Photographer Interview: Andrew Mulvey

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Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Andrew Mulvey is an Australian photographer who works predominantly in black and white. He’s a practitioner of the relatively new field of long exposure photography, and also likes to work in the square format. He has some beautiful work, and I’m sure you’ll love his photos. He gives some interesting insights into his creative process and his approach to composition in the interview which I know you’ll enjoy.

If you like his work, or have any questions about it, please let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Andrew Mulvey Interview

How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, one of subject isolation. I suppose you might call it a form of minimalism.

For me, photography is not about documentation. Instead, it represents a unique opportunity to present objects and natural formations independent of their surroundings. By tightly controlling negative space, you can better concentrate the viewer’s attention on the subject and re-present it in a very different way.

Hopefully, my work allows others to observe things differently, to see what they might not in the midst of all the sensory noise that makes up the totality of their experience. It is gratifying when someone views my work, recognises a scene or subject and is fascinated by its new presentation. I want people to be surprised and thrilled when they see my work.

Name three photographers you like and why.

Murray Fredericks, an Australian photographer and visual artist whose patient work on Australia’s Lake Eyre, the Greenland ice sheet and in the Tiwi Islands has resulted in some of the most extraordinary images I have ever seen. Murray’s commitment to a long-term, project-based approach to photography in difficult environments is as inspiring as the images he produces. His work displays an exacting and utterly compelling photographic vision as well as a relentless commitment to technical perfection.

Michael Levin, the Canadian photographer, who I don’t doubt reinvigorated interest in black and white long exposure photography the world over. Michael’s greatest skill, however, is undoubtedly his mastery of composition. Michael’s black and white and colour work is characterised by an extraordinary sense of balance as if, somehow, you are looking at an image taken precisely when everything – all the various conditions – were in rare and perfect harmony.

I had a phone and web-based portfolio review with Michael years ago and the change in my photography afterwards was immediate and surprising. He has an incredible grasp of composition and sense of balance.

David Fokos, whose work in the United States, particularly on Martha’s Vineyard, is simply amazing. David creates images that are wonderfully beautiful, filled with soft tones and graduated light. Compositionally, David’s work is superb but his ability to visualise a scene and apply post-processing skills is simply amazing. His work is truly artful.

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?

Long exposures suit my vision. Combined with coastal photography, long exposures allow me to create the perfect negative space to suit my subject and impart a broader, atmospheric quality.

I am also very attracted by the scenic transformation that long exposures afford. The results can often be surprising and unexpected. Routine scenes and subjects can be made extraordinary by long exposure photography.

How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?

Living in Western Australia, I suffer through the long and sunny summer! I much prefer to shoot under cloudy skies, quite often when it is raining, due to the even and controlled light that results. It’s much easier to impose lighting on a scene or subject during RAW or Photoshop processing than when out in the field.

That said, I have recently started exploring colour photography to take better advantage of the climate here. Sunsets in Western Australia are short-lived but they can create amazing opportunities for long exposure photography, particularly during the twenty minutes of last light after the sun has set below the horizon.

How does living in a country like Australia with such variety of landscape affect your approach to landscape photography?

Australia presents challenges and opportunities in equal measure when it comes to landscape photography.

Distance makes photography a real challenge if you want to present a diverse range of work. It’s not unusual for me to drive well over 1,000kms in three days to try and get a shot. When I visited Tasmania in 2014, I drove 2,700kms in seven days for a total of four useable images. The weather, too, can make things difficult if your preference is for overcast conditions.

On the other hand, Australia is a huge, continental island which means there are unlimited opportunities for coastal photography. The size of Australia and its wide range of climatic conditions also provides a wide variety of scenes and, if you are prepared to spend plenty of time in a car or plane, there is literally no limit to what you can photograph. It just takes time and commitment.

The Australian landscape is often photographed in colour. Yet you work in black and white. What is the appeal of monochrome for you, and how does it affect your approach to composition?

Australia has obvious benefits for colour photography. The red land, deep blue sky, multi-coloured oceans, white salt lakes and the spectacular sunsets all make for great opportunities. Still, there is a special pleasure and challenge in shooting those scenes in monochrome, relying on tone, composition and subject to present a strong and compelling image without the benefit of colour. Monochrome demands strong contrast and this means that images that might work in colour will not always be suitable in black and white.

What’s the appeal of the square format for you and how does working in a square frame affect your approach to composition?

The square format has been part of the challenge of my photography over the past few years. On one hand, the square format suits my intent to isolate subjects and present them as somehow distinct from their surroundings. On the other, the subject must be particularly compelling because the square format requires you to sacrifice the broader perspective that your mind and eyes are used to and which we habitually associate with grand and eye-opening scenes. The square format challenges this natural convention and, in doing so, challenges the photographer, too.

What is your position (if you have one!) on popular rules such as the rule of thirds? Do you pay much attention to them, or do you take another approach to composition? How is placement of the subject affected by working in the square frame?

The rule of thirds does matter but not always. If you look at my work, it is obvious that I have applied this rule quite frequently. However, and I think this is important, I have not applied this role consciously most of the time. Instinctively, many of my images observe this rule because it does seem to make sense from a compositional perspective. This isn’t always the case, though, and it is important not to be bound too much by convention or expectation. My Stirling Ranges image does not observe any particular compositional rule yet, at my exhibition, this was one of the most popular images.

You are currently running a solo exhibition in Perth, Western Australia. Do you mind talking us through the process you went through to obtain gallery representation? What have you learnt from it?

I have to confess that my exhibition was held at the Central Institute of Technology in Perth, where I also work. This perhaps made it a little easier to organise the exhibition, because I knew some of the people involved in the art school there. Nonetheless, it was hard work.

I met and emailed with the gallery director a few times to present my work and discuss exhibition possibilities.

As a first timer, it was agreed that the best approach would be for me to present in the self-service gallery where I or paid assistants would do all the work. A date for the exhibition was set six months in advance and I got to work finalising my portfolio and getting my prints framed. Over that time, the gallery and I collaborated on promotion via local and national websites, the preparation of printed promotional materials, mailouts to my contacts and those of the gallery and organisation of a launch night, complete with catering and drinks.

Having all fourteen images framed with double mattes was really important. The presentation of your work makes a huge difference in a gallery setting and gives prospective buyers a good idea of how it might look hung at home or in their office.

Most importantly, the exhibition taught me that professional exposure does not come easily or quickly. It takes time and a lot of work. I sat most gallery openings after work and on weekends and invested a lot of money in framing and the launch. Plus, you take the personal risk of presenting your work to the public and allowing others to make a judgement. It is confronting but very, very valuable.

Perhaps you could explain the story behind three of your photos?

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Mathinna Falls – This was my first stop when visiting Tasmania in the winter of 2014. Everything was drenched and covered in slippery moss. I spent three hours shooting this waterfall from a variety of angles but straight on worked best. This allowed me to place the waterfall centre in the photograph and capture the two tiers just above the main fall, which effectively substituted for the lack of sky. Including some of the pool at the bottom of the image helped to give the waterfall itself some context and present an end point. The wet and glistening rocks on either side of the waterfall communicate how cold and damp it was at the falls. Inevitably, I slipped and fell in the river. It was only a matter of time.

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Stirling Ranges – This image was shot in the middle of the gravel road that runs through the Ranges. Traditionally, the Ranges are shot to emphasise their size and grandeur, given they are the only real mountain range in Western Australia. My image focuses much more on the tones of the Ranges, something much easier to do in monochrome. The Ranges are paradoxically reduced to a small part of the image and, in combination with the enormous sky, emphasise its size, rather than the Ranges themselves.

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Four Sticks – This was a chance photo. Hiking through the Nullaki Peninsula in Western Australia’s Great Southern to find another shot, this emerged in the pouring rain as I returned to my car. It only took about half an hour to get this shot but plenty of post-processing afterwards. The vision of four vertical sticks rising up out of the dull grey water, backgrounded by a vague image of the other side of the inlet was too good to pass up. A long exposure photographer’s dream.


You can learn more about Andrew Mulvey and his work at his website.

Photo gallery

Here are some more of Andrew’s photos:

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

Black & white photo by Andrew Mulvey

All photos Copyright © Andrew Mulvey. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.

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