An Interview with Photographer Michael Morrison (New York City)
Tell us a little about yourself.
My photographs have been commissioned and featured in publications around the world, with clients and multiple exhibitions in both in the US and Canada. I received a Masters of Professional Studies in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, as well as a Bachelor of Design Degree in Photography from The Alberta College of Art and Design.
My images seek to engage the observer’s curiosity, capturing an essence of the beauty or intrigue I see in my subject, luring the viewer into a momentary visual escape from reality. Exploring notions of desire, disgust, voyeurism and confrontation, as well as what is considered culturally appropriate and inappropriate, I try to challenge my viewers to question traditional norms through the use of color, irony and strong visual narration. My images reflect the appreciation of the imagery of vanity, yet also celebrate fashion’s contemporary cultural nuances, devotion to beauty, youth and seemingly unrestricted artistic license.
Story plays a very important role in your work; what do you look for in a storyline so that it will translate successfully into a series of images?
Usually I am inspired by concepts that have their roots in historical or contemporary culture of some sort and then I try and differently interpret the story photographically in a way that both appeals to my imagination and personal aesthetic. I really look for drama in a concept. For me, drama is what makes an image compelling. Images have to appeal to human situations and emotions, no matter how fantastical the idea, and translate throughout the whole series. Without a story you are just making catalog images.
Your work often straddles fashion and art, whether in the styling, the environment or the post production. Do you see yourself more as a fine artist or a photographer and how does that effect your overall work?
I never intended this actually. I do have to be honest that I treat every shoot as a piece of artwork though. Designer clothing, hair, make-up, styling are all artists that contribute to make a final work. I was formally trained and educated, so art, art history, and photographic history are very important to me. At the same time there has to be a commercial application; showing my images only as artwork isn’t enough for me. I really enjoy the added challenge of taking artwork and turning it into commerce, selling a point of view or experience rather than an object. Many people disagree with this combination, but I love the dynamism it creates.
Your current editorial, Cardinal Sin, is heavily influenced by religion and makes full use of religious symbols and icons. How did this story come about?
I was raised Roman Catholic, so these symbols are a part of growing up and I am very familiar with the traditions. The story came about really through a combination of frustration and appreciation of religion. I am fascinated by the battle between lust and religion, the way that it is made into good vs. evil. I decided to combine the literal look of Catholic Cardinals with the cardinal sin of lust; one of the seven most deadly punishable sins. I wanted to tell the story of someone who has religious roots, someone who is torn by being human with intense sexual lust, yet the guilt and punishment that their religion bestows on it. Ironically, I also recently launched my new website and because my web host was based in Utah, I got a removal order for my content. Because of strong religious influences in Utah, they would not allow nudity online, on their service. This really inspired the mood of the piece since the censorship was insulting as an artist, as if there was something wrong with having nudity on my website.
You’re based in New York City. Does the city play a role in your work, your inspiration?
Definitely! Competition is fierce and you really have to try and tell original stories and ideas here. The city is inspiring in that it is always changing and filled with talented people and artists. Everything has character in New York: the buildings, people, artwork, even the culture and sensation of walking around the city. It is both a great giver and taker of persistence and inspiration.
To keep going! Hopefully, people like my style of work and I am fortunate enough to continue appealing to people’s commercial imaginations. And I continue with the promise that my work can only get better because I am never truly satisfied with my results.