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Interview: Mike Raven

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Mike Raven

older Rethinking Your Career Arc newer Adam Garelick

You’re from Plymouth, a city of 258,000 in the south of England and roughly 300 kilometres from London. Most photographers would think heading to London is the natural choice; what are your reasons for staying in Plymouth and what don’t we know? How does Plymouth city influence your photography? Are there days when you wish you lived somewhere else?

The reason I'm based in Plymouth is because I'm studying here. I've recently finished my Foundation Degree and I am carrying on with my last year to graduate with a BA(Hons), I originally was going to move away but because of reasons beyond my control I ended up staying so it's not so much that I've actively chosen to stay here. However saying that, I do like it, you have a mix of the sea and the city and theres a great community of artists down here, the College of Art here in plymouth is producing some really great young professionals.

I wouldn't say the city influences my photography that much. A a lot of my work is influenced by fashion and fashion portraiture / imagery. There aren't a lot of 'Fashion' related things going on down in Plymouth, which is actually why I decided to start FACTION Magazine. However the people here have influenced my imagery. I have a friend who models for me all the time and he always has loads of ideas on what we should be doing next and we push each other which is great.

You’re the editor of FACTION, which says that “the south-west has some of the best talent to offer.” Tell us more about FACTION and how the magazine came to be. How has the reception been so far? What have you learned running the magazine?

I started FACTION because I was really bored of not having a local magazine that catered for people like my friends and I who like fashion, culture and the arts. As we're not based in london, there was nothing telling us what was on in the south-west or even showing off local artists who are making a living out of their passions. I knew so many talented people who because of their location or circumstances never really had the chance to have their work seen.

I had worked a at a few magazines up in London and thought it can't be that hard so I decided to give it a go. After roping in two of my close friends who really connected with the idea, FACTION is now in its second online issue and will (fingers crossed) be going to print for issue three. We've had a great response from everyone that's been reading and we've found out about so many great local artists who had never really had the chance to have their work showcased. It's going really well.

You do a lot of fashion photography, specifically brands that epitomize the cutting edge of British fashion. What is your relationship like with fashion, personally? Who are the most interesting designers in England right now? Why?

My work is certainly influenced by fashion imagery and some great photographers, and I've been lucky enough to shoot for some emerging designers that are really great at what they do. However I never really call myself a fashion photographer, I'm nowhere near that, yet. Which is a good thing; I've got a lot to prove to myself. I think I connect with the fashion side of my imagery because I am genuinely interested in fashion, that being another reason I created FACTION.

The most interesting designers? I'm really interested in Katie Eary at the moment! I'd love to shoot a campaign for her! I love the way each collection of hers is described as a story, and the clothes are really amazing! I love most things with prints on them, so her last collection was great for me. Also, the imagery side of the brand is really eye-catching. Her latest campaign was this really beautiful mix of colour and black and white portraits in a collage. I thought it was great.

Your work features an equal number of female and male models. How do you find your models, and what do you look for? Have you ever approached somebody in the street or a club? Is there anybody you would like to shoot? Why?

Recently my work has been very male focused. A lot of my models are street cast, friends of friends etc. In my personal work I never use agency models just because I'm not in London. It's always interesting approaching someone on the street having to explain your a photographer and asking if they'll model for you without sounding too creepy but it normally works out fine! Pretty much all the shoots for FACTION have been cast that way actually.

Theres a few people I'd love to shoot! Boy George would be one, I can imagine he'd be lots of fun to work with, and one model I have always wanted to shoot since seeing him is River Viiperi, he's such a great model. He's just done all the Versace for H&M campaigns.

Most of your work is shot in a studio. What is it about the studio that you prefer for making images? If you could go anywhere for an on-location shoot, where would that be and why?

I began shooting in the studio around 4 years ago and just fell in love with it, a lot of other photographers I knew at the time were always out on location while I was locked inside in the dark! I think for me the studio can be much harder to create a vision or a story out of a plain white space, some may say that makes it easier but when I shoot editorials I want them to have a narrative and I like the challenge of creating that from nothing and adding various things into the scene to create something which is totally mine in the end.

I like technology as well so maybe it's having lots of lights and my laptop around that make me feel a little more comfortable? I never really got the hang of film either!

Many of your most memorable shoots feature striking make-up which transcends the functional into the realm of fine art. Is this your art direction and vision, or are you collaborating with certain make-up artists on a shared vision? What is your fascination with this kind of bodily adornment?

A recent project I shot called 'Electric Youth' features only the model I talked about earlier - Haydn - and we spent about 4 months I think in a studio setup shooting various things. Some of it was shot on location but I always have a lot more fun in the studio. The body adornment ideas started with the diamond skull idea I had. I worked closely with Megan Chamberlaine a close friend of mine who is a make-up artist to create that. It only took 7 hours to get on his face! That was my first attempt at something like that and now its like I've opened up a huge box of ideas I can't wait to try out. Anything is possible if you really want to do it so I just plan to try everything out! The UV images I shot recently for FACTION were another idea I had that I always wanted to try out. I wouldn't say it's so much of a fascination but I love the what it can add to the imagery, its fun and can look great so why not?

It's strange you say fine art because I never intended for my imagery to go that way. I've started playing with film recently and the more I try to work with the two mediums side by side the more I feel myself conceptualizing my work, and it seems to become more 'fine art-y'. I'm just trying to push what I had done before to the next stage.

A few years ago, taking pictures with your phone would have been considered beneath most professional photographers, but now most embrace it as just another communication tool. What are your thoughts on Instagram, and how do you approach it? Has using Instagram actually taught you anything about photography?

I think Instagram is great, but I only really use it for taking snaps - I haven't yet used it for an actual shoot - but it's a great way to get really good looking images fast! Again it's the technology thing so I'm sold straight away. Actually FACTION recently interviewed a photographer who only uses Instagram for his work and his images are really great. That changed my view on modern photography. Camera phones are great and everyone can use their phone and start creating images when before they had no other means to, Instagram just adds that extra element of fun to it which I think helps people to become a little more creative. Which is great.

How did you go from being an amateur photographer to a professional today? What has the journey been like to get here? Can you remember the first time you ever took a picture?

Well I never really know when you consider yourself a professional? I'm still studying even though I'm freelancing, so when I finally graduate and start working full time maybe thats when I'll start to think about that!

I've been working in photography for 2 years now and am actually making money for myself which is great, and when I first picked up a camera I never thought I'd be able to do that. Yes, I can remember. I was about 15 I think when I started regularly taking photos of my friends and making them model for me. I can remember the first images I shot and I thought: "I really like this, maybe I should try this out", in my back garden, I set a tripod up and shot loads of images of myself walking around the garden and made some strange photoshopped image of them all merged together. Looking back now it was terrible but it got me interested enough to stick at it.

What are some mistakes you made that you learned from? What would you warn other young photographers about that they should know?

I wouldn't necessarily say mistakes, but I realized things never happen on their own. You have to be proactive if you want to compete against everyone else. There are so many people in the same boat all wanting the same thing so you have to push to get where you want to be. Actually, always get it in writing! Thats a piece of advice!

If you had an unlimited budget, and could shoot anybody living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?

It wouldn't so much be about a huge budget but I'd make some crazy photographic essay remake of the film 'My Own Private Idaho' with River Phoenix. Travelling across the whole of America in a Ford Mustang or something. He was such a talented young actor and he had a great face!

Can you share some of your professional goals? For example, where you would like to see FACTION in the next few years, which designers would you like to work with, where you would most like to travel and shoot, etc.

I'd love to see FACTION grow, it's still very early days but I want to see it in print and I'd love to get a lot more people involved with it.

With my personal work I want to work with great stylists and magazines, I'd like to shoot some editorials for magazines such as Arena Homme + and ODDA etc. I'd love to work with brands like Dsquared2 and Raf Simons, that would be amazing!

I've got a few plans for a couple of new projects, a lot of film and collaborations with make-up artists and designers, I've just got to make the time to do it now!

older Rethinking Your Career Arc newer Adam Garelick

Mike Raven is a UK-based photographer


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