Working in the genre of documentary landscape photography, Marc Wilson looks at the memories and histories in the landscapes that surround us, and man’s interaction within it. He has exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions, both in the UK and internationally; in Milan, Grenoble and New York. Exhibitions include: The Terry O’Neill Award, 2013, The Royal Armouries Museum in Portsmouth and Leeds, the inaugural solo shows at the Back Hill and Now Showing galleries (London), a solo show at Focal Point gallery, Southend and group shows at Art 2001, Photo2005, The Photographers Gallery, The Association of Photographers gallery and Lucy Bell Fine Art.
You are called a ‘documentary landscape photographer' – is that a term you came up with?
I can’t remember where I read the expression first but it was about five years ago I think. I had always struggled slightly with describing my work as it did not seem to fit into any conventional genres but the term ‘documentary landscape’ desribed it perfectly.
Do you feel your work echoes the work of those landscape photographers who have gone before you or do you think your work stands on its own?
My work is very subject specific in that I seek out particular objects and structures within the landscape and the stories behind them, as opposed to either the urban sprawl or the greater landscape itself. The landscape does though play an integral role in my work, as both the background and container for the subjects. Whilst it could be seen to have echoes of the work of John Davies and Stephen Shore it probably more closley echoes the ‘New Topographics’ work of photographers such as Joe Deal and Robert Adams.
If you were to pay homage to any one landscape photographer, who would it be?
It would have to be John Davies … not a traditional ‘landscape’ photographer of course but I do find his work of ‘our landscape’ very inspiring and images that I can return to again and again, I think because of the human interaction found within.
Tell us about The Last Stand. What motivated you to start that project?
The seeds of the work came out of an older piece of work I produced called ‘Abandoned’ in 2003. Two locations in this work had military significance and I found myself returning to them (visually) and wanting to explore the subject matter further, and the more I did the more important it became to me that it was a story that I felt compelled, as a photographer, to tell. The work then became self motivating with each location visited and story told.
What have you discovered about yourself the most as you have gone through this project?
This work has really made me realise how important a photographer can be … not of course in terms of him or herself but in the subjects that they document, the stories and memories they have the ability to tell, and the importance of this. As a photographer I have a great responsibilty to tell these stories and the weight of that is what drives me on. The idea that work I produce is seen by others as ‘vital and important’ is a wonderful feeling.
Do you identify yourself as a photographer or an artist or is it a combination of the two?
I used to call myself a photogapher, then when I started working commercially I tried to separate the two strands into ‘photography’ and ‘art’ but today I am really quite comfortable with just being a ‘photographer’ and not trying to justify any diffeence to myself (or others). At the end of the day it is just a label but a bit of definition is no bad thing. I think the comfort of the word ‘photogapher’ has come as I feel more confident in the work I do and its place in society.
If there was one museum where you would like your images to hang permanently which one would it be and why?
It’s probably no great surprise but I think for The Last Stand it would, in the UK, have to be the Imperial War Museums. Simply that it seems the most appropriate venue to hold the images on a permanent basis.
Your images are quiet. They are devoid of humans, yet are full of suggestions that humans have inhabited that particular place in some interesting ways. Even your portrait say more about the space your subject takes up than the subject themselves. Is this your mission? If not, what are you trying to say.
In terms of this particular work it is very important for me to make sensitive and subtle images that are respectful of the memories I am depicting. There is no need to add ‘photographic glamour’ to these subjects. I have always been interested in the memories and histories that the landscape and objects within it can hold. To me the suggestion of human presence is what holds my interest more so than a physical presence. I feel it allows a wider audience to imagine themselves in these places. I think that is where my work differs from more traditional documentary photography and photojournalism. It is telling these same stories but in a different way and allows me to look at historical work.
As for my portrait, I guess I set it up in the same way, without really realising it!
I see you are using a 4×5 (or it is 5×7) view camera for your work in The Last Stand. Is that your first choice for your commercial work as well? What is it about his particular format that you like so much?
It is just the most appropariate format for the work, allowing the rise and fall that I need for the ‘architectural’ elements within the images and also the large film giving quite beautiful and subtle prints. It also works best for the quiet, sensitive and considered approach the work requires. Commercially I shoot digitally but still using shift lenses.
How did you get your start in photography? And, why have you spent a good deal of your own money pursuing documentary projects? What compels you to do what you do?
I studied Sociology at University and my final dissertation included elements of image making and photography and from there my love for the medium grew. I then went on to study at both degree and MA level. I spent some years teaching before starting to work commercially also about 7 years ago. It was only about 3 years ago that I felt I had ‘earned the right’ to start working on these projects again.
To me the story is everything. It is very difficult to get commissioned to produce this scale of work so the funding has to come from somewhere, in this case a combination of self funding and crowdfunding. The first stage of the work I funded 70% and crowdfunding 30%. This second stage will be more the other way round. My hope is that this work will go on to fund the next through print sales and books. (I am starting discussiosn about a printed book of the work very soon).
That said I am currently in the very early stages of discussion about continuing The Last Stand outside of Northern Europe and away from the second world war so it can happen.