March 24, 2020
IN MY MAGPIE WAY
Photography by John Mackenzie
Interview by Melanie Meggs
John Mackenzie is a British autodidact photographer who looks at the world through a different lens, capturing moments of everyday life with a unique and artistic perspective. By taking slow-moving scenes on the streets, architectural details, or a landscape, all in monochrome, John describes his photography as “a bit of a magpie stylistically”, taking elements from different sources and creating a unique perspective on life.
John is an artist who uses his lens to tell stories about the world around him. Through his work, John manages to capture the beauty of life in a way that is both unique and captivating. He is an explorer of the world around him, seeking out the hidden beauty in places and moments that might otherwise go unseen.
This interview explores how John has become an autodidact photographer, taking his own unique style of photography and creating art that is inspiring. Through his work, we will explore how he has managed to capture the beauty of life through his lens and how his magpie-like style has helped him to create art that stands out from the crowd.
“As a kid I was fascinated with older relatives’ photo and cine cameras. I loved watching the juddering footage projected onto a sheet hung in the front room and poring through the paper packets of prints and their negatives when they came back from Boots (Jeez, that dates me!).
Since then, I’ve taken photos on anything I could get my hands on, but it wasn’t until my 20’s that I bought my own Minolta SLR and shot several memorable trips including in Cuba, Tunisia and, Wales. I found the albums in the loft recently and mostly cringed, but was also quietly pleased with a handful of shots.
Life in general got in the way for a period, but when one of my sons started a GCSE photography course a few years back, I bought each of us the same basic Canon DSLR so we could (re)learn together. It’s spiralled since then...”
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN MACKENZIE
THE PICTORIAL LIST: John, where do you find your inspiration to keep creating?
JOHN MACKENZIE: I’m inspired by the interesting (and mundane) places I go and the people I see. I’ve got numerous photography books that I dip into and always tend to go straight to the “in pictures” sections of websites, newspapers and magazines. Art galleries are always great places to get ideas from different media. Of course, Instagram is the obvious ‘all you can eat buffet’ for the eyes and I really need to rein in my scrolling and tapping, she tells me.
TPL: Do you have a different style of photographing today than when you first started?
JM: I feel that I’ve moved from ‘spray and pray’ to a more considered, thoughtful approach. I spend more time on the craft now. Although that might be just an age thing. I joke that I now take more pictures of slow moving objects on the street, whether it’s buildings or grumpy old people. Although, that’s not too far short of the truth. I’m not a purist who wants the absolute perfect shot SOOC. I actually enjoy the post processing side of things too as it appeals to my techy/creative nature. I usually create two edits with my own Lightroom presets (contrasty B&W and muted colour). I’ve toned it down more recently though and tend to nudge those sliders and curves back more into the middle.
TPL: Where is your favourite place(s) to photograph?
JM: Anywhere there’s an interesting subject - I think you can see that from my varied gallery and Insta grid. I shoot on my travels, local towns, dog walks on the beach or in the countryside. London is only 45 mins away on the train and is such a target rich environment for so many photography genres, that it has to be up there as a firm favourite. That said, the coast, countryside and characters on my doorstep are, almost by necessity, the subjects I shoot the most.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
JM: There are too many to mention, but for street photography, Sean Tucker, Josh Edgoose and Shane Taylor stand out. For landscapes (and his humorous style) Thomas Heaton and for stunning seascapes, Rachael Talibart. For encouragement for what you can achieve from an iPhone, Hojjat Hamidi is jaw-droppingly good.
Sounds clichéd, but I dip into some of the legends for inspiration, including Fan Ho, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier and Ansel Adams. I aspire to be even 1% as good as any of these some day.
And finally, in my magpie way, all of the great people I follow on Instagram and YouTube - I try and learn something from them every day, no matter the genre, amount of experience or brand of gear used…as long as they have something to say.
TPL: Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
JM: No and yes. No, in that I feel that can capture my vision with whatever camera I have with me. Yes, in that it depends what you’re going to do with the results. I think iPhone is fine for Insta, etc. but (with a few notable exceptions) you’re not going to have the resolution for decent prints.
To someone starting out, I’d go back to my chosen quote - “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are”. Shoot, shoot, shoot whenever you can, with whatever form of a camera you can find, be it your phone or a form of ‘real’ camera. As your skills develop and your preferences mature, your style will emerge and the choice of gear will naturally shake out.
Most of the photos in this particular gallery are from my iPhone, but I still try and practice the basics of getting the subject, composition, lighting and so on as good as I can.
Do what you can with what you've got, where you are. - Theodore Roosevelt
TPL: What characteristics do you think you need to become a good photographer? What’s your tips or advice for someone in your genre?
JM: Anyone can become a photographer. It’s only a few that become great photographers (and I’m not one of them). To improve, I think it’s down to loving what you do which gives you the desire to keep shooting, learning and improving. Natural aptitude and an eye for a good composition help of course. But these things can be learnt to a degree. In terms of tips and advice, I dabble with so many genres, I’m not sure I’m best placed to offer anything particular, original or sensible. I think if you’re truly passionate about what you do, you’ll self-teach through the internet, through like-minded photographers in real life, and, of course, through practice. The best advice I have is to enjoy it, stay curious and be kind to everyone in the community (and keep your credit card under lock and key).
TPL: Have you ever been involved in the arts before photography?
JM: Does my award-winning collection of bird-related poems (age nine) or linocut print of a fish (age 11) count? No?!
I’ve worked in marketing for most of my adult life, so have been lucky enough to have practised a wide variety of vaguely artistic disciplines either by myself, managing others or directing agencies. This has included editing magazines, desktop publishing, designing print and online ads, website development, creating TV and radio ads, product photography & videography and so on.
They’ve been an enjoyable balance to the incredibly analytical, number-crunchy side of my job. Photography feels like the most solo artistic pursuit I’ve been involved with though.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
JM: The general goal is to continue enjoying something I love, but also try and find a variety of ways to make it into a nice little earner that I can maintain into my dotage.
Cultivating a range of revenue streams” sounds a bit too pretentious 😊
That said, in the short term, I’m mulling over a mixed media project with a talented friend and I’ve also been asked to be the official photographer at a TEDx event. I hope that isn’t a slippery slope into wedding photography!
Watch this space though!