don’t like to impose too much information on an image, instead allowing the viewer to make their own subconscious connections to it. The world to me is always touched by people, maybe flawed and a bit broken, but optimistic.
Certain of your street photos portray cars, neon lights, signs of human passage in a way that remain suspended in time – belonging nobody. The saturation and temperature of your shots are very often in sunset hues and subdued values. It seems to be a recurrent element in the fragments of the world you photograph. What can you say about this?
I like that observation, I think the array of items is quite varied – cars and signs are often present because I like their materials and shapes – but the consistent device is always the place, the scene and the collection of lines and hues.
The temperature is always quite consistent. This is partly for the consistency itself and building a certain ‘look’ and continuity, but mainly, for the light. I find midday to be harsh for me, I prefer longer shadows and the softer hazier quality of the light at sun rise and sunset. Of course, I also like the romance it adds, in the way it can make trash not feel like trash.
If you had to describe with a couple of words what distinguishes your style or your research, what would you say?
Real, unreal, optimistic.
Some of your photos show plastic bags floating in the air. Is it a subject that attracts your attention? Is it part of a project or series?
I don’t really work in projects or series, but perhaps it’s forming into one. I made one photo, and enjoyed that process and what it added. It’s a form of play – to add something extra, unexpected – particularly if it distorts or disrupts the image, or allows you to see more of an image. It allows me, in a way, to build on archival photography in a playful way.
A smilar one for me is a fire training station in New Mexico – it has an old sofa, some freight containers and the only thing I added was a car wheel spinning but half falling. It brings a bit of life or weirdness.
There are almost never any people in your photos. Why? Is this a random choice?
No, it’s deliberate. I find solace in places without people in them – large crowds are fascinating, but generally images of people are not interesting to me. There are lots of great photographers who focus on images of people, and find that connection, but I seek to document mainly the traces and influence of people. I want to leave a bit of room in the image for people to imagine their own connection.
Is there any artist, from any area, who is your source of inspiration? And is there anyone you would absolutely advise our curious readers to consider?
Robert Rauschenburg, is someone I have always come back to, particularly now as I want to do more with collage. I love Edward Hopper for the compositions.
Richard Mosse, is probably the artist that always gets stuck in my head, his use of equipment and mediums is just so clever and mesmerising.
We’re all under the influence of so many sources of imagery – it’s difficult to latch onto one, it’s an amalgamation of a load of different things, but photographers on Instagram I enjoy currently are Andy Feltham, Catherine Hyland, Linda Westin, Leon Thompson, Benidorm Dreams, Julien Babigeon, Elliot Verdier, Mariimincu.
Thank you very much! We hope you enjoyed sharing your experience with us and our readers!
Interview by Costanza Francesconi
Images © Arch McLeish