The Bob Mizer regularly profiles experimental photographers in order to fulfill part of its mission statement. This week, we feature a Q&A with Bay Area photographer Mark Christopher, who cites Mizer himself among his artistic influences.
How long have you been a practicing artist?
I've had a camera in my hands for as long as I can remember, but have been seriously involved in photography for about the last five years.
What interested you in photography in the first place? What led to your decision to more seriously pursue photography five years ago? Do you have any degrees, certification or training, or are you completely self-taught?
Photography has always appealed to me as a way to capture a moment in time that might have otherwise been lost. It's a way to present my idea or vision through this physical record. I'm a creative person by nature and the thought of being in a non-creative profession is not an option anymore. Minus high school and a couple basic college classes, I am completely self-taught.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
I take inspiration from many facets of art, not necessarily just visual. A selection of those who inspire me: Helmut Newton, Grace Jones, Man Ray, Patti Smith... and, of course, Bob Mizer.
What first drew you to Mizer's work? And how would you describe his work?
His work was produced in a time where it was illegal to do so. I greatly admire him for going down a path that wasn't acceptable. It's a quality that definitely appeals to me. Bob's images are visual perfection in the way their creation is very controlled, but look so effortless.
How would you describe your style?
In terms of producing my work, I'd describe it as natural and uncomplicated. The ideas or concepts always start from a real place, either personal or not, and then evolve.
What are one or two of your more personal works? Would you call them almost autobiographical, and in what way?
My "Beat The Heat" series is based on my dislike of summer heatwaves, so in a way, yes autobiographical. I've also used the act of feeding ("Fast Love") and Tom of Finland ("Tom's Beach") as the basis for a shoot. Each one has its own story, either something very simple or more complex.
Besides photography, what mediums do you work with?
I've picked up paint brushes and pencils here and there, but a digital medium is second to photography.
And why is that, exactly?
Digital in the sense of editing photographs. A good amount of the work on my website is film, but even that is digitally processed. I try to keep my images minimally edited.
How do you find your models?
Online and in person. I'll start with a concept or idea and look for someone who fits. I just recently approached an individual who reminded me immediately of a model Bob would have chosen.
Tell me more about this model. What qualities did he embody that reminded you of a Mizer model?
Turns out he declined being photographed, but he had a face I saw as very quintessential 50s/60s. Youthful, but masculine. Mizer had a keen eye for picking an array of individuals, but they were all clearly within his personal aesthetic. Bob would have definitely had the individual I saw either with a gun holster around his waist or in the infamous shower.
Focusing on your male subjects -- Your models seem to embody diversity in just about every way -- age, race, body type, etc. Why do you believe this portrayal of different men in your works is important?
A lot of the time, it can start from an aesthetic based on beauty. The individual's eyes, the slope of their nose, their shoulders, hands or just the lines of their body. It's about creating a captivating image, and there can be many people to choose from, but it comes down to finding the one that can do it best and bring the idea to fruition.
Beauty seems to be a subjective term -- what you think of as beautiful and what I think of as beautiful might be different. How do you define beauty in your models? Do you try to look for models who might not appeal to you, but whom you realize might appeal to other members of your audience?
Beauty is definitely subjective. First and foremost, I try to stay true to my own aesthetic, I feel those photographs are the ones I can be most proud of. The beauty I find in my models is also subjective to my own interests, it's not necessarily anything "traditional" or done with the intent of appealing to an audience. I have to always create photos that appeal to me. When the audience likes or reacts to them, it's the cherry on top.
In what ways are your works similar to and different than those of Bob Mizer?
Bob had an unparalleled drive to create. I read that he pretty much took photos every day from the 40s on. I feel similar to him in that way, although I don't photograph everyday.... yet. The new 1000 Model Directory book is my go to for inspiration. His eye for posing the models and the overall composition of the photo is something that I will forever strive to achieve in my work.
How has physique photography -- or photography of beautiful subjects in general -- changed since Bob's day?
Photography can be seen a saturated medium today. Nearly everyone has a camera on their phone. The erotic taboo has also been lifted to a certain extent. You can go online and find pretty much any image you want. I think the art of photography is the same as in Bob's day though. Anyone can take a photo, but it takes an individual with a special eye to capture that magic.
How do you promote your art in the digital age?
Social media can definitely be a useful tool for getting work out there. I also have my website (http://markchristopherphoto.com) and am constantly looking for new outlets (magazines, blogs, etc).
How, exactly, can social media be useful? In marketing your work? In networking with other artists? With new clients?
Social media is a way to be seen. It's also a way to network. I've used it as a tool to contact quite a few people. Combined with a personal website, it's all essentially a huge business card/portfolio. Everything in one place.
Why is freedom of artistic expression so important in imagery that can be considered to be sexual or erotic in nature?
Society dictates a line of thinking as to the way certain things are "supposed to be done" or what we should perceive as "normal". I don't buy into it. Sexual or erotic imagery is a hot topic for the fact that it has been deemed "taboo". The forward thinkers are the ones who always push beyond that line and chip away at the dictation from society.
Have you or a fellow artist you know ever been censored? How have you handled the attempts at censorship? You also mention society's line of thinking about how certain art should be produced -- how does your work stray from what society thinks of as 'normal,' and what other struggles have you faced related to society's need for you to conform?
Instagram and Facebook are the only places I could have been censored, but my photos fall within their guidelines (which I've read to know exactly what they are). I am not opposed to pushing against those guidelines. Down the road, if I'm censored on one of those outlets, the work will be on my own website anyway..... in all it's uncensored glory.
What advice do you have for budding photographers and artists?
Never stop learning.
And what are some of the most valuable lessons you've learned throughout your years as an artist?
Two of the most valuable are: don't take anything personal and it never hurts to ask.