Interview Series: Mark King

Barbados-based photog Mark King – a.k.a. MARKING’S –  has traveled all over the world to work in artist residencies and collectives, and now he’s bringing it home with some of his strongest work to date. I studied with him in San Francisco, where we became besties, and though we’ve gone our separate ways, we still keep in touch regularly. Mark has been digging deep in his hometown of Barbados, which taught him to see in a different way and to be a better photographer. After all, it’s a pretty tiny island –  it doesn’t have all of the amenities of living in a big city – but it’s often in the “close to home” moments that you find the most beauty and inspiration. I had a moment to Skype with my photo chum (we try and talk as often as possible) and he always has great things to say. Check out his interview:

LF: Tell us a little bit about your evolving style…
MK: My style has its origins from when I was working on my thesis project. At the time I needed to shoot something other than my thesis to stay sane. Leaving the Hasselblad and digital slr at home, I opted for disposable cameras when exploring the city. Easy to carry and conceal, they also provided a fresh approach to image making.  Once I was finished with my thesis, I bought a proper 35mm point and shoot (Leica Mini II). I carried that Mini II everywhere. I felt the need to develop my own style. To see differently.

I opened a flickr account. Started a tumblr. I reached out to my friends and made an effort to tag along to interesting happenings with camera in hand. I was in a stressful job back then and wanted to live. Shooting this new work made me fall in love with photography all over again.

I would soon quit my job and move back to Barbados after 19 years of living overseas. This made me determined to continue developing my style, which meant documenting my new life in this strange, yet familiar place. The transition to taking portraits came next. I approached my portraits in the similar way to my documentary work with the focus on having fun, exploring locations, and capturing the mood of the environment.

LF: You photograph a lot of women. Why specifically the female muse?
A wise man once told me, shoot what you love. I love taking portraits of women. It’s a collaboration that involves getting to know my subjects and earning their trust. I like to make it a fun experience for everyone, which usually leads to me making a fool of myself. Everyone takes pictures of gorgeous women. I just try to do it in an interesting way.

LF: You spent most of your life in the States, and studied photography in San Francisco, but then went back to your native country Barbados. How do you think the States shaped you as a photographer, and how do you think Barbados changed you as a photographer?
MK: The States introduced me to the world of photography. I got my first camera at 16 while living in Brussels and moved to the US the summer before senior year. I put in many darkroom hours in high school and undergrad. It wasn’t until my first internship in In Style Magazine’s photo department that I seriously considered photography as an option. After In Style, I went back to DC and enrolled in a few photo classes outside of school. When graduation came I was faced with a choice; join the real world and find a job as an advertising account executive or pursue an MFA in photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I chose San Francisco. San Francisco is where I learned how to take photos. Moving to Barbados allowed me to concentrate on becoming a better photographer.

LF: You were recently accepted to the Lucie Foundation E-pprentice program. Can you tell us a little bit about the experience as a whole as well as your experience working with your mentor?
MK: The experience has been phenomenal. My mentor is LA based entertainment and celebrity photographer, Roger Erickson. He is definitely my go to source for career, portfolio and industry advice. Roger has 20+ years of experience in commercial and fine art photography. So far we have reworked my online portfolio edit and identified some goals for getting my commercial and fine art career off the ground.

I’m truly honored to be one of this year’s E-pprentices. It’s a great feeling to have the support of such an amazing organization. They also provide access to secondary mentors in the fields of photographer and gallery representation.

LF: We love the name “Mark King is marking’s”. When did you conceive this moniker and how has it shaped your brand?
MK: Credit goes to my friend Tief for coming up with that one. It was sophomore year at Howard and I had some t-shirt and denim designs in the homecoming fashion show. Couldn’t figure out what I was going to name the line, until we were in a cypher and Tief came up with Markkings.

Years later I changed the name to Marking’s and used it for my tumblr and flickr handle. It was on these platforms that I built the brand for a year or so before establishing a proper portfolio site; making the connection between Mark King and Marking’s with a big shout out to Ashley Ciecka for the amazing logo. I’m not quite sure how it has shaped my brand. My guess is that is stands out a lot more than Mark King Photography.

LF: We want to hear a little bit more about Barbados. What inspires you there? What is the art scene like there? If you could bring anything to Barbados – in relationship to art – what would it be?
MK: Barbados is a small island with a lot to offer, inspiration wise. It’s a fairly conservative society. With that said, there are still many scenes represented here. Rally racing is the number one spectator sport. Horse racing is big as well. There is also an established surf scene here. And Japanese anime is a big deal. For me, it’s the cultural customs, friends, family, beaches, gullies, the countryside, and night sky that provide the inspiration.

There are quite a few talented artists in the island. The unfortunate thing is that the arts are not considered a viable option. That is reflected in how little government funding goes into the arts. What we need here are more opportunities to exhibit work and develop the arts. The art you see in galleries here is catered mostly to tourists. That means beaches, landscapes, and chattel houses. Stereotypical romanticized island life. There are artists who cover that subject matter well, but that style dominates.

I’m working with some great people on bringing an arts festival to Barbados this October. We’re doing workshops, a pop-up artist’s lounge, as well as a music showcase. The arts community is hungry in the Carbbean. People are starting to unite and make things happen for themselves. If you ever want to check out what’s happening in the arts in Barbados go to Projects & Space, Fresh Milk Barbados, Manifesto Barbados and Arc Magazine for insight into the wider Caribbean art scene.

LF: Your work feels somewhat photo-journalistic, but fits really well into the current advertising and editorial style we are seeing in campaigns these days. Can you talk a little bit about this trend?
MK: I feel that the trend of smiling pretty people faking it is getting stale. Maybe stock photography sped up its decline. I don’t know. With so many photographers documenting their daily lives and putting work out there, it’s a hard sell to get people on board with imagery that comes across as too staged.

There is now a demand for imagery that taps into an authentic and appealing lifestyle. Nowadays there are a quite a few photographers working in this photo-journalistic style that capture a mood exceptionally well.  And they are starting to get hired for this skill.

LF: We love your ongoing “Plastic” series. Can you talk a little bit about that w/o totally giving away your secrets?
MK: Back in January I was preparing for a screen printing artist in residency at the Frans Masereel Centre in Kasterlee, Belgium and wanted to go there with a new portrait project already started. One night I ended up shooting a few packs of medium format polaroids and really liked what I got. I later scanned the selects and added color to them in photoshop. The color palette and stoic characters created a new version of the Barbados I was familiar with. Shooting at night under streetlights made for an eerie scene.

Once at the residency, I produced a range of artist’s proofs, adding color to each print piece by piece. The color I add is representative of the local plastic shopping bags. I even traveled to the residency with plastic bags and used them to match with the inks I was laying down.  I experimented with and collected many shopping bags for over a year before the residency. They stood out for me as soon as I returned to Barbados. You see them everywhere. Their vibrant colors dominate any environment.

LF: Where would you like to be in your career in five years?
MK: Ideally with gallery representation, tons of frequent flyer miles, and a studio.

LF: What’s currently on your playlist?
MK: Blur – Tender
Big K.R.I.T. – Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed & Ecouraging Racism
Curren$y –  Sky Miles ft. Willie The Kid
Kendrick Lamar – Ronald Reagan Era
Freelance Whales – Girl You Want (Devo Cover)
Pharoah Monch – Evolve
Lunice –  Sandy Streets
Rusko x Outkast – Rosa Parks
Joker x Ginz – Re-Up
Jay Z and Kanye West – Niggas in Paris

LF: How do you LIVE FAST?
MK: When traveling I connect with old friends who introduce me to their networks and that leads to their friends introducing me to their various circles and so on. I also reach out to total strangers via email if I truly admire their work and we meet up for a beer if possible. It’s an extremely rewarding experience to travel to a new country and have people looking out for you and make new friends on top of that. I make sure to take on collaborations, network, and take in as much art as possible.

This past Europe trip surpassed all expectations. I managed to collaborate with fashion designers, stylists, models, meet with some of my favourite photographers and a few creative geniuses along the way.

LF: Art Talk: What inspires you? Favorite art or work?
MK: I’m inspired by so much these days that it’s hard to pin down. There is plenty in photography, illustration, painting, film and music that stops me in my tracks. Thinking back, one artist’s work that left a lasting impression was David Hockney’s. I visited his museum in England during an 11th grade field trip. I’m still a huge fan.

LF: Travel Talk: Favorite destination or travel stories (besides this epic journey) that you want to share?
MK: There are so many places that I would like to visit and turn into my favorite travel destinations. I have so much of the world to see still. So far I’ve really enjoyed London, Chicago, Vancouver, Brussels, San Francisco, and Berlin.

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