Mareea Vegas talks to Marc Thompson about finding purpose in the pedestrian through his latest series of spatial shots
A beautiful sense of calm and space still emanates from Marc Thompson’s methodically composed images. I last spoke with the Whitecliffe graduate two years ago, when his work was very much inspired by futurism and the typology of industrial buildings. Thompson has spent many of his days since then abroad, travelling from New Zealand to Iceland and down to Spain, including most places in between. I caught up with him over WhatsApp to find out in which ways his practice has changed, how travel has af fected his work, and why he has moved from large-format analogue to digital photography.
MAREEA VEGAS: One of the things that interests me about your new works is the move to a portrait crop. Could you talk about the reasons for this?
MARC THOMPSON: This is mainly an adaptation for the way in which the work is viewed. For the most part, I post my images online, and the majority of the work is seen through Instagram. I’ve found that a portrait crop not only works well for the environment that the work is viewed in, but it has also created some interesting compositions when investigating a particular subject matter. I was finding that when I used a landscape crop, the things which were making the subject matter interesting (and giving it that slight touch of ambiguity) were getting lost somehow. I felt I was losing control of the subject matter, by leaving in aspects that would ultimately clutter the shot.
MV: Has your relationship to structure and the exploration of your practice through it changed in any way over the last couple of years?
MT: I guess that I have, in the past, mostly followed a topographic way of photographing scenes, and, recently, I’ve probably started to bend the strict methodology behind that way of shooting. I think ‘ambiguity’ and the ‘mundane’ might be ideas that are creeping in more in more. I find the majority of these works end up being crops of areas or compositions which might generally be overlooked, but [that] there ends up being some really interesting things to be found within them. Futurism and autonomy [were together] … always something which informed my past work, and I think there are still hints of that presently, though probably a more general sense of ambiguity within a structure (line/ shape), with a minimalist construction, has become something that I seek out more and more.
MV: How has your own travel informed these works?
MT: Travelling has been a huge influence on my practice. I initially wanted to document my time overseas in a fairly broad sense, but, as time went on, it became more refined. This was also in part due to discovering some great online communities of photographers, such as @lekkerzine, @paperjournalmag, and @rsaminimal on Instagram, which are tackling similar subject matters. The use of hashtags and tagging to get involved in the online community has opened my work up to fellow photographers, and vice versa. I’m not entirely sure how my practice has gone from a Futuristic-type approach to a more minimal one, but there is definitely still an undertone of Futurism within some of the work.
MV: How important is it for you to define your practice?
MT: I think it’s quite important to be able to define your practice in some way or another, be it through subject matter or approach. Personally, being able to define my practice gives me more direction and a way to identify and connect more with a broader community. These are things that help more and more when predominantly publishing work online and interacting with online communities.
MV: Did you still shoot analogue film while travelling?
MT: While abroad, I shot everything on digital, using either my Panasonic Lumix or just my phone. I would have loved to have taken a 5x4 large-format camera with me, but that just wasn’t possible with the type of travelling I was doing. I still approached my subject matter with an analogue sense though, as in, slow and methodically, like I was shooting on film. I guess I picked up this methodology from shooting lots of large-format work, and it continues to carry over, no matter what device or format I’m using.
MV: In your previous images, you were working with a rapidly changing New Zealand landscape and perhaps mentally processing these changes through the work. In what ways are you widening your lens now?
MT: I’ve definitely broadened my subject matter since being placed in different landscapes. I still have an underlying interest in architecture, and I was spoiled for when it came to travelling through Europe. I think there are different aspects of each landscape or structure that initially attract me to them, so large sections of my time travelling would be spent seeking these structures out, or at least recognizing them when I came across them.
MV: I love the colour palette and how it ties the entire series together. Did the idea evolve, or was the intention always there?
MT: That’s something which is definitely an everpresent aspect of the subject matter in my work, and I think it might potentially be informed by my relationship to structure, even though, initially, I was more interested in the faceless futuristic aspect of these buildings. It seems that all of these areas, which are made for practicality, will always carry these striking bits of colour, mainly yellow. They are obviously there for a practical safety reason, but they have an unintentional aesthetic beauty and complexity to them. It’s a great practical function that works so nicely to piece the general monochromatic tones of the works together.
MV: Does your moving-image work carry the same concepts as your still photography?
MT: With my moving-image work, it tends to sit more on the commercial side. While at university I had a few attempts at converting my ideas to a moving-image setting (making them all very quiet, and quite devoid of any movement) but I have never been 100-percent satisfied with the results, though it’s definitely something that I think about quite a lot when taking photos. I guess, ultimately, I associate moving image with dynamic cuts and movement, so when working with this particular subject matter, I find that this is missing. It’s possible that maybe my subject matter works well in a still-photography sense, but not so much in a moving-image sense. Hopefully, I’ll stumble upon something that will work well and help to develop the subject matter further, through moving image.
MV: Finally, where would we find Marc now at 8pm on a Monday night?
MT: I start an online Te Reo course this month through Te Wa¯nanga o Raukawa, so I’ll probably be studying.
MARC’S GEAR LIST PANASONIC LUMIX GH4
CANON FD 28– 85MM F/4 LENS
CANON EF 50MM F/1.4 USM LENS
PANASONIC LUMIX G 20MM F/ 1.7 II ASPH LENS