Generations of musicians have expressed their sorrow and grief through their chosen medium, yet seeking inspiration in these dark places is somewhat niche in amateur photography. I caught up with emerging British talent Michelle Mackie to understand how she expresses these sullen tones in her conceptual photography.
Mackie's work first grabbed my attention on Instagram. Her portfolio is a collection of composite images that have common themes of female models and moody tones, that pay homage to influences from horror and fairytales. I instantly wanted to know more about the photographer, and where the inspiration for these thrilling and intriguing composites came from.
Mackie's storytelling came from her Grandfather’s “weird and wonderful” stories from when she was a child. Sadly, he passed away five years ago, but not before offering Mackie an inheritance that she was under strict instructions to spend “on something I wanted for myself.” This is not as easy as it sounds when you are a mother of two children, as Mackie is. “I’ve been through massive loses leading up to that point,” Mackie said, “and it was at this last point I had to make peace with it, and it changed me and my outlook.” Yet she kept her word to her late grandfather, and purchased her first camera, a Canon 650D, later upgrading to a Canon 5D Mark III.
With no experience and a few evening classes under her belt, Mackie quickly found her “therapy” and now had something to do “with all those stories in my head. I can visit light and dark places in my mind without being scared to embrace them. I can enjoy my wild and wacky imagination and let others see just a little part of me,” expressed Mackie, when I delved deeper into her method.
I can relate to Mackie in how photography can become an expression of therapy during times of grief, but whereas I expressed myself casually with a camera, Mackie doesn't pick up her camera till her thoughts are conceptualized in a notebook, she has handpicked her model, and location scouted.
One of my favorite pieces was the series titled “The Hairdryer,” a depiction of a female model expressing herself with just a hairdryer. “The idea behind this set was a mash-up of feminism, sexuality, and dark suicidal thoughts. The hairdryer represents a gun, and how can a woman with a gun to her head be sexy?” Mackie is testing her audience to interpret the images, rather than being literal with a gun, this purposeful ambiguity is consistent across her work.
The Strength Within
Using natural light only, Mackie had the concept already noted down and chose a cracked, plastered wall on which to place her subject. The square format and shape of the pose lead the eye to the cracks on the wall, but it’s the spine across the model’s back which creates the intrigue for me in this image and is one of my favorites from her ever-growing portfolio. “We tried a few poses, but this was perfect. After adding the top of the wall on in [post] process, I blended cracks into the wall. The cracks were from a texture that had some cracked paint.”
Below is a speed grade of Mackie re-working a piece titled “Entrapment,” which highlights her subtle use of light and textures using various blending methods with the dodge and burn tools.
The more I got to find out about Mackie, the more I admired her work. This is not the work of an art student or a dedicated professional, but a working mother of two who sees photography primarily as a form of expression for the mystical stories in her mind, influenced by those darker moments of her life. She is not limited by her inexperience or gear, only her imagination and her limited free time.
All images used with permission of Michelle Mackie.