Interview: Mark Leary

UK Photographer was so kind to chat about his craft, the UK, China, new work, photography, commissions and more.

Could you give us a quick overview of who you are, what you’re doing, and where you are right now in life, work etc?

I’m a British photographer who has worked in the advertising and design world for about nine years but have started to move towards doing books and more exhibitions. In life I still have no idea where I am. I still appear to be a traveller who can’t put down any roots and need to just discover places and new things.

Why did you become a photographer? 

Both my grandfather and mother had been keen amateur photographers and so I had always been around cameras and projectors and slides. I wasn’t as good an illustrator as I would have liked to be so the camera was my way of expressing myself.

Is there a common theme/link you’re trying to capture in your photography? 

Not really. I just always photograph what inspires me. I can spend three hours setting up a shot and then it not quite working so I won’t shoot a plate.

Tell us about your new work? What are you aiming to do with SALT?

I hope just to convey what surfing is really about, that it is an obsession and lot’s of waiting for good swells to arrive [well her in the UK anyway, hahhah] and that’s it’s not about blond haired six-packed bronzed guys and girls but all walks of life.

What is your connection with nature and it’s elements, and how do you channel that into your work?

I have always been an active type - mainly through bikes - and love being outdoors. Just the noise of water lapping on the shore is the best noise you can hear. My work has predominantly been interior based because that is the mundane. That is what we don’t take a second glance at. The outdoors is naturally beautiful and it’s too easy to get a beautiful landscape so I don’t photograph exteriors as much.

Where is home?

Right now, I move between London and a small English seaside town called Newquay.

Tell us about your Made in China book? Was this a commissioned project, personal? How do you view China? Any unusual memories shooting in China?

I went to shoot a series of work. Up to that point I had always just shot individual  shots and I wanted a body of work. When I came back I showed a very respected Creative who asked if he could turn it into a book. Beijing was beautiful, so innocent but just starting to turn into a modern Western-type city. I’m not sure I’d like to go back as I think it will just now be another bland corrupt city that us Westerners seem to be able to destroy Eastern cultures and virtues.

Technically how and what are you shooting on? 

I shoot on a Ebony 10x8 and 5x4 plate camera and still get my work printed in the traditional way of going into a darkroom.

What other artists inspire you?

There are only two photographers who really inspire me and they are both friends - Peter Mallet and Pedro Alvarez. I was sat out back the other day getting in a sunset surf and it suddenly looked like a Wolfgang Bloch painting which was pretty inspiring.

How do you see the difference between your personal and commissioned work? Any insights?

One is my shot and one is my shot with a big logo stuck on the print. I’ve been lucky in my commissions that they are very similar to how I would shoot the shot anyway. The product is a little bigger in the shot than I would have it but I fully understand that. Most of the clients are pretty understanding which I’m very grateful for. If I was shooting something that I was inspired to shoot then I would walk away. As I said earlier if I can stop a personal shot after three hours then I definitely wouldn’t be able to force myself to shoot a commissioned piece if it wasn’t, at least, something close to my heart visually.

Something you are still learning?

I’m still learning to surf [even after twenty years] and still learning about life really. It’s a pretty complicated thing that I’m sure I still won’t have mastered at the end. :-)

Mark Leary

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