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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

Interview in Czech photo blog Odcloneno

I was contacted a while back by the editor of Czech photo blog Odcloneno, Michal Fanta: Michal asked to interview me and use some of my photos on the blog. The interview was published this morning; here’s the English transcript. Many thanks to Michal for the exposure and, as he’s mentioned; please do get in touch if you’d like to volunteer for this year’s continuation of the One Frame Movie series.


CHOO CHOO, Bern Strobist day
Why have you picked up a camera and started taking photographs?

I was given a Polaroid camera as a Christmas present when I was very young and a strong memory from my childhood is of reflected lights in camera and binocular lenses. My father always took lots of pictures when we used to go on holiday and so I suppose my interest started there. I always wanted to be creative but was never very good at drawing and painting, so I started using a camera and after learning how to develop my own photos at school, my interest grew from there.

Lugano, Switzerland
What makes you push the trigger and what or who are your influences?

My main influences are photographers who excel in specific areas: Henri Cartier-Bresson for street photography, Jeanloup Sieff for black and white work, Gregory Crewdson for lighting, and Charlie Waite and Ansel Adams for classic landscape photography. More recently, I draw inspiration from people like Joe McNally and Nick Turpin, who stand out from the crowd in their chosen metiers.

I’ve been taking photos for such a long time that I tend to “see” photographs even when I don’t have a camera with me. My approach to photography is twofold; shots on the street or when I’m travelling tend to come about spontaneously, as I see something about to happen, or when the light is unusual or particularly striking. I’ve developed a good eye for street photography after regularly pounding the streets of London for several years before moving to Switzerland, and if I have a camera with me then I tend to be able to anticipate something happening which is worthy of a photograph. My second approach is the more carefully considered shot; setting a tripod up for a landscape scene and waiting until the light is just right is a great way to relax, and my One Frame Movie series contains portrait photos which take a fair amount of planning and control over lighting.

Tannensee, Obwalden
How do you feel when you are traveling out there in the world and making photographs?

Relaxed. There is something about being out in the fresh air, seeing scenes and taking the time to stop and contemplate them, which is a great change from my day job in front of a computer. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as arriving home with aching muscles and a memory card or film full of shots to be proud of.

A quiet moment
What is the most difficult thing a travel photographer can experience?

It used to be the threat of having equipment stolen or damaged, but these days, it’s the heightened sense of security which everyone seems to feel: particularly in the U.K.. Not only do you run into problems with security guards and even the police telling you that you’re not allowed to photograph buildings in public – which isn’t even true – but even passers-by seem to be more aware of a camera-carrying photographer. Where I used to be ignored, perhaps fifteen years ago, I now have to keep developing my techniques of being inobtrusive. The situation is much easier for a street photographer here in Switzerland, as the public sense of being under imminent threat is nowhere near as acute as in many other western countries.

Ponte Tresa, Italy
Has photographing people changed your point of view on them in any way? (e.g. Do you catch yourself staring at their faces from time to time?)

I suppose that through photography, I am more aware of the difference between beauty and an interesting face. Faces which are generally seen to be beautiful or attractive seem to follow certain standards and they are rarely as interesting to me as subjects which have something about them which sets them apart. I’m also acutely aware of the difference between a person’s physical appearance and their character; you can rarely tell what someone’s actually like just by looking at them. Part of my role as a portrait photographer is to try and capture what makes them appear as they do: whether a physical display of an aspect of their character, or simply a physical trait.

Habi and Nina
Do you remember the first photograph you made that took your breath away or that made you say: Wow! If so, what was it?

My own photos are rarely “wow” material for me until much later. Being in a beautiful location is much more “wow-worthy” than the photo which results from it. (In landscape photography, for example, all I really do is stand there and press the button. The natural world does all the hard work.) One of my favourite photos from when I was a teenager is of my grandfather: at the time, it was just a snapshot, but now, many aspects speak to me as an adult which I would never have seen at the time. Looking back, I’m also really pleased with the shots I took of friends at school, as they provide me with happy memories.

Could you tell me more about the “One Frame Movie” project?

The “One Frame Movie” photos are so called because they’re designed as if they were still frames from a dramatic movie. I became interested in learning how to better control artificial light and became involved with the Swiss Strobist group. In 2008, I took to organizing practical meetups and wanting to push the boundaries beyond boring portrait shots, I took the first photo in what was to become the One Frame Movie series. Since then, friends and colleagues have helped me by volunteering to take part and the series is an ongoing work.

If any of your readers in Switzerland would like to volunteer, I’m always on the look-out for people who want to take part! Shooting this year will re-commence in March or April.

Has being a part of the flickr community helped your photography?

Greatly, yes. I have made many good friends through Flickr and the work of friends like Eke Miedaner, Nick Yoon and David Hobby (amongst many others) keeps me on my toes! I also use the site a lot when I’m searching for location information, technical details or equipment reviews.

Street Parade 2009