Mark Carey, 48, is a London based, self taught documentary photographer. Trained as a carpenter, Mark made a dramatic career change in 2009 to become a full time reportage wedding photographer. During the spring and summer he shoots weddings in a photojournalistic style and during the winter heads off to India and South East Asia to shoot street and documentary photography.
Marks has been particularly influenced by the wonderful geometry photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and the complex compositions of magnum photographer, Alex Webb. Mark has also recently been accepted as a member of the Indian street photography collective ‘Thats life‘. You can see more of his travel portfolio here.
You recently went to shoot in Sapa, north Vietnam. Tell us more about the experience.
Bac Ha was not part of my plan, it was a happy accident. I found myself en-route to Sapa where I had planned to do most of my photography whilst in Vietnam. I was advised that Sunday was a terrific day to visit Bac Ha since the market would be in full force with large amounts of local hill tribe villagers arriving there to trade goods. I was particularly taken with the water buffalo market at the top of a very muddy hill – They were such amazing creatures so unlike the cows we have in Britain. The main market below was fantastically busy and for someone who likes to shoot close to people and disappear into the crowd, this was perfect for me. The more hustle and bustle – the more I like it. My shutter click gets drowned out by the noise and people hardly notice me in a sea of faces even though I’m a westerner. I am looking forward to spending more time there, hopefully later this year
How did you like shooting in Sapa?
For me these places are very special. Particularly in winter. They are invariably wet with the light being soft and diffused. The clouds hang so low they seem to drift in through your bedroom window and it is often almost impossible to keep your things dry once you have got wet. (One needs to treat camera lenses very carefully less they develop mould.)
This misty weather and greyness produces a very pleasing sort of exposure for me and that is much of what I am drawn to in this region. You do not get the screeching contrast of ‘hard’ light that one would associate with baking sunshine later in the year and in more southerly parts. More often an overall grey tone pervades – you feel like you are photographing in fog much of the time.
Those soft grey tones are very appealing to me. I love the reflectivity of the wet roads and canopies and the sea of umbrellas that come out every time it rains producing very graphic shapes. The foggy atmosphere, people’s heads buried in umbrellas and the fact that most folk are busy about their working day means once again that I can disappear amongst people while still remaining very close to them. I like this very much since I am not a long lens shooter, with the wide angle 35mm being my preferred focal length. I prefer to be 2 or 3 feet away from my subjects much of the time, unless a wide, environmental composition is called for and only then will I take a few steps back.
Why did you decide to capture Sapa in black and white?
I like black and white photography very much, but if the scene calls for colour then I will process the images in colour. I shoot in India mainly in colour for example. Initially I shoot everything in colour and then decide later how to process the image. In a way, I thought Sapa almost looked black and white to my eyes although clearly I am seeing a colour image.
Nearly all my work from Sapa is in black and white because the mood of the area and the weather suits it. In my mind, the mist, rain and general wetness add to the adversity in some way. I often like to document adversity in black and white. I sensed a proud, strong minded people, almost defiant, so once again black and white seems to be more appropriate. It is purely and instinctive personal choice.
How do you engage or approach your subjects?
I shoot quickly. I don’t wait for people to smile or look uncomfortable. You have a millisecond in which to capture an honest straightforward look to camera and that is all Im really interested in. I have seen photographers who aim their cameras in the faces of subjects for what seems like minutes on end. That photographer has now affected their subject dramatically and moreover I feel they have often made their subjects ill at ease. It becomes more invasive and less respectful. Needless to say, the ‘decisive moment’, to use Cartier-Bresson’s phrase, will have disappeared.
My portraits are either done with a small wave of the camera in their direction, gently seeking a nod of the head as permission, or more usually they are taken quickly as our eyes meet for an instant. I never talk to my subjects and then start shooting – I want my presence to affect the picture as little as possible.
How would you define your photographic style?
If I have a style it is in the manner that I conduct myself and my desire to get intimate images that are unaffected by my presence, whilst still shooting quite closely. That manner I hope is to tread lightly, move slowly and be respectful of the people in whose neighbourhood I am merely a guest. Often photography is simply a matter of patience for me. Sometimes the good picture will come to you – you don’t necessarily have to chase it.
More work by Mark