Interview: Trent Mitchell's Above/Below
Interview by Mike Jennings
Above/Below is Trent Mitchell’s second hardcover book, his previous being the brilliant and award winning Chasing The Curve. This one lives up to the lofty standard set by that. A themed work, split in half so that you read to the middle, flip it around and keep reading. Open the thing and you get stuck like a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel, forever. First time I flicked through a copy I got stuck in the Above/Below vortex for a full six hours. Six truly beautiful hours. Trent, the man, the photographer, the happy friendly legend guy is such a dude too. Full of good vibes, passion, talent and all those lovely things – we called him this morning to ask him about the book and got inspired in the process.
CW: How long after you made Chasing The Curve did you decide to start this one, because I imagine that would have taken a lot out of you?
TM: I didn't decide till about 18 months after.
What? It’s been that long?
Crazy, hey. It was two years ago. It was quite funny when I sent an enquiry to the printers, I sent an email to them asking for a quote, and it was the exact day that I asked them the first time for a quote, two years ago.
So you're working in a natural cycle.
Pretty much. (Laughs) But without forcing it, it just happened.
Was there a defined moment you made the call, “It's time to make another book”?
I took an underwater shot of a girl and a turtle and that got highly regarded in the International Photography Awards, it won one of the categories, and I just started building up a body of work with girls in water and that kind of stuff. And I thought I should make a book to compliment my other one.
And how did the concept evolve from there?
(laughs)… Let me sit down, I'm about to walk into an office with my mates and I think I sound like a dickhead. The concept of the book… I had two defined bodies of work and I thought the best way to tie it all in together was to keep one half above the surface and one half below the surface and play off that theme a little bit. And yeah, it's nothing I thought too much about really, it just kind of happened. I never really was like, "Oh okay. I'm going to do this." It just fell out of my head one day.
And the idea of how it's split in half and flipped around?
Oh that's just taken from other stuff I thought was cool. It's no new idea at all, it's just applied to a theme that it works to I reckon. It seems logical to me, and is probably something that a publisher would turn down straight away. It doesn't really follow rules.
Yeah, if a commercial publisher looked at a book like yours they'd say, "Nup. We've got to put your most beautiful photo on the cover. We've got to have your name really big." Are these the things you’re trying to avoid by being independent?
I'm a bit of a design nerd, so for this kind of stuff it's sort of how I see it working. I don't like the word control, but it’s maintaining creative freedom and using that so you can voice what you are trying to say visually without any interruptions, you know what I mean?
Totally, so you can achieve what you want to achieve artistically, without having to compromise for someone else.
Well, yeah… yeah pretty much.
I don't think I've seen a cover like this one, particularly with the way it's bound. It doesn't ruin the spine when you open it.
All that stuff is usually hidden. I was with the book reps and I was pealing books apart and looking at all different features of different stuff they had published and I pulled the jacket off one and saw that finish and went, “Wow, that's it, that's what I want.” I didn't want a high-end production I just wanted something that was a bit more accessible to people at a price point, you're making it to get it out there and sell it and have people enjoy it, and I wanted it to feel raw as well, just like the photos. Clean but raw.
Getting to this point of your career, working independently and making books, shooting for mags a lot less, was this a tough decision to cut your own path a little bit?
Nah… I just fit it all in to what's happening in my day-to-day life. If people ask me to shoot for mags I'll fit it in and do it, and if I've got spare days I'll shoot pictures for myself. If I'm on trips with companies I'll take some photos, it just works seamlessly with everything. That's kind of how I want to live, making stuff, and you've got to blend that into your life, otherwise you're just forcing it.
Searching for that balance between "work" work and personal work.
For sure. Always. But I never really made a clear cut decision not to shoot for mags I just felt like you've only got so much energy and I wanted to put it into something that I wanted to make. That's all. It's nothing over-complex, I just like making shit (laughs).
How hard is it to get a project like this done, to finish it… did you set yourself a deadline?
Yeah you have to. For sure. 100%. It's pretty tricky I guess. You've just got to be diligent and work towards a goal, like, I used to design magazines so I knew a rough idea what needed to be put into it to get it done, and this one I got it done pretty quick. I think I printed all the images out again and laid them all out on the floor to see what I had, matched them up, and then I'd go back on the computer and start working with it there. I like to actually print shit out and have something to hold and move around on the floor and lay it all out and once that's done it's just pretty much putting the hours in with coffee on the computer (laughs).
Do you have a favourite shot?
The turtle glide shot is my favourite, without a doubt.
What were you shooting on predominantly for this?
Three different cameras. There's a whole mix of stuff because of the period of time that I shot it… You want to know camera models and stuff?
Yeah, I think people will be interested in that.
A Nikon D4. A Nikon D3. A Nikon D700. A Dave Kelly housing and all the ports for that. An Aquatech housing and all the ports for that. A fish-eye lens, 35,mm 50 mm lens, 85mm lens, 70-200 mm lens, and a 300. And that's about it I think.
What do you think will do next? You were saying the other day you'll probably do another book after this one.
Yeah, eventually for sure. It'll come to me a bit later, but I’m just working heaps on all sorts of different stuff like portraiture and streetscapes and landscapes around everywhere I've been. I've got a whole bunch of them, I’m sitting on all this quirky stuff from everywhere.
I remember when we first met you were into taking shots of classic old Gold Coast buildings.
Yeah. I've still got heaps of that stuff, found some really cool shit hey, and a lot of it has been knocked down now, which is kind of cool because it's history now, it's good in that regard anyway. But yeah, I dunno, next year I just want to shoot portraiture and fashion. I'm getting right into it.
Awesome man. Congratulations on the book and thanks for your time.
No worries. Sorry if I seemed a bit vague. You caught me pre-coffee. It's heavy (laughs).
TM's Above/Below is about $49.95 to own and is available from Trent's site. Probably make a decent Christmas present for a friend or loved one who appreciates nice things and the ocean.
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