The Matt Mawson Dear Damn Diary Exclusive Interview

The Matt Mawson Dear Damn Diary Exclusive Interview

Talent is one of the most amazing intangibles in existence. Everyone seems to have it in some way, even though a person can go a lifetime without discovering it. Then there is that large percentage of people that know their talent, but still cannot figure out a way to make use of it. Then there lies the much smaller group of people, that not only nurture their talent, but they get to make great use of it. I was reminded of all of this, when I got acquainted with Photographer Matthew Mawson.

I was initially attracted to photos I had uncovered online of Matt’s. Upon further research, I discovered on Matt’s website ( ) that not only was he an amazing visionary, he was using those gifts in far away places, and quite often, bringing awareness to some very needy causes in those places along with a successful commercial career.

MD: Tell us a bit about your experiences documenting crisis situations around the globe.

Matt Mawson: Working freelance as a so-called documentary photographer is risky and can be bad for your financial and physical health. However I wanted out of the constraints of studio photography in where I was working in London and took myself off to Africa and began shooting commissions for non-governmental organizations for instance the U.N. that allowed access to some countries in Central Africa that would otherwise be off limits. The most challenging and interesting projects I undertook were spent in Rwanda during the genocide and later in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MM: Later I worked alongside a group of human rights lawyers in southern Turkey and the mountains of Northern Iraq documenting the situation regarding Kurdish separatists from where I moved onto working in Bosnia with Marie Stopes International who were involved with the counseling of rape victims during the Balkans war. Not long after President Ceausescu of Romania was put up against a wall and shot I found myself documenting people in that country who had leprosy and lived in a tight community near the Black Sea. I also spent time photographing Romanian Gypsy communities and many elderly sometimes forgotten people left to die in badly equipped hospitals and those terribly polluted towns that produce tires. All a legacy of that mad man Ceausescu. These NGO groups allowed access to these situations from where I could build a library of documentary work.

MM: The last project I did was yesterday here in Mexico (where I spend most of my time now) documenting people who work and live on the city garbage mountain.

MD: What images do you remember most influencing you when you began taking photos and creating your style?

MM: I have always wanted to creative a ‘graphic’ image and early in my career I have looked to a few photographers for ideas especially the Russian photographer and designer Alexander Rodchenko and the Moravian photographer Josef Koudelka especially his image of a dog in the snow. That image stays with me.

MM: But this slightly unnerving image of a baby and a tricycle by the American Gary Winogrand is my choice. I love the graphic composition and the way it draws the viewer in. It can describe many scenarios but I can image an atomic blast out of frame that has kind of transfixed baby. I reckon the baby’s time is up in a few seconds when the blast gets there and flattens the house. A photograph has to get you thinking.

MD: If you had to choose one photograph of yours to save, if every other shot you ever took was about to be erased, which photo would that be, and why?

MM: I would choose a personal photograph of myself and my partner taken with a self-timer nearly breaking my neck to get into position on a rock by the sea. I could never capture that moment again. I wouldn’t complain if everything else I done was erased. Starting with a clean sheet would be so refreshing.

MD: What advice would you give an artist starting out who wants to have the success you have achieved?

MM: Firstly blatantly steal creative ideas from great photographers till you develop your own style. Try and shoot everything different from the next person. Images are everywhere and everyone is taking photographs with all manner of devices. So you got to think differently. Otherwise why bother.

MD: Who are the three people you are thinking about most these days?

MM: One, my partner. Two, my long lost friend of so many years ago who turned up suddenly out of the blue after googling me and is now coming to stay here in Mexico where we have a lot to catch up on and three, some poor kid I met covered in our stinking household waste who is so destitute that he has to work scavenging on the city garbage mountain instead of being at school with his mates.

MD: If you could read one persons Diary in this world who would it be?

MM: I don’t know, probably someone like George Bush Jnr. or the ex-chairman of Goldman Sachs, Henry Paulson to figure out what made them tick and to figure out how such powerful men can be such fucking arseholes and self-centred bastards.

Matt Mawson

See some of Our Favorite Photographs of Matt’s below, with some brief descriptions on their backgrounds:

Elderly retired people sitting on a bench looking out to see in Adeje on the Spanish Island of Tenerife. This resort is a haven for retired couples all over Europe who want to catch some all year sun.

Corporate shoot for the global bank ING. A restaurant shot as though seen through the eyes of the bank CEO having lunch. The image had to show he was eating in Paris hence the Eiffel Tower . I had had a few glasses of wine and it looks like I shot it drunk lying on the floor. They used it anyway.

The shrimp fleet in Mazatlán Mexico. I shot a story of the lives of the Mexican fishermen. Shrimp fishing is seasonal and during the off season they spend relaxing on the rusty boats many drinking and smoking spliff to pass the empty months till the season starts again.

A photoshoot in Las Vegas for the corporate company Boyd Gaming. We hired some young models to try and convince people that this particular hotel was a lively young place when it was actually a hotel where many old people spend their time. I shot it with a heavy Hasselblad using available light from a street lamp on the strip.

This is a bell foundry in central London that makes church bells and has been making bells since 1640. It was a personal project and again I used a heavy Hasselblad with available light. These shots convinced me to get rid of that equipment and use much lighter Canon 5D2 gear where you can shoot in near darkness.

This is an image of Shanghai from the 80 th floor of the hotel I was staying for another corporate shoot. This was shot at about 4pm as the sun was sinking into the smog. I took out some colour and intensified the blacks in post production but the orange colour is genuine. Shot on a digital Hasselblad 503 CWD.

This is an image of some Mexicans girls having fun while getting ready to go on stage for a Passion Play in an open theatre in Mazatlán.

Las Vegas. On a shoot for Boyd Gaming during the construction of a new hotel on the Strip. Hasselblad 503CWD

An assignment for the City of London UK. They needed to update their photo library with a new set of images of London. I shot this on a street called Brick Lane where there is a large muslim community and many Indian style restaurants and I had o find ingenious ways of disguising people's identity so they did not have to sign model release forms. Again shot on a heavy Hasselblad. Street photography is not suited to this equipment.

Again for the City of London. I had to disguise this man's identity at a famous botanical garden called Kew Gardens. He is a botanist cleaning the lily house.

City of London photoshoot. This is a pod on The Millennium Wheel that goes round and round near the Thames River and that is Big Ben the famous London Clocktower in the background. It kind of looks over produced but that was the intention to make it look like an early colour film. I think I succeeded if you have ever seen those wartime colour movies.

Two elderly ladies in London UK eating a specialty food of eels in a jelly sauce . This was a photo-shoot for a Paris France news agency about the British celebrating the anniversary of victory of the Second World War. Hence the funny hats.

A barber cutting hair in Mazatlan Mexico. Personal project

A personal project of the life in a pool hall in Mazatlan Mexico. The sign announces that it is prohibited to bring alcohol inside. The owner 'El Perico' is giving me the eye.

Once a year there is a motorcycle rally in Mazatlan Mexico when thousands of motorcyclists and their gangs come into town for a weekend. You can imagine the drinking and noise that goes on that weekend.

Much Thanks to Matt Mawson for his Interview with Dear Damn Diary.

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