San Diego is a town chock full of talented photographers. From the photojournalists at our local newspapers to the locals who shoot for national magazines like Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated, to the hipster music fans who tote their Holgaroids and Dianas to local shows, and the street photographers who spend hours exploring our city, this is a region with a lot of photographic energy.

Matt Mallams. Photo by Elyse Butler

Today, we launch a new feature in Credentialed that we call “Perspective.” We’ll be regularly bringing you Q&A’s with talented local photographers in our community and featuring some of their work here. We kick off the feature with questions for Matt Mallams, a self-proclaimed “graphic documentary” photographer, who is consistently making waves in the national photo community.

He is a co-founder of the Aevum photo collective and is spending his summer in Hawaii, gaining a fresh perspective on the world before returning to Ocean Beach later this year.

So, you’re off to Hawaii for the summer. What do you plan to do while you’re there? Are you working on a specific project or is this more like a retreat, a new place to look at with a fresh set of eyes?

Exactly, a new place. If I get the opportunity to spend some time to explore a new town, I’ll take it. I photograph more when I am getting to know a new spot.

I have some new projects I’m working on, I am doing a lot of street photography, focusing on the tourists in Waikiki and I am continuing to explore new avenues of putting my pictures up in public. And I’ve been getting in to screen-printing. I am working on blending my street photography and silk-screening together and creating a set of designs and t-shirts. In the end I want to blend all of these and create a body of work with public art, photography, and printmaking.

Your most recent blog post features photos of your grandfather standing over the casket of his grandmother, who died recently. Tell me about the importance to you of doing personal work and any challenges you face documenting the lives of people close to you.

Yes, I paired the photo of my grandfather standing over my grandmother’s casket with a photo from their wedding day 61 years ago. I wanted to share the very beginning moment of their relationship, with their very last. Doing personal work is very important to me, it is the basis of what I do. Almost everything I shoot is self-initiated, I have to be excited about what I’m documenting to make a good picture. I haven’t faced many challenges photographing my close relationships, as everyone is supportive of what I do.

You and a few other photographers started the AEVUM photo collective, which features a great selection of projects. What’s the importance of having a photo collective and what does that allow you to do that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve alone?

Power in numbers. Aevum is basically a close-knit set of friends who came together to expand the potential of the individual. Aevum, for us, is a place of support and it’s not about competition. It is a great space for creativity and brainstorming. Being in a photo-collective is not for everyone, but it something that helps me keep focused and inspired.

You have a very distinct style. Can you describe it in your own words and tell me how it developed to what it is today?

I think developing a style is all about following your gut and not trying to be someone your not. You just need to recognize those things that inspire you and how that can influence your vision during that time. When I was beginning to explore photography, I was listening to a lot of music by John Frusciante and during that year in 2004 he produced six albums in six months, and I learned a lot from his music, it’s all about just loving what you do and producing. Embracing your mistakes and letting things happen by chance. Just finding whatever you’re passionate about and honing in on your eye. There’s no right or wrong way. So for me it’s just about being out there, every day, taking pictures, that’s the only rule. If I had to describe my style I would say it is graphic documentary, but not in the classic storytelling sense, just moments of the everyday. I like to mix my compositions with color, light, texture, reflection, and interactions.

What has drawn you to your project shooting street art? Is that something you plan to continue this summer in Hawaii?

Yeah, I’ve been really interested in the idea of putting your work outside on the streets for the public. I first got into it after seeing the artist Banksy putting his own work up in the Louvre, MOMA, and Tate. It sparks the idea of who’s to say what is art and what isn’t. There’s no reason we have to keep art between the four walls of a museum or gallery.

After learning more about street art, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been photographing it for years with my texture studies. I’ve started to recognize the artists work in my photographs, like this image of Mccain and Obama by My. Brainwash. Walking around the city you see all these bills wheat pasted one on top of another. I’ve always been interested in the textures that are around us. It’s kind of like the rings of a tree, the bills showing what movies, fashions, and trends that were going on during that time.

What have you learned about San Diego through your photography?

Photography gives me a reason to explore my surroundings and it helped me discover all of the unique San Diego communities. I really enjoy living in San Diego because of all of the great materials I find walking through the alleyways of Ocean Beach and all of the interesting characters you meet.

Influences: 3-5 photogs whose work you are influenced by:

I’m really inspired by Clay Patrick McBride who is a good friend of mine and an amazing music photographer. Trent Parke and David Burnett have always been favorites of mine, and Robert Irwin who is an iconic contemporary artist and San Diego local, who always encourages seeing and perceiving, which I have been very influenced by.

Favorite Piece of Camera Gear:

I don’t have a good answer for this but I’d just have to say my digital camera, Canon 5D, I guess I’m a simple kinda guy.

Favorite Assignment so far in 2009:

My favorite assignment as of late has been to photograph French Movie Director, Mabrouk El Mechri for Contour by Getty Images. He was a great subject to shoot and we walked around this random block in LA and made pictures along the way. It was all about just working with what giving to you at that moment.

For more of Mallams’ images visit his website.

(Interview conducted by e-mail)

— Interview by SAM HODGSON

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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