Mark Peckmezian’s studio is just a quick subway ride from the Allday office. On a cold February morning we met the photographer for a tour of his workspace—a big, bright studio nestled in Brooklyn.
Mark’s enthusiasm for his medium was evident, and it was a pleasure to hear him sound off on his gear, the dark room, and the photographic process behind his unique style.
We’re looking forward to checking out Mark’s latest book, produced exclusively for The Gift Shop.
Tell me a little bit about your love of photography. When did it start?
It’s something that I’ve always done. I started taking pictures in a serious way in high school. It’s sort of cliché, but it all started with my first experience in the dark room. There’s something so magical about the dark room. It was in the dark room that I first fell in love with it and I became obsessed with it. Then while I was still at high school, I built my own darkroom at home in the basement. The darkroom is still for me like almost mythical...
It’s a sacred place. You go there, you’re in a dark room with nothing but photos. There’s nothing else but images and they’re glowing in the dark. Basically you pay devotion to photography. Where I learned everything I know today is in the darkroom, just spending hours and hours and hours in the dark, just obsessed with it.
Tell us about your love for colors because the colors in your photos are very vivid and subtle.
I only really started shooting color at all 4 or 5 years ago. Until then I shot almost everything on Black and White. I finally started doing color in 2010. I came to it late and with a weird point of view. I spend a lot of time in Photoshop. I’ll spend a week on an image just fine-tuning it. Not every image, obviously, but I’ve spent a long as a week, just on a single image. I take that part of it very, very seriously and I think the way an image looks is very important.
The light is very soft in many of your photos.
A big part of that is just the equipment I use, on film. To me, film’s always looked sharp. Once you see digital, film looks soft. Digital makes everything way too sharp. It’s a disgusting thing. It’s so ugly. Anything you show on film instantly looks very soft, yes, but also some of the cameras I use, there’s a certain old lens that makes everything a bit softer, or makes the light flare. It’s probably a mix of that, shooting on film at all and also the old lenses.
Some of Mark’s Works:
Before shooting in color, you were strictly dedicated to black & white. You found a specific approach there also.
I spent from the age of 15 until 26, just in the darkroom, seeing everything in Black and White. I’m very uptight and picky about black and white tones. I really respect anyone who can print really well in the darkroom. People think it’s really simple because there are no colors; it’s just black and white. I think it’s much harder to make an image look good in Black and White than in color actually.
“Black and white photography seems so simple. That’s why it’s harder.”
I’m not sure, I think it’s because it’s so simple that it’s harder. I don’t know but I can spot a bad black and white image or an image that has bad tones. Do you know August Sander? He has the best tones but it’s also because of the equipment he uses. The negative he uses is huge. He was printing on this paper that—back then the paper was different—it had like a different chemistry to it and it had like a much longer tonal curve so it was like super fine contrast. You could get detail in the highlights that you couldn’t really get on paper today. A large format captures more detail in general. It definitely looks richer in large format but then also if you shoot large format and you print on the same paper they were using back then, that paper because of its chemistry, it just has like a different kind of tonal curve, like I always say it’s like a longer curve, much finer details in the shadows and highlights, basically it’s like a longer curve, like this to me is beautiful [looking at the photography] isn’t it great?
Tell me a little bit about your current projects or upcoming projects, what are you excited about?
For the gift shop, I’m working on a book of flower photos; I’m actually in the middle of that now. I’m compiling these interesting graphics I like. I have a bunch of photos like this, plant photos.
What would be your dream job right now?
My dream, I think I’d like to do fashion stories for a few magazines that I really like, I really like Double. It’s the best fashion magazine out there. I’ve been doing so much fashion; I’m starting to think about my projects in a fashion context.
I think my personal work doesn’t belong on a gallery wall, I think it belongs book form. So I think from now on I want to make books and zines.
Work with publishers rather than galleries?
My work makes more sense in a book than a gallery wall. I’m going to be done showing in galleries, just because I feel like it’s not actually ideal for my work.
Is there a particular mindset or mood when you’re taking a portrait?
It’s different each time. I feel like it is. I’ll approach each person differently. Sometimes I want to sort of poke fun of the person. Other times I want something more serious. It depends. But I would say that portraiture is my number one passion or creative interest in photography. I’ve only been doing fashion for the past year or so, and portraiture is something I've always been interested in and still interested in.
When you’re taking a portrait, are you looking for something in particular: detachment, inner personality or something aesthetic? They all have this daydreaming element.
If there is a certain common mood to them, I’m not aware. There’s maybe quiet moments or reflective moments… I think those are states that I aspire to, that idealize perhaps. But I do know what I like. I just don’t know how to describe it.
Could you just give me a few of your influences or references?
My first big artistic crush, someone I was really obsessed with for a long time Stanley Kubrick. I was really obsessed with him from a young age until now. His films have a very distinct mood like I really admire him for a lot of reasons. Photography my biggest, my favorite photographer is William Eggleston. He’s like a perfect photographer. I could give you a thousand names but I’m trying to think of really hold in super high esteem.
“Portraiture is my number one passion [...] in photography.”
Do you constantly go back to Eggleston these days?
Definitely. His portraiture is the best portraiture I’ve ever seen. There’s a book of his called 5x7 it’s the best portraiture I’ve ever seen. I love it so much, it’s amazing. They’re just doing everything I want to be doing, there’s something about them that’s very smart. It’s like the photos are beautiful but they're like understated.