Mark Seager is a freelance photographer based in London. His dramatic, colourful and dynamic images have captured everything from the vicious sport of Buzkashi in Afghanistan to the illustrations of the guerrilla graffiti artist Banksy on the Israeli-Palestinian border.
Seager has worked across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America to produce commissioned work for a wide variety of media clients, including the Independent Magazine, the Sunday Times Magazine, Le Monde 2 and Maxim. His images have also been featured in advertising campaigns for SIDI cycling shoes, Specialised bikes and the sports brand Umbro.
Q. How did you initially get into photojournalism?
A. By accident really. I was travelling extensively in S.E Asia and never carried a camera. I never felt compelled to make pictures while travelling but made visual notes usually at the way people went about their lives rather then the scenery. This served me well when I later picked up a camera, I did not run around like a nutter pressing the shutter but observed before doing so.
The money ran out and I ended up in Hong Kong and got a job as a dogsbody in the art dept on the South China Morning Post and became interested in photography.
Q. What has been your most memorable experience while out on a job and why?
A. Riding the Buzkashi in Afghanistan. Myself and the writer I collaborated with were the first journalists ever to be invited to participate. We spent 6 days with these amazing Tajik and Uzbek men learning the fundamentals of the game. I am a competent rider but have never tried to shoot while riding especially as Buzkashi is basically like rugby on horseback. On the day of the main event there were at least 200 horses charging around. It was an amazing experience. Obviously the magazine who commissioned the piece was more than happy with our gonzo journalistic exploits but I think they overlooked the fact that the pictures were shot on horseback.
Although the story was subsequently widely published I never felt I received the recognition I deserved. So if any features editor reading this would like to publish the story and big me up please get in touch! 🙂
Q. What kind of emotions or aspects of your subjects do you look to bring out in your work?
A. Any and all of them. Certain emotions are easy to photograph but also leave you feeling like shit. Grief is the one that really gets you and this sometimes leads to the other difficult emotion of anger and that can be dangerous. Photographers deal with it or are immune to it. During the Lebanon war in 2006 I was commissioned to photograph the destruction to the infrastructure so was detached from the human side of war. It was kind of a mechanical process composing pictures of total devastation thinking about the complex engineering involved in the ordnance used to create such devastation. It was only when I looked at the results on the contact sheets did I realise there were cars under or on the collapsed bridges with people in them at the time.
Q. What equipment do you prefer to use on a shoot?
A. I use a variety of cameras but not obsessed with gear. In 35mm I have both film and digital cameras but I do prefer to shoot medium format film whenever I can. I usually use a Mamiya 6 as it’s small and light but also shoot on a TLR and I have a couple of Holgas as well. I love the Holga 120. It’s pure joy, that feeling of not knowing what your going to get.
Q. How do you come up with ideas for subjects or locations to shoot?
A. Many ways. Thinking a lot about whats getting published, what is in fashion is a good start. Researching story ideas is laborious but so important. A couple of years back I shot quite a few commissions for one particular magazine and knew what kind of features they liked. That way you can tailor your proposals to a specific client. Every idea I came up with got a green light but that was before the economic downturn. Now magazines are much more likely to reject an idea because of budget constraints.
Q. You’ve shot in some pretty tough environments. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered on the job?
A. I have worked in many war zones and have had some hairy moments. In Kosovo my hire car got shot at and ended up with a missing rear windscreen. I’ve been shot at by a Israeli tank in the West Bank town of Nablus and numerous other incidents involving guns of one kind or another. For me the biggest challenge is not getting ripped off at Airport bureau de change booths and loosing what little money I have changed to the omnipresent unscrupulous taxi drivers waiting outside.
Q. Are you working on any new projects or commissions at the moment?
A. I am working on a series about interesting or adventurous train rides. I recently returned from Mauritania where I rode on the Iron Ore express, the worlds longest train. I’ve done several so far, riding a hidden gem from Mostar to Zagreb through Bosnia, the Rio Grande commuter train through one of Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious favelas. Thare are others I want to do.
Q. Where would you like to see your career in photography go from here?
A. Editorial photography is becoming increasingly difficult to work in because of the economic environment and changes to the way consumers obtain magazines. The big newspaper proprietors are looking at ways to sidestep this downturn particularly when it is obvious many consumers get their fix by way of the web. The launch of the iPad will accelerate this. The problem is publications are paying much less for digital usage even though it is cheaper to produce an online magazine then to go to print.
For this reason I have diversified. I have shot some advertising work and do personal commissions.
A photographer these days has to be able to do many things. Some photojournalists are now shooting films while others look to the corporate sector. 3 years ago I enrolled on to a creative writing workshop which has allowed me to combine writing and photography. This has become a distinct advantage as I now propose story ideas as complete packages. The last five commissions I have done have been a combined effort.
Q. What would you like to gain from your involvement with Pelime?
A. I think most creative people join a venture like Pelime to gain exposure.