Photographers on Photographers: Paul Matzner on Niall McDiarmid
Niall McDiarmid popped into my life on a Facebook feed one day in January, 2016. I have no idea how that happened, but since we are both photographers there must be some sort of internet alchemy at work. Niall does a lot of street portraits in Britain (he is based in London) and I do street photos in the USA.
As I researched him on his website and read articles about his work, I became more and more enamored with his use of color, shape, and pattern to create these fascinating portraits in so many locales. He has an uncanny ability to find an evenness of light, an interesting person, a rich background, and then marry all of those components into a striking image. He makes it look easy, and since I do somewhat similar work, I know it is a difficult task to make consistently strong work like this.
What I have also come to find out through our Facebook friendship is that Niall is downright humble, easy-going, witty, and gracious with his time. His three books, numerous exhibits, and interviews with major news outlets have not gone to his head. He is definitely an inspiration to me. You can find an interesting read on Niall and his work here.
Paul Matzner is a photographer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. His strength and passion is in street photography, where he interacts with people and their environment. Much of his work is done in New York City where he has traveled almost every year from 2008 – 2018. He is currently working on a book of those images, tentatively titled “Dogs, Doughnuts, and Diversity.”
His series “Facing You/Facing Me” is a project started in 2014 and features close up faces of people he has stopped on the streets of Milwaukee, Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles. Photographs from this series have been selected for exhibitions in numerous venues in the United States and will be seen in a solo show at the end of 2018 in Minneapolis. A photograph from this series is also in the collection of the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.
Many of his images are licensed for publications, textbooks, and corporate websites through a stock photo agency. Magazines such as The New Yorker and National Geographic have used his work online to illustrate stories. Other companies have included Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, VRBO, and the American Automobile Association.
Niall McDiarmid is a Scottish photographer based in London. His work is primarily about documenting the people and landscape of Britain. His work is held by the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London, the Sir Elton John Photography Collection and the Martin Parr Foundation. Recent exhibitions have included Here and Now : London Portraits at the Museum of London, Town to Town at the Martin Parr Foundation and British Portraits at Oriel Colwyn. He is part of the Distinctly Britain exhibition to be held at Pingyao International Photo Festival, China in 2019. He has published three books of his work: Crossing Paths (2013), Via Vauxhall (2015), and Town To Town (2018).
Paul Matzner: Tell us about your growing up…
Niall McDiarmid: I grew up in Scotland, in rural Perthshire, on a small farm.
PM: What brought you to photography?
ND: In my teens, I became interested in magazines and newspapers mostly because my grandfather had a passion for sending stories to the local paper. I started doing the same. After university, where I actually studied engineering, I went back to my interest in photography and writing and got a job working in trade magazines. I did that for a couple of years, then spent a year studying photojournalism in London. I’ve been freelancing ever since.
PM: Who or what do you consider as a major influence in you work?
ND: My background and my family are the biggest influence on what I do.
PM: Can your share your process?
ND: Since 2011, I’ve been traveling across Britain making images that hopefully reflect a country that is changing fast visually. My idea is to capture those changes in my own style. Colour, pattern, diversity, portraits, towns…these are all touchstones for the work I show.
PM: How do you navigate the photo landscape—finding galleries, paying for shows, garnering exposure?
ND: I don’t navigate at all. I just keeping making new work and see where it takes me. I rarely approach any galleries. Thankfully, occasionally, they contact me. As regards exposure, I try to show a steady flow of work on social networks that engages an audience.
PM: What defines success for you?
ND: Success for me is the ability to keep making new work, keep connecting with an audience. If that allows me to publish new books and do exhibitions, so much the better.
PM: What is some interesting work you’ve seen lately.
ND: I saw an August Sander exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in London last week and it was sensational – images from Germany from the 1930s. However I often look outside photography for creative motivation and music is usually my first port of call. The musician’s life of going to a town and putting on a show that connects with people is inspirational.
PM: What’s next for you?
ND: I’m working on different projects around Britain that hopefully will come to fruition over the coming year. That means lots of long hours walking the streets and lots of long hours on trains getting there and back.
PM: And finally describe your perfect day.
ND: Perfect day – taking photographs, meeting new people, spending time with my wife and family, kicking a football around in the park with my boys, listening to a good band. If I can fit all of those in – that’s a perfect day.
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