04 Jul PATRICK MCPHERON-CONCEPTUALISING AMERICA’S FEAR OF A RED PLANET
Words like stunning and mesmerising would not be sycophantic utterings when describing the work of Patrick Mcpheron. On the contrary, it would be adjectives of literal fact to describe his INVASION series.
Thrusting us into his vividly coloured and graded world of post 50’s sci-fi films, the Los Angeles based photographer creates a visually powerful narrative addictive in its appeal.
Now embarking on his follow-up series, The Unusual Me (view the premier trailer for the series he kindly gave us) we explored planet Patrick McPheron-it’s just on the edge of the Milky Way.
We always ask photographers to chart their journey to photography.
I believe I was born a creative person-it’s just something that is inside of me itching to get out. I went to school for graphic design and still do a lot of that today along with video editing, music, directing and photography. In terms of photography, my journey began when I took a 6-week course in photography and print-making in Sweden. It was there I learned the basic concepts of photography and learned to develop prints in the darkroom-I no longer develop my images but I appreciate the craft. I think because I am a creative, it’s difficult for me to stick to one thing-I only have one life so I have a lot to explore. At some point, I have a hunch I’ll make a movie or two. I have ideas and it’s my duty as an artist to be receptive to them.
Explain the emotions you feel when you see an image you have captured.
I feel pure gratification and affirmation when I see something standing before me in physical form that I’ve only previously seen in my mind’s eye. I could squeal with delight when I see all those elements like the model, lighting, costumes and wigs all in the frame-it’s like a dream that has materialised right before your eyes-that will always be exhilarating.
Substance over style explain what that means to you?
Instead of shooting a beautiful model on a white wall in a studio let’s photograph her being carried off by giant ants. Now more than ever we are all beat over the heads with images and information. I think one must elevate the craft in interesting ways to get noticed. I don’t think a model with a $8,000 handbag against a wall cuts it. I don’t find that type of work interesting. In fact, I despise it. I have always been attracted to photography that tells a story, exposes real life or takes me away to somewhere new-that’s what I find exciting.
You seem to enjoy the technical aspect of creating images-Jasper City is an interesting project.
I love all aspects of creating an image, from conception, to sourcing costumes, lighting and editing I enjoy it all. I know a lot of photographers hire out re-touchers but I couldn’t never do that. Retouching and editing is the last place where you put the cherry on top and make it stand out. I could never trust that task to someone else. In terms of Jasper City, that came out of a love for turn-of-the-century architecture and old photos. The whole concept takes different aspects from places that existed and then composites them into a “new” place called “Jasper City.” It’s a city at the edge of time and maybe on the edge of self-destruction. Even that series is a story-driven project. I love the idea of taking those people and exposing them to a new world in 2017. Those people could never conceive that they would ever end up in such a project. It makes me wonder where our faces will be in 100 years? I have 1,000’s of photos to go through so more Jasper City is on the way.
Has the technical aspect of photography become less important in today’s photographic world and indeed is that to the detriment of the art?
I would not say the technical aspects have become less important I would say technical aspects have become less technical. The accessibility to incredible gear and technology have become insane. Pair that with the flexibility of digital film and it certainly lessens the pressure to get it right in camera. Of course, you still must have something to say or something new to show to the world even if you shoot in a million-dollar studio with a $60,000 camera.
[I] ‘wish to make people know what happened before and after an image’ why is that so important?
This way of thinking was particularly important with the INVASION series because it was a narrative driven body of work. If the viewer looked at a piece and just saw a posed model and not a story then I failed! Being able to give a sense of history and place for the subject or story you are shooting is paramount. I think that gives an image life and depth. History helps people connect with it in a personal way which makes it more powerful. If those elements are absent, it’s just a study on form or color, which is fine but it’s just not something I am as attracted to.
We know you are very much involved in the world of videography there are natural synergies and cross overs but how do they interplay in your work?
I have always been interested in motion images but still images were a tiny bit easier to tackle as a vehicle for my work. Today’s cameras come packed with both mediums so I try to use them as much as I can. With the INVASION SERIES I made little promo vignettes that I would later use to promote the book and exhibits. With video, you have motion and an audio element that you don’t get with still images so that added another interesting dimension to the body of work. INVASION was so inspired by motion pictures and television shows it made perfect sense to have video elements in the mix. It also just allowed me to stretch my wings into uncharted territory on a cool project.
Ok let’s talk the INVASION series which we absolutely love. Chart that journey from a spark of an idea to its eventual conception/creation.
I think like most photographers, I started out shooting things around me; landscapes, architecture, flowers. I photographed a lot of that and I felt like I had exhausted that area. I needed a cohesive body of work that I could show to a gallery and say this is the type of work that I do. I racked my brain for a long time about what that might look like. I kept hearing, “Go with what you know and what interests you.” One day as I was lying in bed, halfway between dreaming and being awake- I suddenly had this vision of a series of images focused around a mid-century sci-fi theme. I saw big wigs, evil robots and colors galore. I looked over at my partner and said, “I am going to shoot a sci-fi photo series” and that is how it began.
And go through the actual process of creating this body of work from the book to the exhibitions.
Over the next three years I shot about half of the series with friends on the weekends. The first image I shot was the hallway shot with the half-naked clones. To finish the series with a bang I successfully did a Kickstarter Project and raised about $8,000 to help fund the rest of the images. I then spent 2015 shooting the rest of the images and producing the INVASION book. I also did the immersive INVASION exhibition twice in the following year. The exhibition was a whole other monster because there was so much involved. I refused to have a regular gallery show. INVASION deserved something more! I opted instead for an exhibition filled with sci-fi props, smoke machines and characters from the series live-in-person interacting with guests all set to a spooky sci-fi soundtrack-it was heaven.
This sounds like a mammoth undertaking.
It was a gigantic learning experience-from casting the models, getting permits, insurance to hiring a publicist and doing promotion; it was a lot. I learned so much but the biggest thing I learned was sometimes all you need to do is ask. Often, I think creatives can be their worst enemy and have this “Oh I can’t do that” mindset. So many things with INVASION came to fruition by me just asking for it. Whether it was casting or securing locations so many times I just asked and people were more than happy to help.
Explain more about the challenges in this shoot.
With any project of this scope it all comes down to schedule and budget. Where can we shoot this for free and still have it look amazing? How can I get these 8 people with very busy schedules together in one spot? How can I get people to come to this show? Also with any shoot you might think you have a sharp idea but once you have everything set in place it becomes frightfully clear it was not such a hot idea after all. I always leave room to play and always ask towards the end of the shoot if anyone on set has other ideas.
There was something about the post-world war American film period (50’s and 60’s) where those films dared to allow imagination to run amok you really seem to encapsulate that in your images.
I won’t claim to be some master historian but I think it’s safe to say art and entertainment always reflects the times. The basic story of INVASION is a very classic one in the sci-fi genre. In its simplest form, it is a tale of survival from a mad scientist. But there is a familiar narrative from that era which is fear and this mentality of “us versus them” which permeated the culture of that time and is an on-going narrative today. Michael Soares who wrote the epilogue for the book kind of got it perfect: “Lingering beneath the “Mad Men” tranquility of those years was the panic of the “Red Menace” of the Soviet Union and fears of a Communist invasion or, worse yet, nuclear annihilation. During the Cold War, suspicion ran rampant as to who was Red and who was Red-White-and-Blue. The science fiction films of the time such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) symbolically used aliens instead of, the real and far more probable invaders on everyone’s mind, the Russians. No Russian names were needed to be spoken in these films; the alien name Klaatu clearly got the point across and America always triumphed over the invaders.”
The women featured (from what we have seen) do not always fit those damsel in distress weak stereotypes which proliferated that period some seem quite the heroes.
One of my female friends [Becca] highlighted to me in the early work this discourse of the females being the ones who needed rescuing. That wasn’t a conscience decision as I was shooting the series it was simply what I was used to seeing in those old films and shows. So, for the second half I made a choice to have strong female characters in many of the shoots which I think made for a more interesting and stronger body of work-With the new series I will be pushing that idea even more.
The Unusual Me Series seems to be the follow on to the INVASION series so explain more about this new project.
The Unusual Me is a series that explore people’s double lives. I am obsessed with period pieces and in this work, I am jumping ahead a few decades from my last series INVASION and hopping into the mid to late 1970s. It’s the perfect period for; cults, serial killers, sexual freedom and secrets galore. We all have a facade that we present to the world; a side that our friends and family see. Of course, we also have a side of ourselves that only certain people get to know or sometimes a side of ourselves that we never show to anyone else. The series is about exploring that hidden side that we keep secret to most. It’s going to be an alternate universe with dark subject matter and a slightly tacky appearance.