Gavin Mitchell Photographer - London, UK

Can you explain why you work within a series or theme?

The foundation to all of my work is based on vintage found material. The kind of material I am usually drawn to is print, magazine, postcard, film, negative or slides. A feature of print and film is that it is often produced as part of a genre or trend with a distinctive visual identity and provides a rich seam of material from which to work from. Sometimes I will find an album or box containing dozens of photographs or 35mm transparencies that will be sufficient to generate an entire series of work. Sometimes I find a single magazine cover or postcard that will inspire me to start looking for similar material and begin a new series of work.

ZOA #2 Shared Pleasures

 ‘Shared Pleasures’

Where does the next theme come from?


I have collected a lot of obscure material; I call my studio a repository for abandoned ‘stuff.’  Sometimes in an idle moment I will rifle through my drawers and re-acquaint myself with everything I have amassed and perhaps initiate a new project.

Alternatively I will hit the antiques markets, car boot sales and check out the sellers on eBay that I know deal in the type of material I am looking for. Anything I find and buy either ends up waiting patiently in the repository for abandoned stuff or jumps right to the front of the queue and becomes a new body of work.

The themes I use involve different layers and mediums usually exploring cultural personalities and relationships. I am drawn to personal and material lives and cultures that have gone before and the way they have been recorded and documented through film & print. I guess I am a voyeur, vicariously living the lives of others and re-interpreting though juxtapositions and abstract notions

How many themes do you have in your to do box and what allows them out?

Creatively I am a pretty restless person. I sometimes wish I was able to concentrate on one idea at a time but in all honesty I have four or five serious propositions in mind at any one moment.

My East Meets West series is an ongoing project that has been well received both here in Europe and recently in Hong Kong through The Cat Street Gallery. This is exciting for me as I was unsure how people would react in the East to my perception of their culture. The success of East Meets West has also allowed me a bit of financial security to research & develop more conceptual and experimental projects.



Projects I manage simultaneously tend to involve different themes and utilise different mediums. I find it very useful to have back-burner projects that I can revert to if I am struggling with an ongoing project. It can clear the mind and allow you to return with a fresh perspective.

I am working on a new project that is an extension of my interest in historical and contemporary Japan, exploring the contradictions of the culture, outwardly inscrutable and deferential and yet inwardly enigmatic and hedonistic. For this series I will be combining photography, projection, vintage negatives, liquid emulsion, collage and paint.


Another project I am currently working on is an audio visual collaboration with an established electronic music duo. We are planning a one-off charity event in London that will combine a unique sound set from them and me producing a multiple slide projection installation using analogue Kodak carousels and montage slides that I have created by cutting up 35mm film found in the projector room of an abandoned cinema.

The title of my dissertation for my Fine Art degree was ‘ The attitudes and concepts in American Underground film from the late 1950’s onwards’ I remember looking back years later and thinking how pretentious I must have been as a student! Now the work of the conceptual film-makers, Andy Warhol and Stan Brakhage, featured in the dissertation, have returned to influence my ideas behind this new project. I want to continue explore and develop other audio-visual installations.

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You work in limited Editions can you discuss the numbers you print and why?

I like to produce large artwork. I prefer images that are big and bold. Pop-artists that have had an impact on me such as Richard Hamilton, Robert Rauschenberg and Sigmar Polke rarely produced small work.

I work in limited editions when the artwork I produce is created as digital collage and then produced as giclée prints on fine art paper. The original East Meets West images, Hear No See No Speak No and The Gods Must be Crazy remain as one-offs but I’m pleased to say the response has been really good so in consultation with my London gallery, The Northcote Gallery, the next images in the series were produced as very limited editions. I release three large prints at 1300mm x 835 and five smaller prints at 960mm x 600mm. I also hold two Artists Proofs of each size.

However since I have been represented by and selling through established galleries I have been advised about sizes and editions based on the demands of their clients. Believe it or not one key consideration is based on size of peoples properties especially in a city like London where customers live in either modern developments or older Victorian and Georgian properties. New means bigger, Old often means smaller. I still get to produce large prints but have produced limited editions in a smaller size to respond to demand. Interestingly this has not affected the value of the edition

What do you do with the original?

The final drafts of digital prints are backed up on several hard drives and somewhere up in the cloud! The original material, postcards, magazines, photographs from which the image is created are carefully repatriated in my repository for abandoned stuff. I only ever work from original vintage material, which I own, and my personal photography. I never source and use anything from reproduced images or files

You use the term ‘Mixed Up’ can you expand on your meaning of this term?

Very simply this refers to the multiple types of source material I use and the mixed media I work with.

I originally concentrated on Photography and Printmaking for my Fine Art BA many years ago I always felt that I wanted to break through the two dimensionality of traditional print and create new layers. I am still passionate about print and photographic medium and with the advent of digital technology have been able to really embrace both analogue and digital procedures. It is exciting to have so many different methods and processes to experiment with.

Mixed Up may also in some part refer occasionally to my creative mood!

Discuss the combination of your own photographs and ‘found’ photographs and how you layer the two?

I assume you are referring particularly to the East Meets West series? This work is the first time I have combined my own photography, found ephemera and postcards

The whole series began from the original Japanese Geisha hand-tinted postcards that were produced in the early part of the 20 century. I wanted to ‘gatecrash’ the idyllic scenes of Geisha life by juxtaposing the ethereality with the brash and self-confident iconic images from the West.

I imagine myself in the studio of the photographer who originally shot the Geisha postcard scene. I then arrange the found items that I want to infiltrate the original image with i.e. Vintage Playboys, Coca Cola Bottle in my own studio and photograph them as if in the original scene

The original postcard is digitally scanned at hi resolution and then edited to size. The photograph is then dropped onto the image and then digitally edited into the scene.

 ZOA#6 Madame Butterfly

‘Madam Butterfly’

How many layers will be within one image?

When you work with thematic and material layers you choose and assemble an image using relevant or contradictory themes. There are no hard and fast rules.

I think you instinctively know when the concept, imagery and materials will work together. I was once commissioned to do photographic landscape of the London skyline. I ended up using over 70 different images.

What techniques do you use to achieve the layering (Photoshop).

I am really not a very technically minded person but much to my amazement I seem to have mastered a few key elements in Photoshop. I prefer to live under the illusion that I have some kind of magic wand and a conjuror should never reveal his secrets!

You want the viewer to go on an adventure when looking at your work, discuss.

I like my work to have a narrative, to create compelling and original imagery that makes you pause a while. It’s as simple as that.

You have done to series of East Meets West in both 2014 and 2015 explain why this was to extend over two years?

After the success of my first solo East Meets West show in London in 2014 I continued to look for find original hand-tinted Geisha postcards.

Once I had gathered enough new material from both East and West I put together an entirely new show this year along the same theme.

I love working with this particular theme and the techniques involved and therefore imagine that once I have enough material a new show will evolve.

Can you take ‘Between You and Me Montage on Panel’ and discuss.

Like all of the vintage postcards of this period and probably since the scenes are intended to depict the daily routine of the Geisha and their role as highly accomplished hostesses serving the hierarchy of the male dominated Japanese society. What I wanted to do was disrupt this innate air of respectability by juxtaposing Western iconic imagery and try to expose the underlying seductiveness behind these cultural portrayals.

ZOA#7 Between You & Me copy

‘Between You and Me’

When you say on Panel can you explain this?

I mount my prints and images onto MDF panels that are fixed to a 50mm deep Tulip Wood frame.

Discuss the colour and when it was added if this is correct?

I do not usually play with colour too much on the East Meets West images. When you scan in the hand-tinted post cards at hi-resolution it picks out the ink colouring beautifully and when you enlarge a postcard to the size I do you can see how basic and inexact the touching up was. The hand tinting inadvertently adds another layer to the image and feel like the person doing it was my accomplice around 100 years ago?!

 Why “Playboy” magazine?

The Playboy Magazine is key to the East Meets West series as it was the catalyst to the creative process

I had come across some vintage Playboy magazines at a car boot sale that were from the 50’s & 60’s. I was struck by the different tone and style to that of the modern day perception of Playboy culture. Whilst women and nudity played a role in the content of the magazine (albeit radically toned down compared to now), the first 10-15 years offered a far more cerebral and analytical approach to censorship, popular culture and the individual in society.

Hugh Hefner’s regular editorial was made as a statement ‘The Playboy Philosophy’ in which he ‘spells out for friends and critics alike’ the guiding principles of the magazine. The opening paragraph in one editorial piece began.

“. we have discussed the importance of the individual in free society, the over emphasis on conformity and security and the need for revitalization of both our democracy and the free-enterprise system through greater stress on the uncommon man and uncommon endeavour and accomplishment.. considered Americas own puritanical heritage, the current sexual revolution and our societies search for a new sexual morality.. “

I felt the self-confident approach of Hefner and Playboy and it’s fairly uncensored and liberal attitude to sex and eroticsm was in direct contrast to the disciplined, restrained and serene nature portrayed in the Geisha postcards.

In fact although outwardly bold and liberal, inwardly the American culture is inherently conservative and orthodox, again a direct contrast to Japanese characteristics.

The montages I create in the East Meets West series are there to challenge and highlight these contradictions.

ZOA#8SeeHearSpeakNoFinal copy

‘See, Hear, Speak’   in progress

Can you discuss your series ‘Bodymap’ and the similarities you have drawn between the human body and maps?

 I had already begun collecting old maps printed on linen. I find maps fascinating and can spend hours getting transported into foreign locations that although real remain hypothetical in my imagination. I am a big fan of the artist Richard Long and his use of maps and nature to create a physical and mental response & dialogue.

I came across some 19th century anatomical prints or ‘plates’ that were from medical reference books of the time. They are a really compelling insight into the early days of anatomical research by physicians of the period but also beautifully drafted drawings.

I combined the maps and plates and created a montage that morphs into a ‘geographical anatomy’ showing how we use our physical anatomy as a template for our environmental existence. Arterial Road, River of Life, Heart of a City…

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‘Body Map’

What is next from your ‘To Do List’?

I am very excited about the prospect of using Silver Liquid Emulsion and exposing some of the images I shot with a Japanese model onto previously applied layers of gesso, paint and collage. The whole process will take a few months as there are a number of layers all involving different processes. I am also looking forward to taking a break from my computer. It’s good to mix it up!

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I also want to look at opportunities to collaborate or work in a new environment for a limited period of time. I am keen to visit Japan as I have yet to go there. I have always loved the work of film-maker Akira Kurosawa and how he influenced Western film-making and more recently the animation of Hayao Miyazaki. The writer Haruki Murakami has been a huge inspiration and the magic realism thread running through his work have directly influenced my ‘Fourth Wall’ and East Meets West series.

 ZOA#11 If Anyone Asks‘If Anyone Asks’

I have recently been involved in a project started by a collage artist, Zach Collins from Minneapolis, USA. He started collaborating with fellow collage artists from around the world by sending a ‘starter’ collage that you could choose to complete using either an analogue or digital finish. Two different artists finished the same original image sent by Zach. The result of him collaborating with over 100 hundred artists was the recent publication of a book ‘We Said Hello and Shook Hands’. The book records all the finished collages and compares two artists approach to the same starter collage. I would like to continue collaborating with Zach and other artists from around the world. It is both refreshing and insightful.




Gavin Mitchell, London, UK

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, May, 2015