“You never really know if the home you’re living in is actually a hotel in disguise.” Mark Esper Photography
Mark Esper (born in 1968) is a documentary photographer currently based in London, UK. He’s mainly self-taught. For Mark Esper photography is a medium of visual storytelling. It’s this ambiguity that fascinates him: “For such a silent medium, photography can be very verbose and that really appeals to me.”
Artist statement: “Photography for me is the calm eye inside a chaotic storm. A quiet fragment in which sometimes deeper, darker truths are revealed. With my photographs I try to focus on missing moments, be they beautiful or seen from a usual perspective.”
Mark Esper, why did you become a photographer?
I don’t think there was a specific moment when I chose photography or that it chose me. I think we chose each other when the time was right – or to be more honest once I’d grown up. There are a lot of people who have something to say or experiences they want to share but finding the your chosen medium can almost be as difficult as developing your own visual voice. I know.
I knocked on a lot of other doors before photography including writing and fine art and even though I’ve stepped across into photography I still want to keep those other ones ajar. Put it this way, you never really know if the home you’re living in is actually a hotel in disguise.
And why documentary photography and photojournalism?
I love stories. I love the journey that a story takes you on be it a fact or fiction. With a story you’ll either be entertained, educated or informed – maybe all three – but stories as a whole are never stagnant.
“Sometimes a photograph can answer many questions and then again leave just as many hanging.”
With stills photography you’re working in a silent story-telling medium. The documenting of time with all it’s implied mood and atmosphere is done silently. It’s a very visual way of telling a story. Sometimes a photograph can answer many questions and then again leave just as many hanging. For such a silent medium it can be very verbose and that really appeals to me.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
It’s funny. I used to feel amazingly ignorant in the company of other photographers who could name drop all these historical photographers with abandon. I’d stay silent, smile awkwardly and pray nobody would ask me about anything. I just didn’t have those references and so I set about collecting and educating myself.
One of the photographers who had a real impression on me was Judah Passow. He has such a consistently strong body of work. There’s meaning in every shot. His book “Shattered Dreams” became an unofficial course in photojournalism for me and it still is today. Every shot is a standalone story replete with meaning and clear aesthetics and is definitely worth checking out.
More images from Mark Esper Photography
What’s your favourite inspirational quote about photography?
“Be quick, be close, be lucky.”
I heard Reza Deghati say it at a talk he gave at the “Frontline Club” in London early on in my career and it made me roar with laughter. I don’t think it wasn’t meant as a joke per se, but for anybody working in photojournalism it has a definite resonance. I haven’t heard a better one yet.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
I tend to favour wide lenses. I just like that wide field of view. It really allows you to juggle lots of different elements all at once and use the juxtaposition of each to tell a story or underscore a mood. The way that wide lenses also handle distortion can be used to great effect, although you need to be careful that it doesn’t undo your composition.
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
“If it (camera) feels good then that’s the one for you – it’s like a pair of shoes or a pair of gloves.”
I guess I’m a Canon boy at the moment but I originally started out using a Nikormatt and still have a few other film cameras around. I think it all depends on how each camera feels in your hands. If it feels good then that’s the one for you – it’s like a pair of shoes or a pair of gloves. It’s a tactile thing.
When you look at a great photo these days you’d be hard pushed to tell which camera it came from. To my mind, it’s whatever makes you happy and enables you to get the shot.
What’s your favourite website about photography?
One great site I check out regularly is “L’Oeil de La Photographie”. They always have a great cross-section of photo stories and news about exhibitions.
What book about photography would you recommend?
I’ve just read “Photographs Not Taken” by Will Steacy which was a collection of essay’s by photographer’s about the great photos they didn’t manage to take. It’s about the ones that got away or for whatever reason it didn’t feel right taking the camera out. You can buy a lot of books about technique and critically evaluating photographs but nothing I’ve read recently has been quite so truthful as this book. Without trying it covers a huge amount about the art of looking and observation.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Just start taking photographs. I meet a lot of very well-intentioned people who have these long lists of things they feel they must do, join societies or attend courses and so on before they embark on a career. Just start.
Look, nobody knows everything. It’s only through ‘doing’ you’ll discover your voice. You’ll make lots of mistakes and that’s great because as a result you’ll learn lots of lessons and have lots of questions afterwards. And chances are, those questions will be the ones you should be asking yourself anyway.
More information about documentary photographer Mark Esper
Official homepage “Mark Esper Photography”: www.markesper.com