Mike Sutton – Photographer
Mike is from the UK’s industrial north. He grew up in a town best known for mining salt, some short distance south of Manchester. This is where he spent all his youth, more recently he lived in Cardiff for a while, where he studied and spent a lot of time developing his work.
What or who is inspiring you right now?
For ‘what’, it is Russia, and living here now, I think sometimes photographers really need a change of scenery. As for ‘who’, really, it’s painters who inspire me the most, though they don’t have a direct influence on my pictures, I just really enjoy their work. In particular, I really enjoy the work of Christian Rex Van Minnen and Emilio Villalba.
Describe your creative process
I’ve always been more interested in life as it is, so I’m not getting up at 5am to photograph sunrises, or climbing mountains for their views. My pictures will always come from being at a place at a specific moment, not pursuing pictures. I enjoy walking, exploring new places, thinking while I walk, thinking on the metro, I keep my camera with me and I never try to force anything.
What do you want to say with your work?
I don’t want to offer my ideas up on a plate, my own ideas are there, but I’m aware that every single person who looks at my art will have their own response, making their own dialogue, seeing something that reminds them of something. I’ve always just wanted to encourage people to make their own conclusions, even if just simply enjoying a picture for its own beauty, or for being something someone has never seen before. I don’t want to tell people what to do. For me I take photos as a record of my life, out of fear of memory loss, and the work I make surrounds concepts which genuinely interest me, for ideas that may not have been explored before.
What’s the project you are working on right now that you feel most passionately about?
The project I’ve been working on for almost 7 years now, ‘Octopus’ has always been a descent inwards, I wanted to understand everything that makes a person who they are, so I felt I could only know myself that well, I made the project about me. I think these days I’ve come to understand how huge an undertaking this is, and how overly complex this subject is. These themes are explored in my writing which accompanies the pictures, I want the book to express some kind of atmosphere, a self-portrait of something beneath the surface, something that is usually only present in our internal monologues. I hope I am expressing this atmosphere with the pictures I take and the things I write.
How would you define your style?
I certainly hope my style is unique and this somehow defines it, it feels so for me, but it’s difficult to describe, I don’t often photograph the same subjects, though I have a few favourite subjects, such as plants submerged in water or behind greenhouse glass, spilt oil, the sea. The colours of my pictures and the way I compose them have also changed over the years. Going from very grey pictures with simple compositions, to pictures which are still very dark, but with vibrant colours and much more complex compositions of multiple subjects in the frame.
Paint a picture of where you live/describe it
I live in an apartment in a sleeper district on the edge of Saint Petersburg’s centre, Saint Petersburg is an incredible city with very beautiful architecture, and despite its huge population, the city feels very relaxed. It is sometimes difficult to describe the atmosphere of this place, all I can say is that it is very genuine, a kind of freedom, the Russian spirit. Russians are incredible people with the best sense of humour, and those living in Saint Petersburg are particularly fond of art, history and culture. Everything is under a blanket of thick snow at the moment, which it has been for a considerable time, but we’re finally getting some blue skies.
Who has been the most inspirational person for you?
My girlfriend, Ksenia, of course, who deals with my existential crises and doubts in my art more than anyone, who I’m eternally grateful for, she is an incredibly talented person. We were originally pen pals two years ago, but then we met in Saint Petersburg and our relationship was one spent meeting in countries across Europe for a few days or a week at a time, always dealing with time zones and visas, when I was still living in the UK and her in Russia. I moved to Saint Petersburg three months ago and now we’re finally together.
What project of yours has inspired you the most?
‘Leather Jacket’, my first book, was about life immediately following a life changing moment, it’s why I am where I am now, it truly captured a moment where life would go from one direction to a completely different one. It was a coming of age kind of book, I was 21 and I grew up when I made this project, it cemented the style which I continue to use now. This project is also the root of everything creative I’ve ever made since; every idea has expanded on this one and become richer.
Do you have a favourite quote that you try to live by?
Some people make the right decisions, others make the decisions right.
Is there anything in your career that you regret not doing? /regret doing?
I probably regret never really actively trying to show my work or sell it anywhere, I’m not much of a businessman and I’ve happily been making my work for just over a decade now without ever really feeling like this is missing from my life.
Can you describe what you are doing now, with your life and work?
I teach English as a foreign language here in the city, I spend my free time with my partner and I make art when I can. Really, I have everything I’ve ever wanted, if only I could speak Russian a little better! I continue taking pictures for ‘Octopus’, but the day it will finally be ready is as uncertain as it was 7 years ago.