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Interview with photographer Mark Sanders
By Kathy Compton for New Heroes & Pioneers

London based photographer Mark Sanders is a regular contributor to an array of well followed glossy and matte periodicals including Vanity Fair, Kinfolk and Cereal, among others. His style captures both observed and voyeuristic angles that echo the quiet and the calm. We had the opportunity to enquire further into some of his creative personal and professional pursuits as well as what feeds that creativity.

New Heroes And Pioneers (NHAP):
Let’s jump in with your personal projects- Daily Observations, which recently exhibited in London as well as Urbis, a newspaper of your own creation.

Mark Sanders (MS)
Daily Observations is an ongoing project based on my personal diaries that I have kept over the last 10 years; a visual diary of life. Observations of things that I see. The world around me. Everyday life.

Urbis evolved from an L. S. Lowry painting that I loved which depicted people walking to work in the factories in northern England. My translation from that was to observe people in London going to work. Although that was the inspiration, I was adapting and evolving the project each time I went out to document the people in the City of London. I soon noticed how the majority of workers felt like they were on a conveyor belt, heads down, engrossed in their phones or tablets, unaware of the beauty in their surroundings. Maybe I was naive to the impact technology really has on our lives.

@marksanders

NHAP
Do you explore avenues in any way with your personal projects that you don’t get the opportunity to do with your commissioned work? How do the two, commissioned / non-commissioned work, influence one another?

MS
I think Urbis is a good example of that as it wasn’t commissioned, it was something I wanted to do off my own back. Initially it was going to be as an Instagram feed, Tumblr page, or a project on my website, but once I had shot it, I really wanted to share the images with people and show it in a more complete way and that is why I chose to print the newspaper. I did have a lot of commissions following on from Urbis, and I guess that’s where the commercial element comes into it.

With Commissioned work there is a defined brief from a client/brand. We collaborate as a team to create imagery for a specific outlet, where as with my personal work I keep the brief open. I give myself guidelines to start with but will let them evolve organically as I progress through the project. I try and bring that way of working into my commercial work. It’s nice when a client is open to ideas and I can bring my influence to a campaign. My personal projects also stimulate and inspire people to commission me. Directors and Art Buyers hopefully pick up on small elements or details within an image that I have shot.

NHAP
You work with a host of different publications and clients- which types of projects do you naturally gravitate to?

MS
I work in both men’s and women’s fashion and advertising, bringing an observed and voyeuristic style, I like to be the observer and let the subjects be themselves within a scene, creating the story and I try not to influence or direct the action too much, I document what I see. I have brought this mantra to my still life commissions also, trying to give a more lifestyle / observed feel.

 

NHAP
In your work, do you enjoy working with different creatives or do you prefer sticking with more of a core team?

MS
I still work with a few creatives that I have done for nearly 15 years when we were all starting out together. I like the understanding that comes with working with those people. I do also feel it is important to work with new creatives too, it keeps the work fresh and encourages me to explore different channels.

NHAP
Let’s talk a little bit about your aesthetic – there is a luxe quality, an effortlessness to your work that always seems to always spotlight just the right detail- is that an accurate portrayal? How would you describe your style?

MS
I have heard those comments on many occasions, and I guess I would agree with those words. It’s always very hard to describe your own style, but an Art Director once said that my work had a ‘calmness’ to it, and I quite like that.

NHAP
I imagine that if you were dropped into Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, you’d still make it look like the most elegant and relaxed of affairs- do you have any tricks you’d like to share that help you achieve your trademark style?

MS
There are no tricks in what I do. I always find it interesting how a group of creatives may document or capture the same subject. I suppose it’s quite flattering that someone observing my images would be able to recognise my style.

@marksanders

NHAP
There is a distinct warmth to your images; like mellow gold or the eternal setting (or rising) of the sun. Did you grow up under that sun or do you now command it into your work because it was withheld from you due to English weather? Please tell us a little bit about your background and what got you into photography in the first place.

MS
I grew up in Devon where I went to college and first had the opportunity to try photography and experiment in the darkroom, it was my tutor Patrick who really inspired me to learn my about this medium. I knew that I would want to move to London and further pursue a career in photography. I moved to London in 2001 and began assisting fashion and advertising photographers, all the time shooting my own work and soon began picking up editorials and a few commissions. I don’t feel there is any direct connection between my style of photography and my upbringing, but maybe there is something in my subconscious that I don’t see myself.

NHAP
If not for photography what do you think you might have decided to spend your efforts on?

MS
I always fancied the idea of working with wood, so a furniture maker would be a job I would enjoy.

 

NHAP
You have mentioned before that you try and do very little altering to your images when it comes to your personal work. Is that true of all your work? How do you approach photo editing as opposed to getting what you want in the set up of the shot?

MS
I always try and keep as true to the original subject matter as possible. I do colour work to my images in the same way I would have done with hand printing. I think it’s important to be able to adapt to the situation however, and sometimes a commercial client can require more post production for many different reasons.

NHAP
Are you someone who prefers to be methodical and plan significantly beforehand or do you like to be a bit more improvisational?

MS
I’m a big fan of improvising and letting moments happen organically, I think it’s easy to over plan a shoot and in turn take away a special feeling that was there in the moment. When I was starting out I would story board before a shoot, and soon realised that it didn’t really work for me.

@marksanders

NHAP
Your work is often noted for its clean lines and evocative of contemplative scenarios. Moments suspended in time. We at New Heroes and Pioneers share an affinity for Scandinavian style which we think also shares these particular qualities. Can you share with us your thoughts on the popularity of this style and also – where you think it’s headed?

MS
I am aware there is a trend for the Scandinavian style right now, and the fact that my work often consists of clean lines and contemplative scenarios, then I suppose it does have a nod to the same Scandinavian aesthetic. There are always trends that come and go, and I guess this style will also have a certain longevity. It will be interesting to see what the next trend is. I look back at my early work, even the images I created shooting those first rolls of film at college, and there is certainly the beginnings of my style, using clean lines, simplicity and minimalism. This is also reflected in how I keep my sketchbooks/diaries. I keep them very precisely, I always thought a sketchbook should be rough doodles and scribbles, but I found that wasn’t me.

NHAP
Looking forward, what are you excited about delving into? Where can you see your style and projects mutating?

MS
I am planning another form of printed material and I’m currently shooting a few different personal projects. I also plan to take the Daily Observations Exhibition to other cities within the UK and Europe after it’s success in London.

NHAP
Who and what are your big influencers? What do you do when you want to summon the muse?

MS
I’m influenced by what I see daily; the things and people around me therefore I would consider that my muse.

NHAP
Inspiration is to be found everywhere, it’s simply a matter of having the aligning perspective. You can dive more into Mark’s work on his site (where you can check out his personal projects and commissions) and Instagram.

Website: http://marksanders.co.uk/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marksandersstudio/

Written by

Writer at large; Singer for Panda Transport; Lover in Lomma Sweden; Made in the USA

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