Interview with Mark Carey from Indian Street Photography Collective “That’s Life”

Mark Carey

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.

Mark Carey

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?

Mark Carey

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?

Mark Carey

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?

Mark Carey

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

Mark Carey


Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Mark Carey

Follow Mark

Which of Mark’s images speak out to you- and what do you think about his project in Vietnam compared to his color work in India? Share your feedback and comments in the comments below- and give him some love! 

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  • Nimish

    Really like the fog-heavy work from Sapa, it really adds an element of mystery as to what lies beyond the fog. I think colour works for India lends well to street photography in India to a point where it is essential to shoot in colour.
    It’s great that you are interviewing streettogs from ‘That’s Life’, which is a very noble initiative by Kaushal and his team. Hope to see more That’s Life photographers’ work featured here:)

  • Lyndsey Goddard

    Great to see you work on here Mark.

  • Cheese

    Mark is one of my fav photographers (since last year through his website), be it in the genre of wedding, street or landscape. He has really strong composition skills. In his works, we sometimes can see his skills in combining the above 3 types of photography. By the way, I feel this interview is a bit too short. Hope there is a longer interview with him in future.

  • Nate Robert

    Some of those photos really do capture that precise final moment, just prior to the subjects full reaction to the photographers presence. Nice work Mark, and thanks for featuring this photographer Eric.

  • Wilfredo

    Yet again amazing work! I wish the guy would have stick to either black and white or just color. And you are right I see geometry and awesome composition in every shot. = ) Thanks for sharing

  • lrntn

    Wow–stunning images! And fantastic interview. Thanks for sharing. Will have to follow Mark’s work.

  • derek

    To me his answer to the question, ‘How do you engage or approach your subjects?” defines street photography.

  • Kyerion Printup

    Fantastic interview and images all the way around. Very inspirational.

  • gary gumanow

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I love that special split-second between when someone see’s you and they compose themself.

  • Andrew H

    This is some of the best work I’ve seen featured here for a long time and streets ahead of some of the ‘famous’ names in street photography.

  • Cutebun

    I like the black and white photos! I’m so gonna shot in Vietnam next month!

  • cee4star

    Some fant

  • Marcin Szymczak

    Great photography, Mark!
    It’s so good to see such photographs here, instead of that boring shots of single persons pretending to be a “street photography” :)

  • Mark T.

    Wonderful set of photographs. Have added Mark’s website to my bookmarks. Will be one to keep visiting I think. Thanks Eric !

  • Scottthephotographer01

    my peers and I absolutely love this fellow

  • Mark Carey

    Thanks for all the kind comments folks and thanks Eric for having me on here. Much appreciated.

  • businesscardprint

    Who would have thought Mark Carey will be a well-known photographer? I believe he’s really destined for this field. I mean look at all the photos here, all I can see is passion.

  • Rajesh

    Excellent work, so inspiring….!!!

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