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Traiblazers: Striking still life photography with Matthew Town

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After graduating, Matthew Town’s portrait work was published in the British Journal of Photography, The Guardian and exhibited in Daniel Cooney’s emerging artist exhibition in New York. Impresive. But slowly Matthew's interest was turning towards still life photography and his personal hallmark of striking images and abstract compositions was beginning to emerge. These days his commissioned works for clients such as Birchbox, Adidas, Red Bull and Wallis have led to recent awards including first place in the British Heart Foundation photography prize as well as The Royal Photographic Society 155th Print Exhibition Gold Award.

Hi Matthew! First of all tell Creativepool a bit about who you are and what you create. 

My name's Matthew Town although the only person who calls me Matthew is my mother and my girlfriend, these days I mainly go by Town, Towner, Towny, or Paul…..(don't ask). I grew up in a quiet little village just outside Swindon where I dreamt of becoming the next Tiger Woods, well at least a shorter, paler, ginger version.

Oh yeah and I am still life photographer.

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What was your journey into a photography career?

After the golf dream died I followed my other interest in Art all the way to Reading Art College where I discovered my flare for Photography. I then went on to study Photography at the Arts University College Bournemouth. After graduating I went through the usual “I am never going to make a living from this worry” which I think 99.9% of photography graduates go through. I decided I needed to move to London ASAP and get a job doing anything, as long as I could be around photography. I landed a full-time studio assistant job which is a rite of passage for a lot of graduates. Studio assisting is the best/worst experience of an assistant’s life - only other studio assistants will understand that.

After leaving the studio I assisted photographers but I quickly realised I didn't want to be stuck doing that for the next ten years of my life. My main focus turned to my portfolio and getting that as solid as possible - having something you are proud of to show new clients is the key. Now five years since graduating, I am shooting full-time from my own studio in North London.

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How did you specifically get into still life photography? Are there any other areas of photography you'd like to work in?

Whilst at university my only interest was shooting portraits which I still do now on occasion, I had no interest in still life and mocked it constantly, mainly because I didn't understand how people did it - it was all smoke and mirrors to me. Whilst assisting I got a random still life commission and at this point I had no idea how to do it. But I persevered anyway and managed to get through the shoot without too many cock ups. I assisted a couple of very good still life photographers for a short while and after that I felt inspired to create new exciting work. Eventually I came to the realisation that I could definitely do this as a career.

I am always experimenting with video, stop motion and animation as well but I definitely need to increase this going forward.

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What project from last year are you most proud of?

Because I’ve only discovered still life in the last few years I still feel like I am constantly going through the experimentation phase with it. Last year I was inspired by a friend of mine who works with marbling inks to create fantastic collage illustrations. I incorporated some of these techniques into my own work to create the really vibrant ink and water images - I think these are the stand out pieces from last year’s work.

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Name one photograph you wish you'd taken

Well I am a huge boxing fan to the point of an unhealthy obsession, and I’ve always loved that bird's eye image taken by Neil Leifer just after Muhammed Ali knocked out Cleveland Williams. It’s a great idea that came off better than he could have imagined.

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Tell us about your perfect shoot

I’m really enjoying working on an ongoing collaboration with Adidas, shooting trainers for their Sneaker Exchange project. The last shoot I was working with a brilliant set designer, Vicky Lees, and Calum Torbett who is the senior Creative from La Familia-London.

It’s great to have a team who work so well together - everyone focusing on their roles in order to create a great shoot.

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How do you feel when you have your photo taken?

Pale and fat

What do you do when you're in need of inspiration?

I try not to look at other photography because it will influence me too heavily. Instead I just get out of the studio and do something completely unrelated. Staring at my computer screen rarely sparks any groundbreaking new ideas. Usually a good walk really helps.

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Whose work are you enjoying at the moment?

I get massively influenced by my peers and my friend Becky Baier creates amazing illustrations using collage and marbling inks which has really informed my own work.

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Your images are very bright and striking. Is this your own personal style?

Last year ‘bright and striking’ was definitely my main aim. My taste changes from week to week though and what I liked last week I’ll hate next week.

At the moment I am wanting to create work that’s a lot less bright and a bit more moody in tone, but I find it really difficult to complete an ongoing personal project as I get bored and my taste changes so easily. If I have a personal project it needs to be shot and edited in two days max. This is a positive for my commissioned work though, as I work efficiently and have no interest in dragging out jobs to be any longer than they need to be.

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