Mark Havens lives and works in Philadelphia, PA, United States where he teaches at Philadelphia University. His work has been exhibited in galleries nationwide and published in many print and online magazine and blogs. These images form his new project ‘Displacement’. As per the series statement, Displacement is an examination of primary aesthetic memories – the fragments of remembered color and shape that become the building blocks of our sensibilities. The images traffic in a mystery and meaning far beyond their origin in the plastic model car decals of the artist’s boyhood. These slivers of memory are transmuted through scale and structure, revealing – or more precisely, exhuming – a cognitive universe of memory, emotion, and desire.
It’s a means of expression that I struggled for many years to find. I’d been making things my entire life but when I discovered photography, it was like being given wings.
What do you want to express from your images?
I don’t think about that a lot, honestly. Making work is something I’m compelled to do, so I do it. I have to. I guess I’m interested in what I don’t have the words for because if I did I’d write them and be done with it. When I make photographs, I continually find myself coming back to something Milton Glaser said: “I am more interested in what you can’t tell a story about. Which is to say, the overtones of our subconscious, the connections that are made below the level of narrative.”
It’s been a strange progression – I was sort of dragged kicking and screaming into it. I did everything I could to not be a photographer really, including paying outside photographers to come and take shots of things I wanted pictures of. But in the end, none of it was what I envisioned so I started to figure out how to do it myself and I thought, “Hang on, there’s something here.”
Being out shooting in a more documentarian style is a definite challenge but is, in some ways, easier for me. There’s more to react to and some things that you simply can’t control. I find in-studio photography a different kind of challenge. It’s just you and the machine. No outside factors are beyond your control. No excuses. You’re striving to articulate this vision you have, sometimes only dimly. You could do it literally billions of ways. There are no road signs, no outside indicators of validity. Just your gut. It’s a towering challenge and not an altogether pleasant one for me. I’ve always envied people who say they just love being in the studio making work and getting blissfully lost in the process. It’s not usually like that for me. I love being in the studio but when I work it’s almost like a confrontation.
That’s not something I’m searching for. I think an artist should always should be moving, morphing, turning into something else. There may be certain themes or ideas that one’s work orbits around, but who wants a lifetime of repeating themselves?
Which genre would you like people to associate with you?
I’m not really concerned with having a specific genre. If something that I made speaks to someone, that’s the most important thing.
My equipment is pretty pedestrian. I’ve used Canon DSLRs and lenses for a while now. Their 24-70mm f/2.8L lens is such a warhorse – it just seems to prove itself over and over again in my work. Probably my favorite lens to use though, is a five-power magnification lens. It’s often used for dental photography and it’s incredibly temperamental, but I really like the results. On the software side, I use Lightroom for organization and RAW processing and then Photoshop for anything else.
I don’t think so. I’m more concerned with the ones I haven’t made yet.
Do you have a significant memory related to photography?
The other day my four-year-old told me he wanted to be a photographer when he grew up. I think that’s probably as good as it gets.
Anyone can pull a phone out of their pocket now and instantly snap an achingly beautiful picture. So one the whole there are more great images out in the world than ever, which I think can only be a good thing. But in some ways I think it puts the onus on an artist who wants to use photography as a medium to really push what they’re doing. To try and push the medium in both technical and narrative terms.
What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, aspirations etc.?
I’m just starting work on a more character-driven project. It’s a whole new way of working for me so I have no idea where it’ll end up, but that’s also the fun part.
Definitely. I think they’re more marginalized as a form today than ever before but there’s an undeniable power in books of photography. So much potential for communication and change and connection. There are photobooks have utterly upended the way I see things and approach making art. For some projects, I think, a gallery exhibition is the way the work should be seen but for others it’s absolutely a book. I love the photobook as an idea, too – this deeply-immersive, self-contained world all its own, precisely curated and sequenced. And the thought that you then put it out into the world in the hope that someone else might connect with it some day? And if it finds the right person – even though they have no idea who you are – they’ll take time out of their life to sit down in a quiet place and be with what you made, your images, and open themselves up to what you have to say? That’s insane. It’s almost too good to be true. I can’t believe it happens on a daily basis.
Please share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films books, music etc.:
There are lots of quotes about the astronomical amount of pictures you need to make in order to make a single good one and I think they all point to a principle that’s true and annoying and embarrassing and freeing all at once. It’s something that I find I need to continually remind myself of: it’s okay that I make crap photographs. Images that suck, projects that just don’t work. I need to relentlessly keep making that crap because sooner or later – usually later – I’ll get to something that isn’t crap.
Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:
All photos © Mark Havens : Website