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March 14, 2013

Meet the Artists: Mark Simmons

Written by Laura Marquez Perez

Mark Simmons is the Bristol-based photographer whose work decorates the purple side of £B5 printed pounds. I met with him at the wonderful Small St. Espresso to discuss his design and work, the Bristol Pound and the digitalisation of photography. Originally from London, Mark came to Bristol in 1982 to study chemistry at the University of Bristol, and, like many other students before him, he has been here ever since. Mark is currently based in Montpelier, and is a full-time photographer. Mark is a txt2pay user himself, both as an  individual and in his business, and he believes that it’s an opportunity for users and traders both to be a part of something bigger. Although starting such a project is difficult, the Bristol Pound seems to be doing well, and he really hopes it succeeds.

Mark is primarily a social documentary photographer whose work focuses on people and communities. In 2008 he released a book called Bristol Black & White, in which he captures the people of Bristol over 25 years. It was a photograph from this book that he submitted to the Bristol Pound competition, after being encouraged to enter by one of the Bristol Pound directors. The photograph itself was taken at the St. Paul’s carnival (with a Canon Digital SLR) in 2005. It features two schoolgirls getting ready to perform the parade in Portland Square. Showcasing one of Bristol’s best-known community events, it really gives a flavour of what makes Bristol special: it’s community spirit and it’s ever-present artistic culture.

More recently, Mark has been focused on commission work. He photographs many weddings, which he shoots mostly in the style of social documentary, as well as documenting arts and community projects and PR work. It took Mark longer than most to move into the digital age of photography, as he skipped the generation of semi-automatic film cameras with autofocus.Today he shoots mostly with a digital camera, a Canon 5DII DSLR, but he still thinks that digitalisation has changed photography to the point where one could even say it’s an entirely new medium. The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the moment when you press the shutter “The Decisive Moment”. The scene you capture and consequently the photograph you end up taking, depends greatly on the moment your finger presses. That, says Mark, has been lost to some extent with the shift to digital photography because the focus screens don’t allow for quick manual focusing. In the “old days” of film, it was much simpler. There was much less between you and the subject, just the lens, and you couldn’t just take consecutive frames. Each shot was more valuable, and you thought it out more. Even though digital photography is more convenient in many ways, for example the fact that it’s cheaper, multiple frames and autofocus have taken away from the spontaneity, mystique and even the discipline of the art.

Mark’s future plans include a re-issue of his now sold out book, where he will try and trace some of the people who feature in his photographs–including the girls on the £B5 note– are now. His experience with the Bristol Pound has given him new motivation to go back to shooting film and documenting the diverse, arty and laid back city that is Bristol. That is the sort of work that he enjoys doing most.

Mark Simmons website: http://www.marksimmonsphotography.com/

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