We can usually trace back our own passions to a very specific moment in time. For some, it was the first time they were asked to write a story as a school assignment – leading to a career in writing. For photographer Marcus Peel, it was the moment he saw wildlife photography in the slides of his mother's friend.
Much has changed since then and technology has evolved, bringing a ridiculous amount of changes in the art of photography. Taking pictures today is not how it was a couple of decades ago – in fact, some believe digital doesn't even an ounce of the analogue's magic. And yet, Marcus Peel still couldn't imagine a life without photography.
For this Member Spotlight we are learning more about Marcus' love for his craft and for creativity in general, as well as his dreams on the future of the creative industry.
How did you get into the industry?
Chance and determination! I was hugely inspired by a friend’s mum, Heather Angel, who’s a highly respected wildlife photographer. I remember feeling awe-inspired each time I saw a new collection of slides on the lightbox. It was magical to me and I was hooked.
At school I had the opportunity to study photography and grabbed it without hesitation. This led me on to a degree at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design where I had the privilege of being tutored by David Bate and Robin Dance.
During my foundation course one of my peers mentioned that he had spent the summer doing work experience with two architectural photographers. I asked for their numbers and called them immediately! They said to call back after I graduated – which I did - and they asked if I would be interested in being their assistant. I jumped at the opportunity and assisted for a year before getting itchy feet and deciding to launch my own business.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I’m based in Richmond and work for quite a diverse range of clients including architects, artists, interior designers, property developers, hotel groups, design companies and PR companies.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine a life without photography.
Can you explain your creative process?
It’s all about listening – listening to myself and to my client. I’m interested in the story behind the project.
I would always try to visit the project with my client before the shoot, to listen to their story while we decide on the creative approach and shot list together. If this isn’t possible then we would either talk through it over a model of the project at the client’s office or it would be told over the phone and supported by site visit shots and architectural drawings.
The scope for creativity always depends on the client. One could be very exact with the requirements and another could give me cart blanche.
I see my work as a team effort and a collaborative achievement from start to finish.
You can never be 100% sure of what the day will bring so being as prepared as possible will sometimes allow you to turn the unexpected to your advantage. Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Ultimately, I am led by my intuition.
How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?
My first workhorse was the Fuji GX680, a 6x8cm medium format film camera; followed by the Sinar F2, a 4”x5” large format film camera, which was used in conjunction with the Fuji. They both offered the movements that were needed for perspective control but the Fuji was smaller, lighter and more versatile, allowing me to work in smaller spaces and to achieve more photographs in the same amount of time. The Sinar was larger, heavier and much more time consuming to operate but the quality was superior due to its larger format. It also offered many more movements than the Fuji allowing for more exacting and unusual compositions.
When Canon launched the 1Ds Mark ll, I decided to jump to digital. I now shoot on the 5DS with Canon’s tilt and shift lenses. Due to the large file size, it has significantly influenced the way that I now work and treat my photographs; allowing me to continue cropping to realise my previsualisations but without the concern of compromising quality. Also, the tilt and shift lenses allow me to stitch multiple captures together to achieve one final photograph of a larger area which could not have been achieved in one photograph using the same lens. Digital also allows me and the client to scrutinise each capture on screen during the shoot which compliments my sensibility.
My equipment has become a lot more lightweight and travel-friendly, enabling me to achieve photographs that I would not have been able to achieve before. It feels very liberating.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Producing personal work alongside my commercial work. Lockdown was certainly testament to this; I felt quite disorientated not being able to go out and work. As soon as the restrictions were relaxed, I carried out a personal project in response to contracting Coronavirus. It was extremely cathartic.
Speaking from my own experience, I wholeheartedly believe in the saying, ‘a relaxed mind is a creative mind’. Running, meditation and a healthy diet have been powerful tools to help build this state of mind for myself.
Following my inspirators, namely, Medhi Ghadyanloo, Moby and Eckhart Tolle, to name just a few.
Exhibitions and talks.
Sharing thoughts, ideas and new work.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
As an introvert, I’ve found it quite challenging to open up and be myself when it comes to showcasing my work, especially personal projects, so the one that I’m most of proud of is my latest project, You Have Beautiful Veins.
It’s very hard to pick just one from my commercial work but 20 Fenchurch Street (A.K.A. The Walkie Talkie) commissioned by Rafael Vinoly Architects is certainly one of my proudest achievements. I remember watching it being built from across the river and thinking, ‘I want to photograph that when its finished’, so when I won the opportunity I felt extremely honoured. My photographs now sit pride of place in my portfolio.
How do you recharge away from the office?
Long-distance running is a big love of mine - it’s my medicine - as well as music. Yoga and meditation. Reading – I enjoy collecting books, especially photography books. Escaping into a good film too or overseas for a holiday and a bit of travelling.
What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
Stay true to yourself and produce work that you believe in. Networking has never come naturally to me but I’ve always recognised its importance - get out there and keep showing your work. Be persistent and patient. Always protect your cashflow and know your bottom line. Keep challenging yourself.
I recently read this beautiful quote in the running press which I could apply to many things in life, including photography: ‘The experience is as much about letting go of ourselves as it is about being open to new ideas and values. participants arrive as strangers, each holding tightly to their pretences, but slowly allow themselves to be present, returning to that childlike state when we are happy to share and explore." (Author unknown.)
What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?
To be more connected again in person rather than online. To appreciate it, value it and enjoy it.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
Its pace - to slow down and focus on quality over quantity. One job at a time. Step by step. “Polay, polay” (slowly, slowly), as my local guide advised me on the way up Mount Kilimanjaro in 1998. I find that a slower pace creates a heightened sense of awareness of everything you are doing at that moment.