Adore Noir, Issue #19 April 2014
AN: Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
PM: I’m living in Ludwigshafen, Germany. It is right on the Rhine River. Also close to Mannheim, Heidelberg and the French Border. The entire region is historically rich, from having some of the earliest Celtic and Paleolithic sites, also a long history of shipping, and a very early rise of a merchant class that lead to a rich arts culture that is still going on today. I’ve been here for almost a year now by way of Baltimore, Maryland and originating from Santa Barbara, California.
The majority of my work tends to be done in or within a day drive to where I am living. Relocating every half decade or so has allowed me to live in some really different places and provided enough time to really know the places, their surroundings, and history. Of course I am also travelling whenever I get the opportunity, with camera in tow.
AN: How did you get into photography?
PM: I took a trip to Rome, Athens, Pompeii, and a few other places when I was 17 and was lent a 35mm SLR to take with me on the trip. Some things about the camera and the places that made me really take what I was doing seriously. I’d always been interested in Greek and Roman history, had taken several elective classes at school in the subjects and read a bunch of their literary classics. I even brought Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” with me. I had also recently taken an interest in American photography from the 1920s – 1950s.Basically this all boiled down to, my being really excited about getting to experience the places where all of this literature, philosophy, art and countless other things had come from, and wanting to capture that in some way to take back home for myself. The camera and some journals were what I was convinced could do this best.
AN: We are featuring works from your “Baltimore” series. Please tell us about this work and what inspired you to create it.
PM: I had just finished working on the Salton Sea. Which looked at a developing desert resort town through the structures left behind after the sea’s instability had engulfed and receded leaving them to be preserved by the desert. I moved to Baltimore and saw what at first seemed like a hodgepodge of buildings in a continuum of states of repair. As I learned more and more about the history of the town I started to realize that a lot of things along that continuum were historical markers from the city. There were Remnants from when it was a mill town, or there was a part of the town that had been untouched since the 1968 MLK riots, an abandoned factory from its previously booming textile industry, and numerous others. But rather than being in an abandoned region in the middle of the desert it was isolated places in or sections of a big city and had additional traces of time passing from this disposition. I really enjoyed my time in Baltimore. The work was a way for me to connect to the town while learning my way through it geographically and historically. I’ve always enjoyed being able to transcribe the interplay of people and their environments. The westerly series by examining my environment’s impact on me, the Salton Sea through traces of environment rejecting development, then Baltimore by rejection of their environment by people. Being intrigued by the similarities and differences to my previous subjects made it a natural transition.
AN: What were some of the challenges you faced while photographing the interiors of the abandoned buildings?
PM: Typically, access will be a big issue. A lot of them are boarded up or fenced in and some will have guards. The textile factory I was able to just walk right into as the front had all been boarded up but the back had an open door, which isn’t so typical. That’s where the easy bit ended though as there was leaking water softening up the wooden floor boards and entire sections that had fallen through, stairs that were moderately trustworthy at best, and little to no light throughout most of. It did have a treasure-trove of images in it however.
AN: What are your influences?
PM: Even though I use landscapes to depict places, they are markers left from the interactions with people and place. Photographically, there are numerous people who have influenced my work from photographers themselves like Ansel Adams for his sheer love of the natural world, Eugene Smith for how he saw that photography was only as truthful as its photographer and used this as a self allowance to manipulate his negatives to achieve a more desirable effect, Michael Kenna because of how coming from a small industrial town he turned photographs of industrial things into beautiful landscapes and has lent some of those industrial qualities to his natural subjects, Irving Penn, August Sandler, Yousuf Karsh and Avedon for their work with portraiture exposing glimpses of character. Hiroshi Sugimoto for his images of the ocean, I have a deep love of the ocean, specifically the pacific but spreading to other large bodies of water as well. And he captured its essence of permanence in such an elegant way. All of the above for their magnificent print quality. I love a well-crafted print, and I’ve had the good fortune to see a lot of original works of all of these people and more in person, which I really can’t recommend enough for any lover of photography. Best way to experience anything is in person.
AN: How do you capture and process your images?
PM: I’ll always start with a healthy dose of hitting the pavement. Spending a solid bit of time walking around till I can get a good feel for what I’m seeing. As to the actual shooting, I’ve been using my Hasselblad for over 10 years now and really have a hard time seeing myself using something else. Something about the way the square format makes you constantly break compositional rules forcing you to see things differently, and the size, grain, resolution and other aspects of the medium format film. Up until 2 years ago I was still printing everything in the darkroom. However I’ve always been a Photoshop fan and I had been looking for a printing process that could if not match at least rival the silver gelatin prints. I was showed some prints a friend had done using Fujichrome prints in a Diasec mount. I decided to try my own hand at it, and found something that allowed me to make a transition from darkroom work to a digital printing workflow. Happy with my results, I started using this printing method so that I could take advantage of Photoshop in addition. I still use it in a mostly darkroom manor with dodging/burning/contrast controls and not much else, but am able to apply them more intricately than under an enlarger.
AN: Do you have any projects currently in the works?
PM: I’ve been looking into and visited a few Celtic sites here in Germany as archeologists are currently finding more and more evidence of them and I just happen to live in the region where they originated making a lot of the sites easily accessible. I’ll be spending a week in Tel Aviv in April for an Photo Festival and am hoping to get a chance to do a good bit of shooting there as well as some surrounding areas. I’m also not so far from Rome and Greece now and would really like to go back there and revisit.
AN: What is your final say? (We like to finish the interview with this question. Usually it’s some advice to a photographer just starting out)
PM: Really get to know yourself. The more you understand about yourself, the easier it will be to convey those things in your work. Also work hard and work a lot, there is just no substitute for either.