Spencer Murphy is one of those talented photographers equally adept at shooting landscapes as portraiture. Having moved from deepest darkest Kent to London, he now combines working on his personal projects - photographing people on the fringes of society or epic landscapes - with commissions from magazines including The Guardian Weekend, Monocle, Wired, Rolling Stone Magazine, GQ and Dazed & Confused. Whether he is shooting people or places, his beautifully lit photographs always seem to capture a sense of stillness and melancholy.
Spencer has exhibited throughout Europe and North America, and was named as one of the Hyeres Festival’s emerging photographers of 2008. He has been included in the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Portrait Prize (now Taylor Wessing) exhibitions in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and five of his photos (including the above picture of Peter Crouch) have been acquired by the NPG for their permanent collection.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a couple of projects on the go at the moment. The main and longest running one is The Outsider about people and groups that live on the peripheries of British society (but not restricted to the UK). I’m not aiming to say 'look at these freaks' but to try and show an empathy with the subjects and show how similar we all are.
The other long running project is The Abyss Stares Back. This is more landscape based project about man’s relationship with nature. The pictures often show a human figure lost within a vast landscape looking out in contemplation. It is rooted largely in Romanticism and the idea of nature as a church and man’s fragility within it yet his need to dominate and be the ruling force.
What attracted you to photography?
I’d struggle to pin that on one defining moment or influence. I grew up in a very remote part of the English countryside with my imagination and the surrounding woodland and farmland for company. My Mother was a keen amateur photographer and she gave me my first hand-me-down SLR when she recognized my enthusiasm for image making at the age of eleven. I remember vividly the discovery of her old back issues of Life magazine with pictures of Woodstock and old Malboro advertisements, and the window it allowed me into this other world and time.
I think I would have always done something creative but photography seemed to resonate the most with me.
What has been your career path?
I firstly studied Design for 2 years then I went on to do a degree in photography at Falmouth College of Arts in Cornwall. I graduated in 2002, after which I moved to London and assisted Advertising and Fine Art Photographers for about 4 years, all the while pursuing my own projects. After that I went out on my own and I’ve just been slowly trying to build on my own projects and commercial work ever since.
What has been your proudest moment?
It’s hard to say really, I think I probably felt more excited and proud earlier on in my career when something went my way, so perhaps getting my degree and being awarded a bursary at the same time. I think my greatest achievement to date however is being included in the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Portrait Prize (now Taylor Wessing) 4 times in total and 3 years concurrently, that and being accepted into their permanent collection.
What or who has been your biggest influence?
Again it’s difficult to pin that on just one single thing. Family and friends, going to the National Gallery as a child with my Mum, and film is a huge influence on the way I think about picture making.
There’s no one person or event that influenced me so greatly that I can say 'yes, that’s definitely why I make the pictures I do'. I’m inspired daily by people, things and events and it all feeds me creatively.
What or who inspires you?
Film: Animal Kingdom
Book: The Road
What is the last thing you saw that made you go wow?
Today about 20 buzzards picking at a dead armadillo in the road.
What makes you happy?
Being out in nature.
What's the best advice someone has ever given you?
I don’t really respond well to advice. Probably a bad thing to admit but I think if someone tells me I can’t do something then I’d be more likely to go out of my way to try and do it.
There is a poster by Anthony Burrill that really resonates with me though, it just says 'Work hard and be Nice To People'
What advice would you give someone who is just starting out as a photographer?
'Work Hard And Be Nice To People'
Who knows, hopefully lots more pictures.
You can currently see one of Spencer's portraits in the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until 20 February.