It has been difficult for me to describe Mark Peckmezian‘s work. It could be that he’s already so well-spoken for or that the emotion his photographs evoke is meant to be felt and not academically dissected. Regardless, his is a body of work that cannot be ignored.
His photographic style is appealing to a generation obsessed with nostalgia. His prints reflect dark room experimentation which often celebrates the praise of errors that people my age seem to have embraced beyond their means.
In an article he wrote on a selection of his work, Peckmezian says, “these photographs – contemporary diary-documentary photos from my life – could ideally have the full affective weight of that storied scrapbook scrap, of the creased and stained photo in your wallet, of a treasured found photograph.” This idea of the personal artifact is carried throughout his work but resists being defined by it.
But whether it’s defined or not isn’t the point. Whatever it is he is trying to do reeks of talent and is made of the contemporary wit that tends to define an era – however short and however personal – that has potential to become classic.
Or, he could just be a guy fucking around in the darkroom. See for yourself. Mark Peckmezian:
I always wanted to be an artist and was drawn to filmmaking at first, but in high school gravitated towards photography. I think I’m an editor by nature – that’s the creative mode I thrive in. I think I lack the imagination, or something, needed to make work from scratch; I like interpreting things.
In earlier centuries, portraits were a status symbol and then later in photography became a tradition that was no longer reserved for affluent families but for anyone who didn’t want to be forgotten. How do you approach portraiture as a contemporary photographer and how do you respond to the idea of photography as memory?
A lot of my photos of people aren’t really portraits in any traditional sense, although I may call them that for expediency. Sometimes I’m just interested in an aesthetic concept, and realize it in a way that involve a person in the image — they’re props, really.
As for how I approach such portraiture now, I’m sort of obsessed with contextualizing things, and over the years I’ve been working on doing so to finer and finer degrees. I find it hard to articulate how I do this, but I think it’s well illustrated in this image (photo above), which I did as a sort of case study in this. It isn’t enough to just take a photo of someone anymore, you have to put it in the right terms.
It’s by far my favourite stage of the process. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from it: there’s almost no such thing as an error in the darkroom, even the worst prints reveal something new to you about the image, and are usually the basis for further experimentation down the line. Many of the aesthetics I use originated as “errors” in the darkroom. I take inspiration from the materials, the process. It also slows down your thinking about an image, given how long it takes to make even minor changes and the cost of paper and chemicals. I’ve spent a lot of time in the darkroom meditating over images, time that I don’t think I would’ve spent working digitally.
Do you prefer black and white to color in your photographs and how do you feel the absence of color informs the subject?
I used to much prefer black and white, but now I like both black and white and colour equally. I don’t think it even makes sense to prefer one, they’re just different, not better or worse. One of the strengths of black and white is that it’s more “neutral” or “general” – it’s the common denominator aesthetic for photography since its invention. Black and white images are relatively “timeless” in a sense. I use black and white for this reason a lot of the time. Colour is better for most documentary work, it is more plain and descriptive, less romantic. This, again, isn’t a good thing or bad so much as a peculiar thing, to be leveraged when appropriate.
Are there any projects or galleries out there right now that you feel are defining contemporary art and creativity right now?
Nothing comes to mind. I can say that I think Roe Ethridge and the school of photographers working in a similar vein, represent the vanguard of photography right now, they’re at the creative bleeding edge. I feel that what they do is lacking something essential though, so I’m eagerly awaiting innovation (and will perhaps manage to bring that to the table myself).
I liked (and still greatly admire) photographers like (Diane) Arbus, Martin Parr, Stephen Shore, (Nobuyoshi) Araki, JH Lartigue, William Eggleston, Boris Mikhailov. Fellini and Kubrick were my first creative love interests, though, I absorbed as much of their sensibility as I possibly could in my early teens.
As for influence: I think these artists sort of just show you what’s possible. That work can appeal to something in you immediately shows that there is something there already — malformed and poorly understood in your unconscious, maybe, but there. You get this feeling of affinity that is tremendously motivating.
Mark Peckmezian is an artist and commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada.