Mark Simmons is an experienced Bristol based photographer who specialises in all manner of things, from creative documentary photography to striking black and white photojournalism pieces. Having been in the business for a while, he’s an excellent person to talk to about this powerful medium, and I caught up with him to find out more about how he got into photography, and the experiences he’s had along the way.
HUNOW: Hi Mark. When did you start doing photography?
M: I learnt photography at university whilst studying for my degree in Chemistry. I made use of the university’s facilities, I hired an SLR with lens’ from the Photographic Society and used their darkrooms to develop films and print. When I left university, young and idealistic, I avoided doing the milk-rounds and instead immersed myself into documenting life around me.
HUNOW: Why do you feel you started doing photography?
M: I really loved it. I first caught the bug when I was a kid and had an Instamatic camera and really enjoyed taking photos. When I got to university and I started using an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera and realised the total control I had over the pictures that I was taking, the quality was of another level, it was very exciting. It just grabbed me, caught my imagination.
HUNOW: What would you say is the usual context of your work?
M: I’m predominantly a people photographer, a social documenter and then a portrait photographer. I document life around me such as community activities, demonstrations, social and business events, weddings… I also take portraits for individuals; actors, performers, musicians, bands, anyone that needs a telling portrait.
HUNOW: What is your favourite thing to photograph and why?
M: Well, people! Because people are most fascinating, it’s such a challenge to be able to take pictures of people with a depth, that look interesting/informative. With documentary shots you’re capturing and illustrating aspects of life, portraying in a single image a slice of life.
With portraits it’s interesting because people are very self-conscious, it’s challenging and infinitely variable capturing someone’s personality. You can take a nice portrait, but it may not really be about that person, it might be more about the photographer and that’s really interesting, whether you capture the personality of the subject or just take a photo of someone looking interesting/reacting to the photographer.
HUNOW: What was the most exciting moment you’ve personally experienced in photography?
M: That would probably be some of the project work I’ve undertaken. Photographing demonstrations is exciting and enjoyable in a way because I love the challenge capturing an event, making it look good and doing it justice. I photographed the anti poll tax movement which was significant in English history and in the end helped bring down Margret Thatcher, and at the London demonstration I had this amazing shoot where I documented the events of the day, iconic images of a mass movement in the heart of the capital turning into a full blown riot, and I got some classic shots of that whole thing!
HUNOW: And what’s the worst?
M: The worst experience is when something goes wrong (laughs). It’s really stressful. Generally though I always have a plan b, always carrying spare cameras and other essential kit.
The stress of some jobs though is par for the course. I photographed the Queen when she visited the Old Vic Theatre in Bristol recently and you just have to override the fear and go into auto-pilot.
HUNOW: Finally, what advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into photography?
M: Don’t (laughs), we don’t need the competition!
No, seriously, it depends on why they’re getting into it. If it’s because they love photography then go for it. It’s a very exciting medium, it’s creative, it’s empowering and it’s very variable because there are so many different ways to approach each subject, the best using your intuition as to the most appropriate approach.
Also the quality and versatility of cameras and the availability of great software adds to the creative control you have. In a way there’s never been a better time to use photography.
However the whole world of photography has changed because of the availability of good quality, reasonably priced digital SLR cameras and therefore the number of people who take up photography. Fierce competition and the tough economic climate (especially in the media) now makes it more difficult to make a living out of photography but luckily when people really need a good portrait then they will come to a professional, somebody that has a skilled eye because I guess we see differently to other people, de-constructing an image to make it communicate the necessary message.
See more of Mark’s work by visiting his: