Meet a Maker: Mr Mixup
Mr Mixup is a prolific photobooth artist who has been involved in the 'booth scene since the 70's. We first met Mixup back in 2012 after we got our first vintage chemical photobooth when he came to visit us with his colourful backdrops and psychedelic masks. We're really pleased to be working with Mixup to host the International Photobooth Convention in May 2016 so we thought it was high time we interviewed him for our Meet a Maker series.
You have been producing work in photobooths since the late 70’s. What is it about booths that appeal to you as an artistic medium?
Using the contemporary music scene as a playground to enjoy and explore, I fell in with like-minded people in the late 1970's and we became a loose collective of artists and musicians. I started documenting, with super 8mm cine film, the activities of this group who were taking part in photo sessions each week in a different location around the UK using masks to make what we called 'Mad Photos'. These were no ordinary friends, a hybrid of hippiedom and punk with lashings of youthful idealism, we were on a mission. Don't ask me what that mission was but we made some fantastic pictures and had oodles of fun. So, I started using some of my own masks in photobooth machines before these "Mad photo sessions" would begin. We often met at the local railway station, home to two photobooth machines. This started a lifelong addiction to these cultural icons. I loved their immediacy, simplicity, and the opportunity for spontaneity they provided. When the photo booth appeared in my life, many different reasons to use it became apparent. Originally it was a place to show my 'artwork' and have fun at the same time. Then I liked using the photo booth just for what it was and started to go each week. So, as the years went by, my work became a record of the art I made and as a documentation of the booth itself. It also became a record of me and the family, friends and acquaintances in my life, who I took with me on these visits. In the beginning, I liked using the booth because it had no photographer and I was in total control of the output. The restrictions of the machine made me work harder to achieve good images. It's public setting but the half private situation made a strong contrast which added to its appeal. At this time I was also making my first experiments with musical composition, my use of masks widened into the making of small sculptures later used in animation films and the use of photobooth pictures became a dominant feature of my work. Faces and eyes fascinated me. In contrast, masks would hide them. Mutated faces made from everyday objects but everything with a slice of humour. I guess my mask making evolved into paintings somewhere along the way. A way of life was started.
Why did you decide to set up the International Photobooth Convention in 1999?
A moment in my life came along when I realised that what I was doing might be called art, in whatever way that is perceived, and I took time at the turn of the 1990's to complete an honours degree and then Masters Degree. By this time I had also built up a network of artists and friends who shared my passion with photobooth machines and the pictures that could be made using them. In particular, Sasa Markovic who I consider the first like-minded artist I met. We organised photobooth gatherings both here in the UK and also in Belgrade, Yugoslavia during the nineties. In 1999 I organized the first International Photobooth Convention in Nottingham to bring these people together under one banner. Some remnants of past escapades can be found on mixup.org.uk. The convention is still alive and has been run by the people at photobooth.net until now when I'm happy to be involved with Fred Aldous to bring it home, as it were.
What can people expect from the photobooth convention here at Fred's?
In a nutshell. Fun and inspiration. A place to meet like-minded people. Throughout the trials and tribulations of an artist’s quest I have never lost sight of the simple fun a photobooth machine can offer. Chemical or digital, they give space and time for anyone to imagine, create and realise a series of images without becoming bogged down with reason and meaning. Use a simple background, dress up, use a mask, bring an everyday object into the booth and use an array of effects and manipulations to produce a miniature masterpiece. Or give a theme and make a collage. I once thought “what can be done in the photobooth”. Well, I’ve never run out of ideas.
Do you have a preference to analogue or digital booths? No. They both offer different ways to create. I love the old analogue photobooths with their limitations and foibles but enjoy the challenge of the new technologies that they themselves will eventually become old hat.
Your work is surreal and psychedelic, where do you draw your inspiration from? Pop culture. It has been the backdrop to my life and I drift from idea to idea, sometimes letting them become manifest, collaborating with others, enjoying the feeling of creativity whether for a private moment or to be shared with others. My nickname Mixup has become my trademark and in some ways, my work has been influenced by that. A mixed up concoction of ideas. Based in Nottingham and born in the 1950's as Stephen Howard I grew up surrounded by the new popular culture of post-war Britain dominated by a love of music and the art that it has spurned. The weird, wonderful and wacky have inspired me whether they are world renowned or from just around the corner.
What artists do you admire? I've been inspired by many of the great artists from Duchamp, Dali, Warhol and so on but also Bridget Riley, Jan Svankmajer, The Brothers Quay and those alive in my time. Popular music has had a big influence on me and I consider them to be artists too, from "Abba to Zappa" as the saying goes. There are too many to mention. Everyone has a small impact on my thinking and sometimes those from outside the field of art. Those I admire most are those I have had the pleasure of knowing as friends or colleagues during my life. It runs into hundreds. They may not be as well known but are most important to me.
You’re showing your work at the Photobooth convention, can you tell us a bit about the pieces you will be exhibiting? The pictures on display span a 35 year period and offer a myriad of windows into the mind of Mixup and the many friends and acquaintances that have joined me in the wacky, psychedelic montage of ideas the photobooth has allowed me to create. From my earliest adventures, photobooths in faraway places and the plain crazy you will find a snapshot in space and time all bound together by the phenomenon that is the photo booth. Predominantly colour but also a snapshot of the black and white versions. "Who said it was art, Mixup?” A great friend of mine who was learning English once asked me what the word claptrap meant and when I explained about that text you have to prepare to explain your art he knew exactly what I meant. Thankfully the photobooth world doesn't need much explaining.
After the photobooth convention, what have you got lined up? The power of words has also become important to me. I write lyrics and compose music in small local bands. I started a record label in 2013 to give me an output for another old technology I love, the vinyl record. So, music projects will be my priority. Occasional gigs and studio collaborations are very important to me. I'm about to design a logo for a band, record an e.p. with a friend and embark on another solo album.
And finally, where’s the most interesting place you have used a photo booth? It's always great to use a photo booth when you come across them on your travels. In the days of the seventies and eighties, the most obvious places to find a photo booth were bus and train stations and a few stores and post offices and they were almost always indoors and often tucked away in a dark corner as though in shame and only there for functionality. The most exciting to find were the hidden ones in indoor markets surrounded by all manner of clothes and haberdashery. During my travels across Europe I would find many more machines outdoors which seemed unusual at the time but with good weather makes sense. In the last couple of decades, photobooth machines have been placed in prominent positions to attract more custom, no longer the subject of ridicule. In the states, I have used booths in Coney Island, Hollywood Boulevard, restaurants and nightclubs but all places you might expect to see them. Two machines that still stick in my mind are one in Pisa, Italy which was positioned outdoors where if you looked out you could see the leaning tower. I took a set of pictures in that machine with a pose that had a slight lean to it. Another find was a shop in Greece that while having a working machine also had a classic fifties model which had been emptied of the internal workings to be replaced with mops and buckets for the cleaner. Not so much interesting but important was the colour machine in Nottingham Midland railway station (70's through to 90's) where I learnt my trade so to speak.