MARK ESPER is a talented London based photographer.
Trying to describe his reportage photography we would use the sentence: straight to the point.
His photographs can hit you like a fist in your stomach, but this time they are not the same size: that fist is huge. It’s a fist where Mark holds some kind of poetry linking all his images, a pure, cruel, frank way to tell stories pretty rare to find in the digital era. His storytelling is not afraid to use some text to frame an already devastating meaningful image. His works have been awarded every year since 2010, to date they have been published in National Geographic Traveller, Rolling Stone, Der Spiegel and The Guardian amongst others. He is now on Reykjavik Boulevard, and will be one of the great artists featured in our “Creative Guide for Curious People”, printed edition with a pic you can still admire at Art of Photography Show in San Diego where a large print is currently on display until November 17.
This time we wanted to ask him about his project, with a particular focus on the “Desert Surfers” reportage, shot in the Mojave Desert. He realized a stunning yet breathtaking multimedia made up of photographs, interviews, atmospheric sound effects taken in Nevada, USA at the 2012 NABX (North American Buggy Festival). Shot over ten days both at Harper Dry Lake Bed (California) and Ivanpah Nature Reserve, this project gives you the idea of what Mark Esper means when he says:
Photography for me is the calm eye inside a chaotic storm. A quiet fragment in which sometimes deeper, darker truths are revealed.
Your first project, last project and future project: how would you describe them?
The journey travelled from my first project ’Conflicted: London’s Face of Protest’ to ‘Desert Surfers’ feels immense.
Conflicted was written as a journal with passages and photos describing both outrages and acts of restraint during a year of London-based protests. With Desert Surfers I wanted the voices of those featured to be much more central and so I made it into a multimedia piece as well as a photo story.
Measured in the quantity of mistakes made and lessons I’ve learnt with since, I feel a very deep sense of gratitude to both of these projects.
Nowadays there are some projects I seek out, some that find me and others that are completely spontaneous and develop a life of their own. I definitely plan to continue combining sound and video to my photographs so as to create deeper and richer portraits of my projects.
What do you find inspiring and how would you describe your lifestyle?
I’d describe it as very blessed. FortunateIy I live in London and as a city it attracts a truly diverse collection of people, be they lunatics, geniuses, artists or wastrels. A lot of my inspiration starts with a person’s face. The clues of a life are all there, played out in frowns and laughter lines, all of which makes me wonder about their experiences. Where have they come from? Where are they going? What have they done? An interesting face is usually the front door to an interesting story. Look at the people around you and try it out now. An interesting face rarely has a dull tale to tell.
What would you probably be today if you hadn’t followed your dreams of doing what you do, or what is your actual dream?
If I wasn’t doing this I guess I’d be teaching – whilst still quietly trying to figure out a way to escape. Fortunately I’ve been able to do exactly that. As a result, I’m always looking to constantly learn more and grow. To wake up every morning and have to respond to a different kind of creative challenge is my kind of heaven.
Artists and events: can you tell us the most interesting thing that you’ve found in your career until now?
The many different ways to tell a story. Whether it’s the economy of a single frame that says it all or a larger body of work. Each situation calls upon a different approach and as a result, ‘Nietzsche’s abyss’ leaves something different with me each time.
For me, a photograph is a silent story. It has a unspoken depth. When you look at a great photograph its contrasts and contradictions will shout louder than any scream. That’s what I’m conscious of when I’m shooting. Can I ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ what I’m seeing in the photograph? Is it translating the emotion or presence of what I’m witnessing?
The place where you were born, the place where you live, the best place where you traveled with your work: can you tell us something that only you know to describe them?
I was born in Maidenhead and brought up in Oxford. When I was a kid I borrowed my mum’s Nikkormat and played about a bit, but the real education started when I came back to photography as an adult. Since then I’ve been really blessed with both the colleagues and industry figures, all of whom have generously given me their time and their feedback. That’s been my real education and I can’t put a price on how valuable that’s been.
The Mojave desert is the strongest image in my mind’s eye. It’s a landscape of extremes: temperatures that plummet at night and soar during the day. Lifeless and yet majestic, the desert switches, coming alive both at dawn and dusk coating everything in solemn purple and blue shadows.
So often the location you’re in characterizes the people you meet. The majesty or the oppressiveness of where they live etches itself on their faces. Caught in relief with a camera’s lens, it’s sometimes possible to reveal those contrasts and similarities.
Like this interview?
Find MARK ESPER in the Creative Guide!