Creatives In Profile: Interview with Mike Dodson

md-nitrb13

Creativity, in all its myriad different forms, can take us to the edge of the world and look beyond. It can inspire, inform, influence. Used in the right way, it can illuminate the path ahead.

Because of this, Nothing in the Rulebook has been founded to emphasise such creativity. Yet we’re also here to highlight not just works of creativity; but the creative individuals who write our stories and our poetry; take our photographs; create our artworks.

Our new ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series offers creatives the opportunity to discuss their life and art at length. And it is an honour to introduce our latest interview – with writer, editor and photographer, Mike Dodson.

Mike runs Vagabond Images – his photographic work, which is used by myriad different organisations from the BBC to Pearson. Cutting his teeth as a copywriter and editor, he wrote in various wage brackets for various publications of various respectability,including Beware The Cat, Time Out, the Easy Jet in-flight magazine, and Square Meal. He now writes short stories, maintains a blog, and continues to contribute to a range of organs, from Viz and Private Eye to the Metro newspaper and sundry other voices.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle.

DODSON

Via quite a significantly misspent youth in the punk, goth and metal scenes, I developed a strong desire to write, and somehow ended up in London studying Media Communications at Scumbag College. I fell out of there with half a pretend degree, and found myself surfing the very edge of the dot-com boom as a copywriter, where for three years companies fell apart around me, until I settled down into an editorship for a while. My father introduced me to photography in the early part of the new century, and, hindered by a complete inability to draw, photography became my medium of choice.

I still live in London, now with my beautiful wife Cat, and together we drink too much and associate with misfits. I’m a hugely disappointed, hopelessly romantic, pathetically optimistic misanthrope, and think that humanity has so much potential if only it just decided to apply itself.

INTERVIEWER

How do your passions for writing and photography complement one another?

DODSON

A lot of my writing is relatively visual in its discourse. I’m quite passionate about music, and my tastes are influenced hugely by detailed and coherent lyrical content, which has in turn influenced both my writing and photography. I think generally the two should stand separately beyond children’s books, although I know they don’t. A photograph should tell you of itself just as writing should; good writing should not need illustration, and good photography should not need description.

Berlin-Hauptbahn. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

Berlin-Hauptbahn. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any other creative passions?

DODSON

I used to hit things and make a noise behind some musicians for a while, and retain an irritating habit of playing nearby surfaces when I’m thinking. I retain my interest in music, but of late I’ve become interested increasingly in moving photographic composition, and will be developing my work there in the near future.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

DODSON

Anyone I’m able to or think I could have a drink with. I dislike pomposity, but I’m a fan of experimentation – one of the main influences I’ve taken in photography is perhaps Roy Lichtenstein’s snapshot/comic frame approach. The concept of framing a moment intrigues me – the interesting side of that most tedious of conversations ‘Yah, but what IS art?’

I like descriptive and passionate song lyrics, the clean lines of art deco, and the rebellion of punk. In terms of people, I’ve written some terrible, terrible poetry at girls I’ve wanted to sleep with – does that count?

'Boy'. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

‘Boy’. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

Your work as Vagabond Images highlights numerous different photographic themes – from landscape pictures of British and American countryside, to intense urban scenes, sinister backdrops packed with brooding emotion, as well as imaginative profiles and shots of the people who live in all these different worlds. What catches your eye as a photographer?

DODSON

I’m quite intrigued by the arse-end of capitalism; The Man Behind The Curtain. Money is actually very, very weird if you look at it for more than a few seconds, and the concepts it relies on are quite literally surreal. This seems to me to be at significant odds with our nature as animals, and of all the places in the world to view this, one of the world’s leading financial capitals is one – have you ever been to The City at the weekend? It’s a ghost town – the quietest place you could imagine. Then at 7am on a Monday morning it’s covered in people with globally-reaching influence.

I’m quite a fan of high contrast images, as I find them easier to understand and digest than overly busy or detailed compositions. Contrary to this, however, the romantic in me finds open landscapes wonderfully desolate, and one of the things I like about the USA is how absolutely vast it is. In America you can drive for hours and hours – quite literally – through nothing very much at all, seeing absolutely no one, and getting absolutely nowhere significant. I love to just sit on a train or coach, staring out of the window, getting lost. This discourse applies to Europe too (With the notable exception of the Berlin-Warsaw train journey, which – other than the changing signage – is singularly crap).

'Accountant': Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

‘Accountant’: Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

In Georege Perec’s ‘La Disparation’ the question is asked ‘Why do you take photographs so constantly, so obsessively? And the reply returns ‘so that I’ll see what I’ve seen’. Why do you take photographs? What draws you to the form?

DODSON

Photographs provide the opportunity for further exploration and re-examination, presentation and composition provide the opportunity for interpretation of a subject, and looking through a viewfinder makes whatever you see into a potential picture. In terms of form – form is often a fleeting moment – with people I like to fire off a lot of candid shots when people are socialising, as micro expressions can be so fleeting and yet so very powerful – it just takes that one pause to convey the truth, that one look when they both get the joke, or the glance that betrays their true feelings.

For architecture, high contrast is often visually arresting, and thus useful for that type of shot. The great thing about architecture is that it is static, and since so much of form can be dictated by lines, architectural photography allows you to fully explore these.

INTERVIEWER

The use of mirror images is used frequently in your work; as are moments of contrast – for example between darker and lighter shades – do you believe that there is a mirror image to everything? Is this world always a ‘world of opposites’? What role does juxtaposition play in art and – indeed – life?

DODSON

A mirror is a magical item – it provides us with a view of the unseen.  As animals our primary sense is vision, and a mirror simultaneously makes us more powerful, by providing us with greater visual knowledge, and potentially more vulnerable from the unknown and potentially threatening.  It expands our vision; it provides us with a glimpse into another, unseeable world. The metaphors a mirror can provide are easy to relate to through knowledge of the other – good/evil, light/dark, obscure/clear, etc.

It can also be used to great effect as a cheap trick in horror films, which – to Cat’s delight – I fall for. Every. Single. Time.

'Glastonbury Thorn'. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

‘Glastonbury Thorn’. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

Your compilation of writings, are – in the way they so often pieces of ‘micro non-fiction’ – almost photographic. They provide glimpses and snapshots into real, lived events. Do you think your writing process is photographic?

DODSON

Photography translates literally as ‘Drawing with light’. If I had any ability I would draw (my artistic talent has a significant blind-hedgehog-in-a-bag aspect to it, and thus descriptive writing and photography have been my workarounds). I’ve always been intrigued by capturing that one moment, the perfect timing, and in the climax of the story. Just as a play is constructed of ‘scenes’, ultimately everything conceived visually is a type of photograph, and writing is a way of drawing pictures in other people’s minds.

INTERVIEWER

Images and words read differently, they may not fuse, but they co-exist. Do you think there is a disjunction between word and image? What do you make of the relationship between what is written and what is seen?

DODSON

While a photograph may capture the moment wonderfully, it won’t necessarily furnish the audience with all the information – look at the recent furore over the photograph of Aylan Kurdi. In terms of history it’s often quite hard to fully detail situations, although with fiction – well – everyone knows the difficulty of making the book into a film, because everyone’s imagination is different. A significant difficulty with journalistic photography is how far it’s acceptable to stage a photograph, and one quickly enters a Schroedinger-esque situation.  Writing, however, is in itself fallible as it is written from memory – Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time Of Gifts is wonderfully detailed for something written after the event. However, in terms of journalism, the World Wide Web and internet have changed it forever and completely – now one can experience real-life reportage instantly from the scene without it really affecting anyone involved at all.

INTERVIEWER

In much of your writing, there is the strong pervading sense of the ‘tragi-comic’ in your collection. So many of Shakespeare’s tragedies could easily become comedies and vice-versa. Your work captures the delicate balance between the two. Yet how do we tread this fine-line between tragedy and comedy?

DODSON

As a student, and as an idiot, I did the very minimum work required at university, at the very last minute, because – well – I’m an idiot. One day before a piece of work was due, I was in the library, searching frantically for a book to plagiarise, and on finding it flipped to the pages needed and read it as I hurried between the shelves, returning to my desk. At the end of the shelves was a portable step, over which I tripped and flew – absolutely flew – out from between the shelves, sailing past two very pretty (Of course they were very bloody pretty) girls. Seeing me explode out of nowhere, at a height of about three feet, and crashing head-first into a crumpled heap at the foot of a desk, one girl gasped in horror and concern, while the other instinctively pointed and laughed.

How should we tread the line? Honestly; as those two girls did.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in photography, what are your thoughts and feelings on the industry? And how would you advise aspiring photographers to break out onto the ‘scene’?

DODSON

The great thing about technology now is that it has made everyone a photographer. The problem with technology now is that it has made everyone a photographer. As Bailey expressed his hatred of digital for bringing everyone to the same level, so that level becomes ever more refined. Digital still has a long way to go to match actual film, and because of the physical discourse, filmic photography is becoming increasingly exclusive. Journalistic photography is now pretty well entirely open to the public, and increasingly reliant on celebrity culture.

In terms of digital trends, I notice that currently over-sharpening images is currently en vogue, while thankfully the awful profligacy of HDR seems to have bitten the dust, along with the adoration for the tilt-shift filter in Photoshop.  The problem and the blessing of digital is that it is so very easy now to dramatically alter a shot that it’s difficult to know when to stop, and also judge what a photograph now actually is.

If you want to get into photography you need to do a lot, a lot. The difference between a photographer and someone with a camera is the amount they shoot – if you take the shot a hundred times from a hundred different angles, to try and make sure that the right one’s in there, then you’re on the right road. Digital photography makes this all a lot easier.

If people start asking you to take photographs for them, then start asking them for money. You don’t ask a plumber to come ‘round and fix your boiler on the proviso that you’ll tell your mates about how great he is – don’t let them tell you such. And if anyone comments that that photo you took is really good, and remarks that you must have a really good camera, then legally speaking – legally speaking you can kill these people.

'Mirror'. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

‘Mirror’. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

How about when it comes to writing? Are there any emerging trends you’re particularly interested in?

DODSON

The great thing about technology now is that it has made everyone a writer. The problem with technology now is that it has made everyone a writer.  The internet has enabled anyone with an opinion to express it and potentially be listened to – even the Katie Hopkins puppet commands a sizable audience on Twitter, and makes a sizable income for whomever the operator is. I’m quite interested in the effects that texting, Twitter and the rise of emojis have had on communication, and the fluidity of language – the concept of replacing words with numbers is as fascinating as it is irritating, and the idea of expressing sarcasm pictorially is just downright weird.

INTERVIEWER

How is the digital age impacting the writing and photography industries?

DODSON

Democratisation – there is a huge amount of noise now, the channels feeding on them are increasingly specialist, and the content increasingly diluted. The difference between professional and amateur is becoming very blurred. If you can pay your bills by doing what you do, you’re a professional. If you can’t, you’re not. The digital age thrives on vanity and narcissism, and our self-expression has been sold to us as the most important part of our id, by cynically manipulating our ego. The visceral pornography of instant gratification is encompassing in modern society now.

INTERVIEWER

When you write, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when compiling your initial drafts?

DODSON

‘Write in haste, edit at leisure.’ Michael Stipe of American rock band REM talked of ‘Vomit songs’ – where the whole lot would just come out in one hit. While successfully doing so would be incredible, it’s worth assuming that you won’t, and getting everything down as it comes – it’s awful having that excellent idea just before you go to sleep, and waking up remembering that you had to remember something. I heard that Stephen King has notebooks all over his house, which he harvests on a regular basis (This may be complete bollocks, but on a personal level I have practiced doing so ever since having read of it). Then edit, edit, edit. Rewrite and edit. Then wonder if it’s good enough for a first draft, have a huge attack of the nerves, and go back and edit it again. Do you know how long this piece of crap is taking me to write? I’ve been working on it since 1996!

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

DODSON

Generally I’m propping up a mantelpiece with a whisky, surrounded by a host of pretty young women all hanging on every word I say. Whether or not I actually am at the time I write is a matter of mere pedantry.

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?

DODSON

I think the democratisation I mentioned earlier is a significant aspect now. As the physical book becomes increasingly a fashion-statement for hipsters, so publishing and distribution is becoming easier and easier, as the internet allows you to write and publish your own work – either by website or on Kindle. I think as the collective attention span shortens, increasingly skilled editing will become prized – Strunk & White notwithstanding.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

DODSON

Creativity is simply creating. It’s not always a good thing – there’s a lot of absolute shite out there, but by the same token there are some wonderful, uncelebrated, absolute diamonds – which so many of us are. Wordsworth said that good poetry is born of strong emotion recalled in a time of tranquillity. My writing is often such; my photography less so – my photography requires a lot more elbow grease – pounding the streets and taking time to take and retake and look at and take. Eventually – hopefully – I will find among what I’ve shot The Shot. Sometimes I won’t, and that’s tough.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘writer’ mean to you?

DODSON

If you make money from strangers for writing, you’re a writer.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

DODSON

I’m terribly embarrassed to say that I don’t – I write what I write. That other people like it is nice – that other people have paid me on occasion for it is nice. But it’s what I do because it’s, er – what I do. Aim to have your work speak for itself.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

DODSON

Much of my writing is at the very least semi- if not entirely autobiographical. I will take artistic license here and there if necessary, but I’m not imaginative enough to come up with actual, real fiction – there’s always some basis of me in it. Even in my appalling and dark stuff – we all have dark thoughts, and that we are unwilling to face them or talk of them interests me – the disconnect between the social requirement for honesty and politeness is wonderfully flawed – as detailed by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.

'On The Road II'. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

‘On The Road II’. Photography: Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

DODSON

I’ve just started working as a cameraman for a fledgling production company. It’s in its infancy yet, and the work is an entirely new discipline to that of stills, but the mechanisms and structures are there – hopefully we’ll have a productive year, produce some award-winning stuff, quickly become rich and the most famous outfit in Britain, and Winona Ryder will finally stop playing hard-to-get and start returning my bloody calls.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

DODSON

She shouted at him – he flinched.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

DODSON

You can only break the rules when you know the rules and you’ve followed the rules and you’ve lived the rules, so write, write, write, and edit, edit, edit. Remember that you are a font of absolute crap, but don’t ever forget that you also have such absolutely wonderful beauty.

Alternatively, if in a hurry:

  1. Red wine
  2. Cigarettes
  3. A deep yearning.

3 thoughts on “Creatives In Profile: Interview with Mike Dodson

  1. Pingback: The role of the creative and our place in culture | nothingintherulebook

  2. Pingback: Our silent friends: stunning short film celebrates our spiritual connection with trees and nature | nothingintherulebook

  3. Pingback: Reality through photography | nothingintherulebook

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s