Photographer Robin Mellor shoots for people like The Guardian, Esquire, Huck, Elle Deco and Image Source, exploring the dynamic relationship between people and place
Robin Mellor’s favourite photo is The King of Billingsgate (see below), an environmental portrait of a worker at London’s traditional fish market. Mellor’s skill in his enviromental portraits is the way he balances foreground and background. His images blend people and craftsmen with the objects and tools they work with. Like the photo below of furniture designer Robin Martino Gamper, for Elle Deco, where the lighting merges the human with the craftsman.
He has an eye sensitive to the visual possibilities of spaces, like Hannah (see main image above) balancing between all all those graphic, zig-zagging vertical lines, the fencing, the steps, the handrail.
Or the Indian man he shot in the desert (see below), in his own bubble surrounded by the visual chaos of the signage. “I found him just sitting there in the middle of nowhere,” says Mellor, ” he didn’t speak English and I didn’t see how he got there, it was a very strange situation.”
You can see why Mellor is attracted to the American desert (he has a section devoted to it on his website) it’s endless space broken up by human stuff that’s wonderfully random: Las Vegas itself; dinosaurs (see below); the sad, lonely, evocative communication devices of the rural postbox;
or the shadowy concrete canyons of the skate-park.
1. A shot of a single object that expresses a powerful memory/event
The shot of the dinosaur in the desert is a very powerful memory and has been part of the inspiration for my new project which I’ll be shooting next month in the desert in America. That part of California is so iconic, as I’ve grown up watching so many films that share the backdrop, when you travel around this area, it’s almost as if you re-enacting part of those films you’ve seen so many time before.
2. Three books that have inspired you?
Trona: Armpit of America – Tobias Zielony, Weird USA, Lost At Sea – John Ronson.
3. Favourite photo you have taken?
The King of Billingsgate.
4. Favourite artist/photographer/image-maker?
I couldn’t say I have one favourite artist or photographer, I love a lot of photographers work such as Tobias Zielony, Ida Kar and Jacob Holdt.
5. Describe briefly your journey to becoming a successful professional photographer?
I studied for a degree in Photography at London College of Fashion, from there I went onto become a studio assistant – not a great job but definitely a right of passage I think, it also allowed me to meet a lot of photographers who I went onto assist.
I was always freelance as an assistant, so I worked with a huge variety of photographers with many different styles and ways of working. I was originally a lighting assistant and then moved into the digital side.
I was always shooting my own stuff while assisting, whether it was small editorial jobs or just personal work. I think it’s important to do this while assisting if your goal is to become a photographer.
From there I went onto shoot editorial for various newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian, Independent, Wonderland, Tank and Elle Deco.
I have recently moved into advertising, working with brands such as Adidas, MTV and Nespresso.
6. Your series on the world of British manufacturing has a lovely feel for tools and objects and the textures, patterns and shapes of workspaces. When did you start shooting the world of British manufacturing and what inspired it?
I’ve always love shooting people in their own environments, and tend to get a lot of editorial work that is of this nature. The series is made up from a mixture of personal and commissioned work that I’ve shot in over the last couple of years.
Although British manufacturing has taken a real battering over the last few decades, the factories that are left tend to be the really technical and craft-orientated ones, where the people who work their have a real passion and skill for their work. It’s great to shoot people who have worked in the same place for so many years as they seem to almost merge with the environments, and to see all the little details that have slowly been arranged over the years.
7. What makes a successful portrait? Could you say something about a couple of your favourites?
I’m sure different people look for different things when thinking of what makes a great portrait, but for me, I just really try and keep it very simple, you need to make the sitter relax and trust you, as any tension will always show through in the final image. As I usually have relatively complex backgrounds to the images I try to keep everything else such as lighting and poses as natural as possible.
I love the portrait of Roger at Billingsgate Fish Market (see above), he’s a very confident and outspoken character, we were doing a portrait / documentary piece for The Guardian at the time and so I only took a couple of shots without any lighting, It came out great as he is just himself, confident proud and perfectly at home in his environment.
I also really like the portrait of the Indian man I took at a Gas station in the middle of the desert in America, he looks so serene and is such a contrast to all the logos and brands behind him. I found him just sitting there in the middle of nowhere, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t see how he got there, it was a very strange situation.
8. You also shoot Fashion photography, where your relationship with the subject is quite different to documentary or portraiture. What kind of eye and attitude do you need, to pull off a great fashion photo?
I wouldn’t say that fashion shoots are really much different to the other shoots I do, Obviously I get more time and can direct them more than in a documentary situation but I try to keep It quite similar, in that everything is still very relaxed and natural, sometimes we do need to create the atmosphere a little more, in order to create exactly what we’re after but it’s still a matter of keeping the subject really relaxed as I hate models to really ‘pose’ because this is when it becomes forced and looks extremely forced and fake.
9. You do portraits for a number of quality but niche magazines such as House, Huck and Wonderland. What are the different nuances you have to deliver for each of these magazines?
I wouldn’t say there’s too much of a difference in what I do for the different magazines I work for, the ones I shoot for regularly all trust my judgement and style, so it’s more of a case and getting the best pictures we can from a given situation rather than trying to keep too much to a certain magazine’s aesthetic.