A N I N T E R V I E W W I T H H A R R Y M I T C H E L L
Harry has kindly agreed to not only give an interview but in addition, has provided some exclusive work to show on here that, as of right now, cannot be seen anywhere else online.
What prompted the US road trip?
I suppose I’d wanted to do it for a long time - I’d been to the states when I was 16 and stayed in a small town about an hour between New York and Philadelphia with my cousins. Coupled with a few earlier trips to the west coast and certain parts of the East coast with my family, it sparked a definite interest with America. I think it was only when I started to take photographs more seriously when I was about 17 or 18 that I realised I really wanted to go back and see more of the country and make pictures of and about it. A roadtrip seemed a pretty good way to do this; I’d also just finished my first year of university, studying photography, and felt a bit burned out and wanted something totally new to engage with. I’d been getting into a lot of photographic work made about the American landscape - from Shore and Sternfeld to Aaron Huey's hike across the states - and was curious to see it for myself.
How did Mason (Dent) fit in to the plan?
Mason’s also a photographer, from Chicago originally. He’d just finished a year at a college in California and I think felt kind of similar to me at the time. We originally discovered each other’s work through the internet, eventually we started talking about the idea of doing a roadtrip. We played with lots of ideas, about getting an RV, a convertible, a 4x4, which states to go to, what we wanted to shoot etc. Mason bought an ‘88 Suburban truck, fixed up the engine and interior, I flew over to NYC to meet him where we hung out for a few days, then we started driving south. We drove down the east coast, then west across the south - south carolina, tennessee, mississippi, texas, new mexico - then up through colorado, then west, through utah and nevada, ending up in LA. I ended up getting a greyhound bus from LA to San Francisco overnight, and flying back to New York for 4 July. We stayed mostly with friends and family of Mason’s all over the place, sometimes sleeping in our truck, camping once in the desert in Utah, occasionally a motel - which ranged from something out of a slasher film in tennessee to one in a sleepy mormon town in Utah.
Do you have one memory from the trip that stands out against the rest?
I don’t think I could isolate one, but there are a few that stick out for sure. Hanging out with freshly released convicts and an ex Vietnam vet sniper in a border town in South Texas, then going to herd horses with them across the freeway, that was pretty awesome and surreal. Going to the ‘Colonel’s Quarters’ for dinner, a mansion in Oxford, Mississippi was pretty amazing. Sleeping in the desert in Utah. Cycling through downtown LA at 2am, where at one point we stopped by police who just laughed at me after finding out I was english. Watching dry lightening storms and drinking beer in Marfa, Texas and going shooting in Colorado.
You mentioned earlier that this trip helped you get over a burned out period. How would you deal with that sort of thing if you couldn’t just get up and leave?
I think those phases just come and go. The best thing I find is just to keep working, in some way or another. If I didn’t feel like going out and photographing, I’d do some retouching, scan film, edit old work, or just look at pictures. Obviously it’s pretty important to find ways to work it out, because otherwise you’re not making work, but I think it’s normal to feel confused about what you’re doing sometimes.
Any future plans for more travel?
I’m going to Buenos Aires in mid July for a photojournalism workshop called Foundry. From the beginning of August I’ll be in New York city for six weeks, seeing friends and taking pictures mostly. I might try and see a bit more of the east coast if I can. So if anyone is from NYC or nearby and is reading this….write to me, I’d like to hang out and sleep on your floor.
What’s it like in Brighton at the moment with the buzz around all the talent coming out of that school and that area?
There are definitely a number of photographers living, working and studying there who are making good work at the moment. But I think if there is a buzz, at least one perceived by others outside of Brighton, I’m pretty ignorant of it. When I am in Brighton, I tend to spend 90% of my time working, have my head in the sand a bit. Plus, I tend to split my time pretty evenly between there and London.
Though I don’t shoot much in Brighton, it’s a great city to be a photographer in - you have magazines like Photoworks based there which are pretty involved locally, and of course the Biennial. Plus I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of great photographers as friends living there to bounce ideas off.
Tumblr, Flickr, Wordpress, Facebook. You’ve used each of these to showcase work in some way or another. Has an impressive online presence helped you in terms of the real world?
Yeah, definitely. If it wasn’t for platforms like Flickr and Wordpress, I wouldn’t have been picked up for most of the jobs I’ve been lucky enough to do. Plus, Flickr and Wordpress gives a free opportunity for me to show work - if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview! I am slowing down on those things now though. I’ve almost finished working on the content for my site, which should hopefully launch really soon. From there I’ll probably just use that to show new work, and keep my tumblr to post the odd snap and bits of news/links.
I think it’s also made me a keener editor of my own work. Being exposed to that many photographs on a daily basis on blogs, Flickr, has made me a much harsher critic.
Finally, what’s the most important skill you’ve learned that will help you in the photo world that isn’t camera related?
I feel like I’m still learning it, but most importantly, more than anything else, I guess most relevant to the way I specifically work, is to be able to talk to people. There is no point trying to photograph people if you can’t interact with them. Growing up in London, I sometimes felt like everyone was too scared of talking to each other. I always found it kind of funny how you could be packed into a tube carriage, pressed up against someone, yet they’ll do anything to avoid eye contact or conversation. It’s important to cultivate that ability to engage with other people, and try not to make any snap judgements.
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