“I’m not sure I like the term street photographer though – I am just a photographer that happens to take a lot of pictures on the street.”
Mark Massey. Born in 1970, Mark Massey is a photographer currently based in in Essex, England.
He’s self-taught apart from a couple of photography modules within graphic design courses.
Interview with Mark Massey
Mark, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures out on the streets?
Sorry for the boring answer, but I can’t actually think of a particular standout moment.
Why did you become a photographer? And why street photography?
I’ve always been a visual person (I work full time as a magazine designer) and photography has always been my preferred visual art. So it was a natural progression to eventually pick up a camera myself.
I am quite time-poor so I kind of fell into street photography as it’s something I can pursue as I go about my daily business.
I’m not sure I like the term street photographer though – I am just a photographer that happens to take a lot of pictures on the street.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
I find it quite therapeutic to wander around, just taking pictures for myself; it also gives me a personal creative outlet outside of what I do for my job.
The only thing I try to transmit is ‘real life’ as I see it.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Of course a lot of the ‘past masters’ are important, but I also get a lot of inspiration from contemporary photographers. The one that has inspired me the most is probably George Georgiou. I have learnt a lot particularly from the way he composes and tells a story.
I also love Alex Webb for his layering and complexity, and Gustavo Gomes, of the Street Photographers collective for the way he works with natural light.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
“The best pictures, for me, are those which go straight into the heart and the blood, and take some time to reach the brain.”
Bill Jay (from his book with David Hurn “On Being A Photographer”)
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
I don’t like unnecessary elements and I like to place things carefully within the frame. A lot of my shots have clean, simple compositions. I am always open of the fact that I am shooting – I don’t agree with ‘sneaky’ shots.
Rather than work on either projects or single images, I quite often present images as complementary pairs (as in my book and on my website). Recently I’ve started working on projects in the more traditional sense, and also more portraits.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
I don’t think you should think too deeply about developing your own style – over time it should gradually and naturally come to the fore.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
I always work in colour and I prefer a good depth of field and natural light. I actually quite like flat, even light, which I guess is quite unusual for a street photographer.
Unless it’s for a specific project, there’s not much to it conceptually – I just shoot what interests me. I do look for recurring themes though.
What qualities and characteristics does a good street photographer need?
Patience, observance, natural sense of composition. Open-mindedness and readiness to react.
I think it’s important to always be composing in your mind’s eye – even when you don’t have a camera, or are in a situation where you can’t use it.
What does a photo need to be a great street shot?
That’ impossible to answer – I think you just know when you see one.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
By constantly looking at other photographers’ work – online but particularly in books. You can’t beat a printed image. And being based in London, of course I am spoilt for choice when it comes to exhibitions.
What’s the biggest challenge shooting on the streets?
Finding the time to actually go out and shoot – a long daily commute and a young family aren’t really conducive to lots of free time!
Initially it was overcoming my natural shyness, but I am gradually getting better at that. You can learn to blend in.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I use a DSLR and these days I almost always use a fixed lens – usually a fast 24mm (on an APS-C camera). Occasionally I dig out my old film SLR.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
You could do a lot worse than spending a spare half an hour browsing through the documentary projects on Panos.
There’s so many great ones around though – I subscribe to a whole load through “The Old Reader”, which I check daily.
What photography book would you recommend?
This is a difficult one, because there are so many to choose from.
Can I recommend more than one?
For street photography reference, the best around is “Street Photography Now” by Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren, and in the same vein I’d really recommend Stu Egana’s independently-published “Radiate” magazine.
As an overview to photography in general I would recommend the BBC’s “Genius of Photography” by Gerry Badger. And as an insight into the minds of a range of famous photographers, I really loved “Contact Sheet” by Steve Crist – especially if, like me, you can’t afford the Magnum version.
For individual photographer projects, I still love looking back at Martin Parr’s “Small World”. And as for autobiographies – Don McCullin’s “Unreasonable Behaviour” is gripping stuff.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) street photographer?
Forget it! Even the In-Public guys have day jobs. Anyway you get more freedom of expression as an amateur.