Updated: Dec 15, 2020
"If you imagine the background as a skyscraper or building or wall, that’s my canvas. I want to focus everything on the subject in the bigger picture."
Words: Rachel Cameron-Potter and Michele George Bishop
Earlier this week I sat down with Michele George Bishop, an Italian photographer living in North London. His work centres around the theme of contrast, juxtaposing towering architecture with city walkers, using minimalist tones and colours to accentuate the figures in his shots. Having dabbled in art, music and literature, Michele has turned his attentions to photography, finding opportunity in a global pandemic to kickstart his career in minimalist photography.
Hi Michele! First of all, how are you doing? How have you been finding lockdown?
I’m doing fine! I get a lot of time to go outside, and thanks to the new rules we can meet at least one other person and relax on a bench somewhere. I get to go out and take pictures all the time, so it’s pretty good!
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get into photography?
I always grew up with a camera in my hand, one of those little disposable cameras that my parents used to give to me and my sister, but it all started with climbing, really. A couple of friends and I started taking pictures of each other climbing, about four or five months ago. After that, I started borrowing cameras from my friends and my sister, and then slowly I started to look for pictures that had some sort of meaning to me, being a country boy living in a city. There was a lot of contrast that I could find from the area that I was raised in, to where I live now in London.
I’m just going to talk a bit about the theme of contrast. Your photography mainly focuses on city landscape and the contrast between living forms and city buildings. What would you say is the inspiration behind your style?
It’s all about finding natural forms, whether it’s trees, people or animals – things that are really close to me from where I grew up in the countryside, back in Italy – and putting them in contrast with towering architecture. When you see a child next to a huge pillar, you really get the idea of how big some of this stuff is. It’s hard to realise [how big the buildings are] if you’re not there, which is why I try to get the shot and compose in a way that everything seems to be even bigger.
It’s about finding that slice of home in the big metropolitan city.
Exactly! And finding the contrast, again because when I’m back home, those towering features that you would expect to see are the mountains or really big trees, and that sharply contrasts the buildings and lampposts of London. That’s what’s going on in my mind. How can I find a person or a scene were I’ve got something that looks like a mountain but is not, like a skyscraper, and put it in contrast with a natural subject.
A lot of your pictures are very minimalistic, either black or white or bright colours against plain backgrounds. Where does that come from?
Probably from my love for the painter Caravaggio. What I really like in his paintings – because what I study for my photography isn’t just other photographers, but also painters and art – is that for his time he was choosing really simple backgrounds so the subject would be the central focus of the painting. If you imagine the background as a skyscraper or building or wall, that’s my canvas. I want to focus everything on the subject in the bigger picture.
Moving on, you have quite an artistic background too. You draw, you’re a musician and you also studied English at the University of York. Would you say that these other artforms have influenced your photography, or would you say you see them as completely separate entities?
It’s a bit of a mix of things. Taking a picture jumps into my music and literature side because you’re telling a story by snapping a shot. You can also capture a very confusing scene that might give you the feeling of the hustle and bustle of the city and the noises of claxons and cars and buses driving by. I always try to be as conscious as I can when I take shots, but I also don’t think too much about it. I don’t want to constrain myself to these rules. I just try to be as natural as I can when I’m out with the camera.
What are some of the most exciting projects that you’re working on at the moment?
Well, I try to do a little bit of everything and try to learn as much as I can, so taking pictures of people where they are really alienated by the architecture around them, playing with light, contrast and shadows. Another project I’m working on is food photography, providing a service, and finding something that can pay the bills! It’s not the best time because [restaurants and bars] are closing or in a really difficult situation, but I hope to pursue it in the future as a long-term thing, because I really like food as well! Being able to capture a nice shot that has all the compositional rules and makes the food look really cool interests me.
How would you say lockdown has influenced your work? You say that it’s hindered some of the food photography, but would you say having not so many people on the streets has helped your minimalism photography?
Exactly! I was actually thinking about it the other day when I was at the Barbican centre taking photos. There were still people around because it’s a huge residential area, but in a way, it was really helpful because I don’t look for huge crowds unless it’s for a shot. I look for something that has less people around because it’s easier to focus on one person. In a way, it’s been a huge help, not having too many people around and finding all these places that are usually packed with people, like Carnaby or Soho, only a fraction as busy as they used to be.
Would you say this will change once the lockdown ends, or would you take your photography to villages instead of metropolitan cities, or focus on night photography? What are your plans?
At the moment, I really am drawn to go back to big, open countryside areas. That’s one of the reasons I’m planning to go to Richmond Park in the near future as it’s quite relaxing, away from the hustle and bustle, and it doesn’t feel like another park in London. It feels a bit more wild. And hopefully, when we’re a bit freer to go around in the country and outside the country, [I will] go to more remote areas. It’s a mix of both, because I’ve got a love for all [locations] when it comes to taking a picture I like. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the countryside or city, it’s a huge satisfaction to be able to snap a shot that otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to do [elsewhere]. It’s like that quote: “you don’t know how good a picture is until you take it.” If I can take a picture that I like and that I’m happy with – it can be on the moon or in a cave – it’s alright.
What do you find the most rewarding about your work?
The personal satisfaction is nice, but also interacting with the people. At the moment it’s still very early stages with my photography but already seeing people that appreciate my work and ask me technical things or more camera related things, like settings and or composition, or wanting to chat or collaborate – those things are the most rewarding because I’m not just taking pictures for myself, but sharing it with other people and seeing what other people think.
What advice would you give to other aspiring photographers?
Enjoy it. Try as many different things as you can, try to get as many different inspirations as possible and really go out and practice. It’s like drawing – painters spend ages and ages and ages sketching something, and it’s the same thing with a camera.
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