"I embrace the grain"

In the latest in our occasional series we meet Marc Vallée, a London-based photographer whose work focuses on people on the margins of society.

You currently have a solo exhibition on at Metro Imaging. Tell us a bit about it.

I’ve been thinking about bringing all the graffiti work together in an exhibition for a long time. For the most part the destination for my pictures has been zines and photobooks and that’s how people have engaged with the work. I’ve wanted to mix things up and disruptive how people see the work and this show is the beginning of that.

A few years ago I started to work on limited edition fibre prints of images from the zines. The first few prints were sold to the Museum of London and those prints are currently on show in the London Nights exhibition at the museum and those images are also on show in this exhibition too. The show is the first time that images from Writers, Number Six, Vandals and the City, The Graffiti Trucks of Paris and The Graffiti Trucks of London have been brought together in one space as prints.

I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with the images as well. The London and Paris graffiti truck images have been printed directly on to large metal panels which is really something to see and some of the Vandals of the City images have also been printed on to adhesive vinyl for one of the walls in the space.

And on the opening night half the show was bought by a private collection!

How did you get into photography?

After my first year at art school in the mid 90s I managed to land a summer job teaching photography at an arts summer camp in the US. On my days off I documented my American friends, skaters, punks and surfers. Processing and printing it all in a converted chicken coop! That summer I read an article about Larry Clark in The New York Times about his first film Kids. Which lead me to his Tulsa book. Everything pretty much came together after that. I knew the kind of photography and subjects I was interested had a place in the photography world.

When did you make the switch from analogue to digital photography?

Around 2005 when I started covering political protest.

Do you miss working in the darkroom and do you still occasionally shoot film?

Some days I do miss it, but I’ve not shot on film for a long time. I used to shoot and print both colour and black & white. I have a large analogue archive that has not seen the digital light of day. I’m spending time looking at this with fresh eyes with the aim to publish and print the work.

Your work has the look of grainy, contrasty black and white film photography, why?

I don’t use flash and many of my subjects are shot at night so a high ISO is in the mix. Plus, I embrace the grain. I like the dark aesthetic of many contemporary Japanese photobooks for both my zines and prints. Most of the prints in the Metro show are digital fibre-based silver gelatin prints, which really do work. It’s the best of both worlds to be honest plus it gives me what I want.

Your work often focusses on people on the margins of society. How do you gain their trust?

Trust is an extremely important part of the work. Be it political activists, sex workers or graffiti writers. In part my past public record of work helps to build trust. It’s easy for people to check me out and see what I’m about. I’m upfront and honest in explaining why I’m interested, why I care and what my motivation is. The Vandals and the City series took a lot of time to even get the first meeting let alone shooting the writers. But it’s a project that’s because so important to me on many levels.

What are you currently working on?

I’m heading back to Paris to work on something new and I’m in the planning stage for exhibitions for 2019/20 plus a new publication.

 And definitely a visit to Darkroom!

Marc Vallée: London & Paris 2011-2018

Metro Imaging,

32 Great Sutton Street,

London, EC1V ONB.

Runs until Friday 21 December 2018.

London Nights

Museum of London.

Museum of London,

150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN

Runs until Sunday 11 November 2018.