Mark Wyatt has been making street portraits wherever he goes since around 1980. He posts new images once or twice a week at www.mwwyatt.wordpress.com.
Explore more of Mark's photography here.
Interview by Jack Little (Mexico/UK)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 50
1. What or who was it that first got you interested in photography?
As a kid, The Family of Man book seemed to always be there on the coffee table. That, and Life magazine. In contrast to the layers of complexity and meaning in their photographs, my snapshots of family doings seemed utterly banal. So I turned my Instamatic away from the family, and as it frequently happens, one little success provided enough fuel to get to the next one.
2. Where do you call home and has this impacted upon your work?
I was born in San Francisco and after a period away, came back to live in the Bay Area. But, home is very much not any particular address for me. I easily get the sensation of home in many places, and that probably helps me slide into the rhythm that makes it possible to get a decent shot in unfamiliar surroundings.
3. Traveling obviously plays a big role in your work. How do you decide where to go next?
Any place that I haven’t been is always a bit more enticing, but the opportunity to go anywhere comes infrequently, or not frequently enough, so I’m pretty much game for whichever anywhere it is, although I stay away from places where people regularly shoot at other people or blow themselves up.
4. What cameras do you shoot with and why?
A Sony A6000, and a Canon EOS that my best friend gave me to help me climb out from the funk of a ‘film only’ comfort zone. And, my trusty Nikon F that I still revere if not use. I’m not very particular about tools, I’ll use whatever is available, knowing that each one has its own collection of intrinsic virtues and issues.
5. When it comes to portraits, how is your relationship between you and the person whom you’re shooting?
I’m usually trying to capture a genuine moment that is devoid of any conscious reaction to the act of doing it. Sometimes it happens otherwise, but generally, if I’m doing it right, either the subject doesn’t know that they’re being photographed, or they’ve just figured it out when the shutter snaps, in which case I smile and keep walking. Sometimes we stop and talk, but not often.
6. Do you have a favourite photograph of yours that comes to mind? Can you describe the situation for us in that moment when the photo was taken?
7. How have your interests and style of photography changed over time?
My interests, as far as photography goes, haven’t really changed since photography became a purposeful endeavor for me. The photos that I like most are the ones that challenge me to interpret, and so far nothing does that as well as an eloquent expression of humanity. Ansel Adams’s sublime landscapes still move me the way beautiful music does. But it’s Winogrand’s and Bresson’s spontaneous portraits, among others, that have always rocked me.
As far as style goes, the change from film to digital was a rough one for me. I liked the constraints that film imposed on me. Film required deliberation. You had to catch a scene unfolding early enough to get your equipment properly adjusted by the time you and the scene intersected.
When I started shooting digital, my timing was all off. It took me a while to figure out, or accept, that moving forward meant finding a whole new rhythm. I’m still comfortable with film but now the rhythm of shooting digital comes to me a lot easier.
8. What was the impetus that has led you to publish your photography after quite a bit of time?
Everyone has something that they need to do. This is mine.
9. What would your advice be for anyone wanting to pursue a passion for photography?
The best advice I have is to take a lot of pictures. If you’re not sure about any aspect of what you’re doing, taking a lot of pictures will fix it. Digital empowers you to be reckless without consequences. That’s a seductive proposition. Shooting film, you have to figure each click of the shutter costs you at least a dollar. By comparison, digital costs pretty close to nothing. The only way I know of to get good at something is to do it - this is assuming that we’re talking about a personal definition of ‘good’; I have no idea how to succeed commercially.