ASHEVILLE FILM PHOTOGRAPHER MIKE CHRISTOPHER aims to evoke raw feeling and emotion in his moody and often haunting photographs. A devotee of the Polaroid SX-70, he works exclusively in natural light and attempts to find something magical and permanent in every moment he chooses to capture.
An artist I knew very little about, I was not at all surprised to learn Christopher is a musician and traveler, using one medium of art to influence the other, obsessed with the living world around him, and how he can translate his experience to film. He often draws inspiration from songwriters and masters of other crafts to influence what and who he chooses to shoot.
A lifelong lover of “the physical artifact” and a consummate professional, Christopher is currently at work on his website and business, and joyfully agreed to our interview over email.
Floyd Strange: Firstly I want to say thanks for agreeing to do this! To start with, I'm always excited to talk to a fellow film enthusiast. What drew you to working in film, and Polaroid specifically?
Mike Christopher: Thank you so much for the opportunity! I started at a young age taking photos with disposable cameras, and found my love for Polaroid with a gifted I-zone camera when I was around 8 or 9 years old. Over the years, I expanded to a 600 camera and then fell in love all over again when I found an SX-70 camera. I was immediately drawn to Polaroid, as I’m sure most are, because of the instant gratification. Being able to capture a moment and watch it develop in front of your eyes was complete magic to me. Ultimately what I love most about taking Polaroid photos is having a physical artifact— in a sense from wherever you are or whoever you’re with as the moment is captured. A single, one of a kind photograph that creates an instant nostalgia.
FS: I find that there’s a bit of inescapable truth to it, don’t you? You’re kind of giving up control to the machine.
MC: Absolutely! Something about it leaves almost every image feeling genuinely candid. With only 8 shots and having to be mindful of lighting, temperatures, and setting, you’re really forced to slow down and think about what you want to capture. These cameras and film can sometimes be finicky and have a mind of their own. For me there’s a strange comfort I find in letting go and trusting that the image will turn out as I hoped.
FS: I’m not familiar with an I-zone camera, what exactly is that?
MC: The I-zone was a camera that Polaroid started producing in the mid-late 90’s. It used instant film and you would pull out these strips for each shot. The photos were really small, 1.5”x1”. They even made some of the film that had a sticky back so your photos could be mounted like stickers.
FS: Interesting. You mentioned starting at a young age, but when did you get serious about photography? When did you know it was something you really wanted to devote time and energy to?
MC: In 2014. I found a Polaroid SX-70 camera and started taking it everywhere with me. I was spending a lot of my money on film and most of my time taking pictures. I really started looking at everyday life in a different way, always looking for moments to capture. From there, things started falling into place. I was asked to participate in a couple of art shows and people started reaching out to work with me. This year was when I really started realizing it’s something that I could do for work. I was thrilled when I was asked to take Polaroids for a wedding and shortly there after I started a photography business. I’m still working to build that up now and I’m sort of taking things as they come to see how I want to move forward. More plans of travel and collaboration are in the works. I’m always learning and looking for new ways to expand my style and eye for things.
FS: The sx70 is interesting because of the frame difference. It’s more of a landscape frame right? How do you think it differs from the typical square frame of the other models?
MC: The SX-70 is the standard square frame. You may be thinking of the Spectra camera. That film size is a little wider.
FS: Yeah, you’re right. Tell me a bit about your style. I notice there’s not much flash work. You prefer natural light?
MC: Yeah, I very rarely use a flash. I prefer to capture the photograph as natural as possible so that carries on with the lighting. I’m a big fan of using a tripod indoors in low lighting. I love the soft warm colors. As far as style goes, I strive to take candid shots more than anything but at the same time I love working with subjects and collaborating on a vision to capture.
FS: What kind of subject matter are you most interested in?
MC: As much as I like taking random shots of everyday life, I enjoy photographing people the most. Whether it’s a staged photo with a model or a candid shot of a friend or stranger. Capturing ones expression, positioning, body language, movements. They can all create a mood and feeling of a photo. For me it doesn’t get much better than viewing an image you took and genuinely feeling something.
FS: Who are some of your heroes? Favorite artists?
MC: In all honesty most of my heroes are singer-songwriters. Artists like Townes Van Zandt, Ryan Adams, Elliott Smith, and Leonard Cohen all paint pictures with their songs and leave the listener to come up with their own interpretations and images. Some of my photos have been inspired by songs. As far as favorite photographers, I really love Vivian Maiers work. Also Gregory Crewdsons work blows my mind. Super inspirational.
FS: Ah, interesting. I can see that because a lot of your photos feel very musical. I work in both mediums and find there’s often a lot of overlap.
MC: Totally agree! I was playing music before I ever got into photography. They’re my biggest passions so they go hand in hand for me.
FS: Do you have an overarching goal in taking photos? I’m always curious to find out different artists’ motivations.
MC: I sometimes get a little scattered when it comes to wanting to work on new projects and ideas. I think the ultimate goal is to keep learning and to step out of my comfort zone more. In the end, as cliché as it sounds, I want to create images that evoke feeling and emotion.
FS: I understand that. So, what's next for you Mike?
MC: More plans for travel in the coming year to document with my cameras. Currently building my website up as well. It’s more or less a portfolio and will also include new and old Polaroid pieces for sale. In the mean time, I post updates and can be contacted on my Instagram @mikechristopher_ or by email at email@example.com.
FS: Thanks for doing this, Mike. Good getting to know you.
MC: Thanks so much Floyd, it was great talking with you!
Mike Christopher is a photographer and artist living and working in Asheville, NC. He is currently building a personal portfolio and web-store, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram.