The uniquely crafted and well thought out visual design of Barbados-based photographer Mark King – aka “Markings” has an instantly recognizable character and unique voice. Through his lens, he’s been able to capture and bring out the vibrant beauty of Caribbean culture while letting the vitality that celebrates the rich pageant of city living come through in a palate of sonorous colors. – James Pawlish / The Citrus Report
JP: Who is Mark King?
Was there a single defining moment that influenced your decision to become a photographer?
I started to consider doing photography full time after working in New York as a photo intern. Going to grad school in San Francisco for photography was another big influencer. Soon after graduation, I worked as a photo assistant with Wired Magazine. I learned so much from that experience. My time at Wired gave me the confidence to try my hand at becoming a photographer.
I know you’ve had the opportunity to travel the world shooting photos. How has your style developed since you left the city by the bay?
San Francisco is where I laid the foundation for my style. I was able to identify what I enjoyed shooting and the approach that worked best for me. Being uprooted from the Bay took me out of my comfort zone for sure. At the time the economy was (still is) wrecked and getting sponsored to stay in the country had fallen through two weeks before my time was up.
I moved to Barbados and decided the only option was to shoot as much as possible. I built on a style I began a couple years before I left SF. And later included shooting portraits in that vein. I’ve had to become much more out going and take a few risks along the way.
Now that you’re back in Barbados, how does it feel? What’s the art scene like? Has it helped influence or shape your work in anyway?
Being back in the Caribbean turned out be just what I needed. It was definitely a culture shock returning to this part of the world though. I grew up in Barbados between ages three and seven, but would come back for holiday every now and then to see family. From ages seven to twelve I was in The Bahamas, then Belgium, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. So I went from fourteen years of city life to living on a rock in the middle of the ocean not found on most maps.
Since day one I’ve strived to represent Barbados in a way no one has done before. I want my approach to be as honest as possible. Honest in the sense that it is created from a place that involves a real experience and not an over glossed one.
Our art scene is very small, but there are people working on changing that. If it weren’t for the support of a select few here I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m on now. They’ve taught me how to be resourceful and to stay motivated.
A large portion of your work is centered on the female form. Is there any specific reason why?
I like taking pictures of beautiful women for the obvious reasons, but it’s also about the collaborative experience. We get to learn a bit about each other and do some exploring in the process. It’s always interesting to see how their personalities begin to unravel once we start shooting.
Another reason is that I find it challenging to take interesting photos of women. You see so many images dealing with that subject matter. There is an absurd amount of pictures of gorgeous women both online and in print, but in how many of them do you appreciate what is going on in the photograph in addition to the pretty girl?
Can you briefly describe your creative process?
For my portraits I like to identify a mood that I am going for in my photos. I then think about a location that best suits the mood. There’s some pre-visualization that goes on, but often preconceived ideas can get thrown out once I’m in the process of shooting. I like to give myself some room to be spontaneous as well.
Do you find that film, arts, or literature has had an impact on your work?
Photography, film, music, my environment; they influence me the most I guess. More and more literature is playing a role in motivating me to convey a deeper meaning in my work.
These days, everyone seems to be shooting digital. However, I know you still like to shoot with film. What is it you like about film? Do you feel it has a specific quality?
Film definitely has a certain quality that I still love. I’m not against digital. I find it hard to convince myself to shoot digital and then turn around and make it look as close to film as possible.
I approach photography in a completely different way when shooting film. I focus more when not distracted by a preview image popping up on my display. That can lead to me checking the histogram and the second guessing starts. When shooting film I just do my thing and trust my gut.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your “plastic” series? How did you first come up with the idea? How has it evolved since then?
We love bright colors in the Caribbean. When I returned to Barbados I immediately noticed the colored plastic shopping bags everywhere. It was interesting to see these Chinese made plastic bags stand out in our color-saturated environment. I started shooting the bags themselves in studio and on the beaches. It wasn’t until I was experimenting on an instant film portrait series in preparation for an upcoming Silkscreen artist in residency at the Frans Masereel Centre (www.fransmasereelcentrum.be) in Belgium, that it all came together. I decided to pull from the shopping bag color palette instead of photographing the bags.
The project has evolved into a series of portraits shot at night under streetlights around Barbados. I shoot with a Mamiya RZ 67 on Fuji high-speed instant film. My subjects are in locations that are mostly scouted days or even weeks prior to the shoot. I scan the images and paint in the colors via a Wacom tablet. I also produced a series of screen printed artist proofs and mixed my colors the old fashioned way.
The on-going series has definitely taken an eerie turn and I’m starting to experiment with adding more of a story aspect.
You were recently accepted to the Lucie Foundation E-apprentice program. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Every year the Lucie Foundation selects 10 emerging photographers and pairs them with an established photographer for a 6-month online mentorship program. They also provide secondary mentors in the supporting industries like artist representatives and gallerists.
I have been paired with entertainment and fine art photographer Roger Erickson (erickson-images.com). We talk over the phone and exchange emails often. Roger has been a great help. He’s twenty years deep in the photography game. I come away from every conversation we have with amazing insight and advice.
What’s one word that describes Mark King?
From The Citrus Report
Posted By The Citrus Report