following interview with Elephant Gun member Mecha Morton is the first in
a series of interviews with the collective's members. Below, Elephant Gun's Kathryn Flowers interviews Mecha on photography and life - from the mundane to the absurd.
---KF: Photography is your profession, but it's clearly a passion outside of that. What are your favourite things to shoot outside of work?
MM: With work, I am having to follow the way that the newspaper needs the photograph, not what I think makes an image better. My photographic work outside of my day work is more relaxed. I am able to shoot more freely, investigate more deeply and have more of a back seat style to the taking of the photograph. I would say my work in my own time would be classed as "Documentary." I love to see what is happening, how people behave and to record it all with the camera. I guess I am an observer to what I see.
KF: What's the longest trip you've ever taken, and how did (or didn't) it involve your photography?
MM: The longest trip (distance-wise) I have taken was to NYC. I have been there a couple of times, but this year it was purely for the reason to take street photography. To do the photography I love in a city that was made for it.
KF: Who are your biggest artistic influences and how do they affect your work?
MM: Okay, a hard question. One of the first photographers whose work I adored was Don McCullin. However, a major influence in the way I want to see the world is Sebastiao Salgado - his Migrations exhibition and book are the greatest I have ever seen.
I was born in the North of England, so I have a great fondness for the Northern photographers of the 60's, 70's, and 80's - Graham Smith (who my father went to art college with), Ian MacDonald, Chris Killip, etc.
KF: What is your favourite inanimate object in your home? Why?
MM: The cold side of a pillow - everybody loves that, right? Maybe a kettle - I am very stereotypically English when it comes to drinking tea.
"I have never downloaded a book; I always like to buy the print copy."
KF: How have you seen your photography change over time?
MM: For the better I hope! I think what has changed is the way I am more comfortable to sit back and just observe what is happening in front of me. That I am confident enough to see opportunities that come out of situations.
KF: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? Was photography even an interest then?
MM: I never knew what I wanted to be growing up, just that I didn't want to be stuck in an office. It was when I was studying art at the age of 15 or 16 that I really got into photography.
KF: What was the last book you read? Was it in print or digital?
MM: The last book I read was a photographic one - The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War by Greg Marinovich and João Silva. I have never downloaded a book; I always like to buy the print copy. The same goes for albums, too.
KF: Interesting that you bring up "The Bang Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War." Greg Marinovich's work in Rwanda was something I discovered a few years ago when I was particularly interested in learning about the conflict and genocide there. Is there something about conflict photography that you're drawn to?
MM: A short answer would be yes. I think at heart, I am a documentary photographer. I want to see what is happening in the world and record it - the good and the bad. I think it is so important to preserve history and to tell the story to a wider audience, whether that is to go into a war zone, or whether it is to see what is on your doorstep. I greatly admire photographers who put their lives in danger, day in and day out, to do this.
"I love to see what is happening"
KF: When it comes to other contemporary photographers working today, who stands out as someone more people should know about?
KF: I found Duley's work particularly interesting, because he weaves so much of his traumatic personal experience into his work now. What is it you like about Duley's approach, and do you think an intense personal connection to a project is important for a photographer?
MM: I first heard about Giles Duley when I watched a documentary about his time in Afghanistan and his recovery. It was incredible. He was out there, putting his life in danger to get those images and to show what was/is happening - but to show it from the perspective of those suffering with the consequences of war and other humanitarian issues. His '100 Portraits Before I Die' project is really wonderful to see evolve. To see Giles push through with this idea he had when recovering in hospital. To have experienced and suffered how he has and is, and to still have this passion for photography. Well, that's such an honour to see.
I don't think you need a personal connection in order to start a project. Although, I think that at some point you do need to give some of yourself in order to get back. For me, it is all about discovering what is in front of you and to do it in a way that is passionate and truthful to the reader as well as yourself as a photographer.
KF: I also couldn't help but notice that Duley and João Silvo (from "The Bang Bang Club") were both seriously injured in the field as conflict photographers. Duley and Silvo both have recovered and come back to photography. I can't help but admire their courage as artists and practitioners. Have you ever considered leaving East Anglia for more dangerous assignments? Why/why not?
MM: I have considered this. There was a possibility a couple of years ago to go over to Afghanistan with the forces from Suffolk, but unfortunately that all fell through. So far in my career, I am gaining experience and connections so that later on in my future I may have the option to do these types of assignments. Unfortunately where I live, the most dangerous assignment I could go on is if the local WI members got into a fight!
KF: If you were going to get one mosquito-borne illness, which would it be? Choose carefully; explain fully.
Valley Fever, because it seems to be the lesser of the evils. Even
though it's a predominately animal disease, it can be
transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. Plus, what a name!
"I never knew what I wanted to be growing up, just that I didn't want to be stuck in an office."
KF: What's the origin of the name Mecha, anyway?
MM: If you google 'Mecha' it comes up with Japanese robots and machines!
KF: I noticed that. I figured that postdated your appearance in the world.
MM: You pronounce my name Me - sha. The more common spelling is Misha. My parents liked the name, but didn't know the spelling, so they made it up. The origins of "Misha" are Russian. Although a unisex name, I think it translates to Michael in Russian. I have no Russian ancestry though!
KF: I want to touch now on your ongoing project, "Fancy That," about competitive pigeon racing and pigeon fanciers. How did you come across this topic, and what drove you to photograph the series?
MM: I first came across the local pigeon racing club when I was on an assignment for work. It was afterwards I began to think about what a great project pigeon racing would make. It's a tradition or way of life which is dying out and each year there are fewer members of the club. I think what attracted me to this as a project was the dedication and commitment to the sport. I seem to be drawn to that. For instance, I did a project a while back on collectors. From the man with the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of beer towels to the man with the biggest collection of baked bean labels. Now THAT is dedication!
KF: I can only imagine with a project like this that you're meeting so many incredible people with such good stories. What's one of your favourite anecdotes from your work on the pigeon racing scene?
MM: It's the people that I come across that make the project what it is. There is
a great camaraderie in the pigeon racing community. Funny stories, rude
stories, personal stories. A lot of the talk is, of course, about the
previous race and what happened a few years back - nostalgia. I can't think of a specific story, because they're all great.
Mecha's current project is 'Fancy That', centered around the ancient art
of competitive pigeon racing. To this day, pigeon racing remains a
long-standing, quintessentially British tradition with her majesty, The
Queen as its devoted patron. Steeped in history and tradition, U.K.
pigeon fancy clubs boast active membership of 60,000 fanciers; 42,000 of
which are active flyers during the April to September racing season.
'Fancy That' documents the sport's innumerable quirks, and the
fascinating lives of its skilled fanciers, told in a visually
informative and highly entertaining way.
To see the series, and more of Mecha's work, click here.