James Mason: Nostalgic for Cars

James Mason is a UK-based photographer.  After obtaining his fine arts degree from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, James discovered photography was far more rewarding than drawing or sculpture. He loves to travel, walk around cities, and take in the environment around him which feeds his visual storytelling instincts. He has traveled to multiple countries across Asia, Europe, and North America capturing everything from simple street scenes to the delightful interplay of light, shapes, and style.  This week atlas speaks to James about his love of vintage cars and what inspired him to start shooting them.

Your collection of car images is masterfully brilliant yet fun and whimsical. Tell us a bit about this collection.

I’ve been photographing cars for about nine months. The first was a green Moskvitch that caught my eye in Sofia, The boldness of the green paintwork and cars elegant form stood out against its muted backdrop. Since then,I have been photographing similarly attractive cars with the same approach to technique as and when I see them.

Did you originally have a project in mind to photograph cars or did you start taking random photos of cars one day?

This was never supposed to be a project. The first image I produced was on a whim just to see how it would look. Since then, I have produced around 40 such images.

What was your creative approach with these unique images?

I am drawn almost exclusively to vintage cars. Unlike modern cars, vintage cars tend to have very distinctive forms that are evoke sophistication and the promise of a certain kind of lifestyle that may be synonymous with owning such vehicles. In this sense, they are historical objects with deeply inscribed meanings that go beyond their everyday usage.

I produce these images with an eye towards making these cars stand out, so the relationship between color and backdrop is important. It is not satisfying for me to merely photograph a car that I like.

What is it about cars that motivates you to photograph them? Were you big into cars when you were little?

I have never owned a driving license or even driven a car but have always been drawn to them as objects, specifically their aesthetics and connotations. As a child I was obsessed with drawing sports cars. I would sit and fill entire sketchbooks with pictures of an imaginary red sports car with pop-up headlights. These drawings were all near identical and would be composed side-on just like my photographs. They even included details of the cars setting such as curbs, walls, and street lamps. I had never considered the connection between this and my photographs until now.

How was are these images of vintage cars in line with your other photography work? Is it more of a departure or getting out of your comfort zone?

Most of my photography centers on the act of walking. For me the cars function as a kind of habit or exercise that takes place in-between what I think of as my ‘real’ photography when I am on these walks.  I never set out to look for these cars but will just photograph them when I see them whether in London or traveling elsewhere.

While I will not always find interesting subject matter, there is a good chance I will see a car that fits this body of work. It is reassuring to have this one thing that I will always photograph irrespective of what project I have in mind and to come away with something I like.

What is your favorite car?

I really love the Porsche 924. I would love to own one in black.

What direction, if any, do you want to take this collection of images? How do you want to further this project?

This is very much a personal collection. I think of these images as souvenirs of my walks and the cities I have visited. I like to print the photos and to have them around. Ultimately I want all my projects to become zines or photography books but I do not think there is anything compelling enough about these as a body of work to warrant a zine or a book. For now I will just continue to enjoy collecting them with no end goal in mind.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, James!

For more information about James, visit his Instagram.  All images © James Mason.

Chris König: The Faces of Morocco

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Chris König is a portrait and outdoor photographer from the Netherlands. He is a gifted visual storyteller with a keen eye and a unique style for capturing people during his travels around the world. While other photographers have difficulty interacting with strangers, Chris has a talent making connections with people by using simple eye contact, a smile, and patience. He makes people or street photography seem like an effortless yet masterful exercise.  Chris talks to atlas this week about why portrait photography resonates with him the most and how he was able to capture these brilliant images while in Morocco. (Editor’s Note: We wanted to showcase again one of our favorite features on documentary photography.  Chris Konig is one of the masters!)

How did you first get started in photography? How long have you been shooting?

Chris König: Around four years ago, I bought a camera to film some of the sports like climbing and running that my friends and I were doing. After a while I found myself constantly taking pictures of them and forgetting to film the whole thing. From there, my interests expanded into travel, adventurous lifestyle, and definitely the human interest such as in my Morocco photos.

You enjoy taking portraits the most. What is it about portraiture that appeals to you the most?

It is absolutely great to make that connection with someone. In the beginning I tried to capture people with a long telephoto lens so they would not notice I was there. I wanted to capture genuine emotions and day to day life. However, it was absolutely not satisfying to take pictures in this ‘sneaky’ way. So more and more I tried approaching people and asking to take their photo. The more I took photos, the more I found that you can put people at ease in a really short time and let them just do their thing without them paying attention to you. Of course, not everyone is interested in being in my photos. However, when they are it is so satisfying to have that interaction and connection with them, to share a laugh and to give them their own picture afterwards (by mail usually when possible.) I just love to capture emotions and show people how similar everyone is in certain ways all over the world.

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Your “Fez: A Moroccan Experience” series is fantastic with vibrant light and skillful composition. How did the Fez project come about? What inspired you to go to Morocco and take these images?

I think it is important to keeping working on personal projects to improve yourself. At the same time, I just love to experience some new adventures. When you are flying in between seasons, tickets can get fairly cheap and I arrived in Morocco basically not knowing anything. Of course, it is useful to know how to get around, where to sleep, what kind of money you need, etc., However, on previous trips (including six months in South East Asia), I found myself in the most amazing situations when I did not plan ahead and just went with the flow. I like to think of these projects as small personal challenges.

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While making this series, did you encounter any challenges? If so, what were they?

Although it is great to not have a plan, it can also work against you. The Medina (old centre) of Fez contains more than 8000 small streets and it can be quite tough to find your way around there. Sometimes I thought to myself, “I have to go back to this place during the sunset because it will be perfect with the right light!” But of course I could not find the place afterwards anymore. During those times, GPS can be helpful. On the other hand, the unsuspected situations and getting lost might get you into some perfect moments as well.

What was your experience like photographing strangers in a different country such as Morocco? How did you connect with the people?

When I arrived in Morocco and spoke to some people on the bus en route to the city, more than one person told me that it was difficult to photograph people in Morocco as they generally do not like it and think all pictures are going to be misused. In the end I did not come across people who were reluctant. I think the lesson I learned from it is that the connection you make with someone is even more important than what is ‘normal’ in their culture. Even though there is a huge language barrier (I do not speak French or Arabic and they did not speak English) the moments of eye contact, a little smile, and patience bring you quite far. Usually I just wait around a little bit when I see something interesting happen. By being interested in the actual moment while your camera tucked away inside your bag, people tend to be more open for interaction. I found that walking up to someone with your camera already in your hand makes it so much more difficult to get the picture. Just go for genuine interaction and something good will come out of it. It is more fun anyway to work with ‘real people’ instead of just seeing someone as a subject for your picture. As I mentioned before, handing them their own picture whenever possible is a great gift for most people.

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Are you currently working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

Since I just returned from another project in South Africa, there are fewer projects scheduled in the portrait category for the next two months, but I hope to go to a nice Scandinavian country in January or February to capture those beautiful snowy landscapes. It is so relaxing to just hike all those kilometers in order to find the perfect moment.

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Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you?

Portrait-wise a huge inspiration is Joey L. He is only 26 years old, but he has already done so many amazing projects. Earlier this year he went to a war zone in Syria to portray the women fighting on the front lines. I think the combination of his beautiful lighting/composition, willingness to take risks, and passion for human emotions is just amazing. It is a true inspiration for me.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Do not think too much about what you want to achieve later on. Just go out and shoot a lot and along the way you will find out. I spent so much time watching tutorials and learning about everything, but I think it is much better to just learn while doing.

For more information about Chris, visit his website. All images © Chris König.

Sage Brown: Honoring Mother Nature

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Sage Brown is a Portland, Oregon-based photographer and art director. Raised in the Appalachian Mountains, Sage launched a personal project called “Places I Am,” a series of beautiful images taken a couple of years ago in Oregon and Washington. He not only created a set of stunning postcards, but a website as well specifically for this project.  atlas talks to Sage about how his photography career has evolved and what inspired him to launch the “Places I Am” project. (Editor’s Note: As we roll into 2017, we wanted to get re-inspired by some of our favorite features from the last year. Enjoy these brilliant images from the gifted Sage Brown!)

How did you first get started in photography? Did you have a prior job/career before you started photography?

Sage Brown: When I was sixteen I enrolled in a black and white dark room class at the local community college. It was great. I spent all my free time in the darkroom making prints and stacks of them are still sitting in my closet today. My interests wandered for a good number of years and I wasn’t shooting very much until I dug my old AE-1 out of the closet again five or six years ago. I went on to study graphic design. For the past ten years, I have worked as an interactive designer but photography was always something I did on the side. Last year I was ready for some change and decided to take the leap and pursue photography full time.

How would you describe your photography?

Most of my work has come from the time I spend outdoors. I shoot a lot of landscapes and outdoor lifestyle, but I think that’s just the beginning. I never want to define myself by one type of work.

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You grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. Has growing up in that region of the country made an impact on your photography? If so, how?

I do not think it has made a direct impact, but I can certainly credit my love for exploring the outdoors to my upbringing. I had a pretty non-traditional childhood. Many of my days were spent traipsing around the woods surrounding our home, building tree forts, and fishing. I think to some degree I am still running around in the wilderness exploring in the same way I was as a child only now with a little more purpose.

You recently completed a personal project called “Places I Am.” The “Places I Am” series as a whole is a gorgeous piece of work. Tell us more about this project. How did this project come about, what was your inspiration? How long did it take to complete?

Thank you. I initially started the project just about a year ago, but due to a myriad of reasons, I was not able to finish it until midway through 2015. At the time, I was a little frustrated with my full time job and was really tired of sitting at a desk all day. I was struggling with some health issues and had started making a list of “places I’d rather be” – places other than my desk. The project took off from there and I continued to solidify the idea. Instead of focusing on the places I’d rather be, a small change in the wording to “Places I Am” made the overall concept much stronger:

Places I Am is a series of photos celebrating places that capture my spirit. Each moment I spend exploring these beautiful places changes and inspires me. With each visit I leave a small piece of myself; these places become a part of me and remain so forever. The memories haunt me and propel me to continue searching for what’s next. I am here always.

I wanted the project to have both a physical and digital component, so I decided to see if I could sell a set of postcards. I had never tried selling any of my work before and figured it would be a good experiment. It was a fun way to push myself to make some personal work to share with the world. I am not sure how many sets of postcards I sold, but I think it was a good exercise for myself to work through a concept and self-publish it.

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How did you go about deciding which images to photograph for “Places I Am”?

The process was pretty simple. I culled the list of places down from 20-30 to a manageable number, and then I dug through my work from the past year pulling images that fit the final list of places. Since most of the places were based on trips I had taken, it was pretty easy to find images that fit what I was thinking about. All of the photos were taken in Oregon and Washington in 2014.

Are there any photographers that have influenced you? If so, who?

This is such a hard question for me. I feel overloaded by outside influence these days and I have a hard time filtering through the noise. As I dive back in to the self employed world, I really admire anyone who is following their heart and doing what they love.

How do you see your work evolving over the next 3-5 years?

Right now I am very interested in photographing people more — I want to shoot more portraits. I think the outdoors will always play a part in my work, but at the same time I am interested to see how I can use my work as an means to travel, meet people, and explore new cultures.

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What is your next project?

I hope to self-publish a book in 2016.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Just go for it. I’ve never been much of a planner and have always followed my gut. It’s not always easy, but it usually works. Follow what you love and see where it takes you. Life is too short to wish you had done something else.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Sage!

For more information about Sage, visit his website. All images © Sage Brown.