In conversation with Christopher Mear
I’m from Leicestershire, a little town called Ashby-de-la-zouch – which, in contrast to The Merry Macs 1946 hit, is as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK. I work in retail and I do some photography and teaching from time to time.
Last time we spoke was in February 2018. How have things changed since then?
I don’t think I was working in retail then. So I think the biggest change is my decision to pull back from freelancing, or maybe it’s the pink hair? I’m significantly more organised and mindful these days, although I still have work to do. I think that shows in the edit of my recent work; it’s the strongest edit I’ve done. The pink hair bought my inner punk out a little more, and that shows in the way I’ve put the work out this time.
Let’s talk about your project ‘002: About Time’.
I’m going to quietly dodge what it’s about. I don’t like answering that at that at the best of times and certainly with the way I’m working at the moment I don’t think it serves any purpose to hear my interpretation. The motivation was a trip I made at the end of last summer, a mental retreat really to get away from the frustrations of my daily life.
While working on the project, were there any moments that stand out to you now?
There are nine pictures in this series and each one was one of those epiphany moments. When I made each exposure, I knew instantly that it worked. I was really in tune and I’ve not felt like that for a long time, in all honesty. It felt like my inner street photographer – that I thought I’d lost during university – had returned. And I fell in love with that way of working again.
We spoke a little about this work earlier in the year, before COVID-19. Has the current global pandemic had any effect on the work, perhaps influenced the meaning or how the work is viewed?
It’s very surreal how the narrative of the work relates to the current situation, almost literally. At the time of making the work I had no idea what was coming and my head was full of other thoughts and feelings, even the edit and sequence was finished before everything really kicked off. It was about something very different and more personal to me then.
Now, I can only see a completely different meaning in it and that’s never happened before. I’ve always been a little uncertain about the recurring birds in my work since Coalville Photographed, now I’m starting to think the birds are telling me something.
In our last interview, you said “I won’t be self-publishing again though, at least not for a very long time”. What made you decide to self-publish again?
I think fundamentally I just want to keep my work relatively well-organised, and I want to keep trying to understand it. A book is the best way to do both those things for me, and it’s fun. I’m feeling similar about not doing it again now though, but this time I’m more aware that that feeling will probably pass after a month or so and I’ll be working on 003 for the autumn. I’ve made similar mistakes this time but I’ve recognised them quicker. I’ll be a lot better placed next time.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to go and listen to the birds for a while.
Recommend us something.
Listen to Magpie by The Unthanks and watch The OA on Netflix. I also just finished reading The Death Of Grass which I highly recommend.
Tell us about one photograph or piece of art that has strongly influenced you.
Page 27 of ‘Vivian Maier Street Photographer’.
I guess Vivian Maier has gone out of fashion now, but I often revisit her work and think about her a lot. Not only do I love her work but I feel a lot of empathy for her as a person. I often feel like going down the Vivian Maier route with my own work; I think I’m more of a recluse than a punk.
This picture just stopped me dead recently and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it. I don’t know if the woman’s stance and expression is more to do with the photographer or the man, but it breaks my heart every time. There’s almost a desperation on the older man’s face which is equally painful to me. The attractive young couple in the background passing by elevate the feeling of devastation further. I can hone in on any one of the four characters and feel empathy, fondness or dislike on any given day but I don’t think I’ve ever come away from this picture feeling optimistic. I do find it comforting though.