University: Kingston University
Genre: Still Life
Artist Statement: Christopher Mitchell is predominantly a Still Life photographer, who enjoys working instinctively and appreciating the fine details. This is a selection of some recent personal work.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I attended Kingston University, where I studied Fine Art Photography and graduated in 2014
What are some standout moments from your time at university? Living close to central London was amazing, having everything you needed within an arm’s reach - whether that was a printers or shops for still life props. Also having a well-equipped studio was key to me even discovering still life. Having peers to discuss work with is something I definitely appreciate more looking back as well.
Which photographic genre do you consider your work to fall into? The majority of my work definitely falls into the still life category… but I’m trying to post a wider selection of my work, which includes fashion, portraits and everyday photography. I’ve never liked the idea of being pigeon-holed, so I like to think people will recognise my work for my style rather than the subject matter.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? It honestly depends on the objects I find myself being interested in. I try to not worry too much about whether my images will fit into certain themes, and instead focus on making the work - then worry later whether they fit anywhere.
Saying that, I do have a couple of ideas for a series I want to work on, that might work as a coherent piece, rather than a set of individual pieces.
Does this collection of images have a title and a meaning behind it? The meaning behind my work tends to be ambiguous, I think. Whilst studying at university I used to title all of my still life work ‘I did it for science or something’ - which was a title I created after seeing a still life of some test tubes on Flickr. Someone had taken the photo for science homework, and had simply titled it ‘For science class’. I liked how matter-of-fact it was and spun that into a tongue in cheek title for my work, that clearly was not scientific. I’ve moved away from this and usually leave my work untitled, so it’s pretty much up to the viewer to decide what the image is or could be about.
There sometimes might be an underlining theme or specific reason I took a shot though. For example; last summer I kept finding dead bee’s and wasps and collected them just incase I ever thought of an image I wanted to make. Eventually when I came to shoot them, I was moving a few on a bit of folded up kitchen paper, and ended up really liking how discarded and sad it looked. In my head the image became about the various increasing threats to bees.
Can you tell us how you go about making your images? What equipment do you typically use? I’ll begin with a few written or sketched-out ideas, then begin to assemble them and see if (or how) they’re going to work. The ideas I write down are always just starting points from which I build on and experiment with once I’ve got all my materials and objects in front of me. Sometimes I’ll see a specific object, colour or material and on a whim put it together - in a way that I hadn’t thought of previously - and some of those are the images I am most proud of. I think it’s fun to work on the spur of the moment.
Equipment wise I used my Canon 5D, and various different flash lighting set ups. Special mention goes to my Speedlite which is such a simple but good piece of kit.
Where do you find inspiration? It varies, but mainly from walking and having time to myself. If I see a certain object it can sometimes spark a whole idea for an image. A lot of the time I think it's subconscious though, I’m not completely sure what I might notice, or why at 2am I might randomly think of an idea and have to scribble it down before I forget.
I also find I look at illustrators and painters more for inspiration, people such as Richard Diebenkorn and Adrian Tomine. Although Adrian Tomine doesn’t illustrate still life, I still find his images intriguing in a way that makes me want to push on and make new work.
Can you tell us about your experience of being a freelance photographer? Have you got any advice or tips for new graduates? It’s definitely a full on experience, as I find it extremely difficult to switch off from my work, especially as it’s so easy to check emails and there’s always something to be working on. On the flip side of that though, it’s really rewarding to be able to make images day-in-day-out and do something I genuinely enjoy.
I would say my biggest piece of advice, although clichéd, would be to just make sure you get yourself known - don’t be scared to contact people and introduce yourself.
Is social media important to you as a working photographer? Definitely. Over the years I’ve found Tumblr (and more recently Instagram) a great place to showcase what you’re up to. Whether that's commissioned work, or personal work - it’s great to have a place to share, so it doesn't feel like you have a bunch of images that never see the light of day.
Now Instagram is straying past what Tumblr managed in terms of becoming important from a freelance work point-of-view. The sheer amount of people on Instagram now, including Photo Editors etc from magazines, means it can become a tool in which to show your work and hopefully get seen.
Would you say you work slowly to make your images? Do you ever shoot out on location, on the move, without artificial lighting?Depending on the original idea, it can either be a spur of the moment image that comes to fruition within a few minutes - or could take a week to put together. Especially when I paint props (for example when I painted a striped chair a few years ago) it takes a while to physically work on it and make sure it’s up to a good standard. In terms of actually in the studio, I’m very picky - so I like taking my time with moving things around and making sure the lighting is just right.
I’ve wanted to shoot more still life out on location recently, especially during summer with the strong sunlight and shadows. Other than that, I do regularly walk about with my camera and photograph things that generally catch my eye. I’m more wary about posting all of these online, but I’m becoming accustomed to just sharing whatever I’m up to - without worrying whether it’ll fit into what I usually do.
What does the future hold for you and your work? Hopefully designing and making a book at some point of a small project that I’d like to shoot. It would be a mix of still life juxtaposed with photos from outside the studio. Other than that, always working toward getting more freelance work.