Mark Edward Harris Interview for Hahnemühle – Sony World Photography Award Shortlist 2018
Mark Edward Harris’ Orangutan portrait of Azy with a Mona Lisa like smile is from one of his latest projects. His series “Eyes are the Window to the Soul” allowing viewers to come face to face with these sentient beings. Humans and orangutans have 97 per cent of their DNA in common.The phptographer had the chance to get realy close to these primates in the International Orangutan Center of Indianapolis Zoo. Mark Edward Harris’ emphatic portraits of them made it into the newspapers around the world shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Award. He is planning to print this body of work big on a Hahnemühle Digital FineArt Paper. He tells us why in this interview.
How did you “discover” photography?
My father would document family trips around the United States with both still and movie cameras. I was his “backup cameraman” when he wanted to be in the picture himself. I loved the idea of freezing a moment in time and document our journeys even in those early years. But it was not until a college photo class that included working in a darkroom at California State University, Northridge that I fell in love with the process itself. The moment I saw an image come up on a piece of sensitized paper in the developer I became captivated by the magic of photography.
How did you turn your newly found passion into a career?
My Bachelor’s degree from Northridge was in History so I continued on with school to take additional photography classes while doing a variety of jobs including shooting real estate photos on the side to put my camera to work. After graduating from California State University, Los Angeles with a Master’s in a special major I created, Pictorial/Documentary History, I got my first regular gig in photography shooting the stills for The Merv Griffin Show in Hollywood. I would take care of the celebrity guests in the Green Room then photograph them when they went out on stage. It was a great experience but it was not until the show went off the air that I could focus on the type of travel/documentary work that I’m doing today.
How did you initially develop that body of work to show to potential clients?
When the show ended I took off on a four-month journey around the South Pacific and Asia to build up a portfolio of the work I wanted to pursue. That was definitely a great stepping-stone but it was not until I produced a cohesive body of work on Vietnam that I came to understand the importance of developing a clearly focused body of work on a particular subject. Photo editors are not interested in a bunch of unrelated imagery unless you happen to be presenting or covering “spot news”. From there I started to pull out my own pen rather than waiting for writers to join me on projects. I still prefer to work with writers, in fact I recently did a project in Iraqi Kurdistan that ran in the New York Times with a fantastic writer. That’s the ideal situation, but being able to produce a complete package of words and images has opened up a lot of doors. I stress this point in my workshops (see Mark’s website for a current listing) and my latest book ‘The Travel Photo Essay: Describing A Journey Through Images’.
What are you currently working on?
I always have to be flexible and ready for last minute editorial assignments but it’s vital to have ongoing projects that give a sense of continuity to a freelance life. I learned that lesson early on when I interviewed Magnum Photos photographer Eve Arnold in London. She told me that her most famous project “In China” came about because she was always looking for projects to do rather than waiting around for, as she said, “the phone to ring.” I think that’s incredible advice for anyone pursuing a career as a freelance photographer.
Some of my strongest work has come from these self-assignments. ‘The Way of the Japanese Bath’ on Japanese hot spring culture and my work in North Korea are two examples. I pursued them because they “felt right.” They have lead to many commissions to do work on the same or similar topics. I’m gathering more material for an eventual 3rd edition of ‘The Way of the Japanese Bath’ while at the same time continuing a new series of orangutan portraits which hopefully gets across the idea that these are sentient beings looking back at my lens. They are in extreme danger due to deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo. I’m using the working title ‘Eyes are the Window to the Soul’ and envision this series as a book and a touring exhibition in addition to illustrating magazine articles.
How are you going to produce the prints for the exhibition?
My printer is Roger Wong over at Samy’s Camera Digital Service Bureau in Los Angeles. We use the Hahnemühle Photo Rag® 308gsm paper for my work. It’s fantastic for getting every ounce of information out of my digital files and onto paper. I’ve done a number of 40×60 inch prints in the past from my North Korea, Myanmar, Namibia, Japan Tsunami, Nepal Earthquake Recovery, and Iran series that hold up perfectly at that size. I definitely want to go large with a glossy paper from Hahnemühle´s Digital FineArt Collection with my new orangutan portrait series which I think will make exhibition visitors feel like they’re in the room with these sentient beings. It’s vital to have a paper that translates what you saw and felt at the moment you depressed the shutter.
Thanks for your time, Mark!
Harris oevre comprises portraiture, wild life, travel photography as well as social documentary. His assignments have taken him to 97 countries on six continents. His editorial work has appeared in publications ranging from Vanity Fair, LIFE, TIME and Newsweek to GEO, Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, and The London Sunday Times Travel Magazine as well as all the major photography and in-flight magazines. His commercial clients range from The Gap to Coca-Cola. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a CLIO, ACE, Aurora Gold, IPA Book of the Year and Photographer of the Year at the Black & White Spider Awards. His books include Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work, The Way of the Japanese Bath, Wanderlust, North Korea, South Korea, Inside Iran and his latest, The Travel Photo Essay: Describing A Journey Through Images.