Photograd interviews Matt MacPake

To accompany the new edition of PGZ, we have interviewed some photography graduates from the submissions received for the Photograd blog. Here we have an interview with University of Hertfordshire graduate Matt MacPake.


This body of work has been in the making for quite some time. Can you tell us why? Is this your usual way of working? Well it does feel like Brexit has been going on forever, and I feel this project for me at least, began further back than the 2016 referendum.

I started taking photographs at the end of a previous project, To & From the North Circular. Unsurprisingly walking the A406 had left me jaded and I needed a change. So, just for fun I altered my process. I started to work in the opposite way: posed, digital colour portraits became black and white, 120mm film and I started to photograph people from a distance as they walked through my viewfinder. Pretty simple things - but it’s always better to start that way and see how the work progresses. Posed portraits came later but the observational images are still part of this project. That was in 2014-15 and in the beginning I was photographing around Euston and St Pancras, purely because they are busy commuter areas but looking back now perhaps I was drawn to the transport link to Europe.. who knows. 

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

In early 2016, the project started to grow in my mind and by now I had been wandering into various different areas and parts of London. For a while I was just trying little experiments, playing around and seeing where it would take me. Lots of these tests didn’t amount to anything but it was nice to not have the pressure of any deadline and I spent long periods just making pictures. I enjoy working on long form documentary projects but I also enjoy short assignments and often work on a number of separate projects at once. There are more short projects to come. For now, this project remains unfinished although I do feel it’s coming towards an end. Either way, I’m sure many of us will be photographing Brexit and its impact upon Britain & the EU for generations to come. 

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

How do you think London and your series has changed since the vote on Brexit? What sort of differences are you seeing when out making images? I think the whole country has been seeing the effects of Tory lead austerity for years now - homelessness and child poverty numbers are increasing and it’s worrying to think what the future will look like. 

When I first moved to London in 2010 it was an exciting time, I felt like anything was possible and London was a celebration of multicultural society. Most of us got happily swept up in the spirit of the 2012 Olympics, and although I’ve never considered myself patriotic, there was a huge sense of pride and ownership in the country at this time.

Like a lot of people many of my family and relatives outside of London voted to leave the EU, where as I voted Remain. It was and still is a strange time, with the country divided like I’ve never known before. I’ll never forget the awful feeling the morning of the result – a sick feeling in your gut. 

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

This project captures a mood and atmosphere that occurred through this period. I personally feel we’re moving back in time, not forwards. There’s a great sense of uncertainty about our impending future. It wasn’t about who voted which way, that seemed to simplify this idea of what Brexit it is, of course it’s a lot more complex than a yes/no debate. Although we know Brexit is about the UK leaving the EU, no one has any idea of the impact it will have on future generations, and I’m fearful of that. Maybe for me, this feeling is part of becoming a dad for the first time – there’s a tendency to worry more about things you once took for granted. 

You've produced work in colour before but we're curious to know why you've chosen black and white for this work? What equipment have you been using? The world in black and white is a distinctive place - it’s not the world we live in and I like that. It’s a completely new environment where we can record a place we inhabit, but see it with new eyes - this adds a layer of tone that I find intriguing as the images can be more emotive. 

I’ll continue to work in colour but because of this project I believe I’ll always take black and white images too. I’ve made a connection with black & white photography I didn’t have previously. The project may carry on for a while yet, we will have to wait and see. I’m making a dummy of what I have so far but I’d also like to make new work about Brexit that deals with people & their stories in a more intimate and collaborative way. 

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

At the beginning, I started testing with a Hasselblad 503CX, then used a Mamiya RB. But most of the final images from the project are made with either a Makina Plaubel 67 or a Mamiya 7. The Mamiya 7, was my dream camera, this was a birthday present from my wife, who I must say a huge thanks you too not only for this but also her advice & support with my photography! 

I had to use what I could get my hands on. I borrowed from friends and on occasion the loan store from the university where I teach. I’m not really a big kit, tech, type of person I’m more about the images and how I make them, but obliviously I love cameras! The best option for anyone is to use what you have. Limitations in what you have available can be a blessing not a curse.  

What would you like for your viewer to take from your images? I don’t want to tell the viewer what to take away from my project, I’m more interested in what different people see within it themselves. Some may think that sounds like a cop-out, but I hope there’s enough in the images to lead people certain ways and leave the audience to bring something to work. I hope that the work demonstrates a tone and atmosphere that’s of the time, but what this is will depend on who you are. There’s a fantastic quote by Todd Hido

“it’s not my job to create meaning, but only to charge the air so that meaning can occur”

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

Brexit has certainly ‘charged the air’ for the last 3-4 years, so I hope that my project has captured some of this in its own way. I used this quote for inspiration throughout the start of the work and it’s something I go back to when looking for new visual approaches. 

I’ve always struggled with words it’s maybe why I was drawn to photography to begin with, although you soon realise that the two go hand in hand. Now I see that photography helps develop my language and understanding

This project has the working title Whisper City Bones, which comes from a quote by Iain Sinclair, which begins “London is a city that sleeps too much.” This appealed to me as it challenges the positive idea of cities being alive and thriving. We all know that London is too successful for its own good and that has a negative impact across the rest of the country. I feel the UK has been asleep for years - we’ve let austerity happen and now Brexit. There’s nothing nice you can add on the end of this is there…

Image from the series  Whisper City Bones

Image from the series Whisper City Bones

There is hope and it’s in the next generation, look at the school kids marching for climate change, so inspiring, they are all heroes! That’s hope & that’s something to believe in!

COALVILLE PHOTOGRAPHS SELECTED FOR INTERNATIONAL ARTS BIENNIAL

Coalville photographer Christopher Mear has been selected to take part in the UK Young Artist City Takeover in Nottingham (7 – 13 February). Chris has been photographing the town and it’s people for ten years and is delighted to have been selected for one of the largest biennials of national and international artists in the world UKYA City Takeover comes to Nottingham, 7 - 13 February 2019; uniting 250 artists from 25 countries. It will span the city, immersing visitors in an array of extraordinary, innovative and contemporary work, from visual arts to performance; music; applied arts; literature; digital arts and moving image. Expect to encounter art and performance in cultural spaces as well as unusual places. From caves to cafes; markets to museums; studios to the streets - the City Takeover weaves a rich tapestry of venues across Nottingham.

Born, raised and currently living in Leicestershire, Christopher Mear has been making photographs over the last decade about the industrial history of the English landscape and its people, exploring its past and present. Mear uses his photography as a way to understand the social, economic and physical impact that the time of de-industrialisation, which coincided with his own lifetime, has had.

In 2014 Mear began to work with a local photographer he had discovered online; this meeting of artists eventually led to a collaborative project, Mear losing then recovering his photographic mojo and, ultimately, a series of videos and wonderful “shared” photobook produced by Mear. This interesting and unusual take reminds us all of the importance of collaboration and working together with other artists — without competition, not a race to the top, but shared progress, failures and successes.

Christopher will be exhibiting his photographs, books and short films in Sneinton Market during the week long city takeover.

From the series  Coalville Photographed

From the series Coalville Photographed