IN MY MAGPIE WAY
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN MACKENZIE
British self-taught photographer John Mackenzie describes his photography as "a bit of a magpie stylistically", taking shots of slow moving scenes on the streets or architecture details or a landscape in monochrome.
"Do what you can with what you've got, where you are".
When did you start getting interested in photography?
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, erm, 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....
Where do you find your inspiration?
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.
Who are your favourite artists/photographers? Who has inspired you?
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.
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.
Has your style of shooting changed since you first started?
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.
Where is your favourite place to shoot?
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.
Do you think equipment is important in achieving your vision in your photography? What would you say to someone just starting out?
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.
What characteristics do you think you need to become a photographer? What’s your tips or advice for someone in your genre?
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).
Have you ever been involved in the artistic world before?
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.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
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!
If I wasn't photographing what would I be doing?...
Annoying the current Mrs Mackenzie by being grumpy about not photographing!
What question didn't we ask?
“Why sevenmillionbricks?” is what I get asked most often (closely followed by “Oi, did you just take my picture?”).
Well, the village where I live is home to Chappel Viaduct, which, constructed from seven million bricks, makes it the second largest brick-built structure in the UK (after Battersea Power Station). Fascinating, but at least now you know.