Last month we collaborated with photographer Stephen J. Morgan and asked him to represent a handful of Marwood’s Spring/Summer 2016 accessories in a series of portraits. Having moved to Amsterdam from England in September, Stephen has started to meet interesting makers and creatives in varied occupations. Blending their personal style with a Marwood tie or scarf, this photo series captures these new acquaintances in their familiar surroundings; peeking behind closed doors to find the undercurrent of talent and new friendships that every city thrives on. They just need to be discovered.
Interested in knowing more about the individuals pictured? Read on to hear more about Stephen’s process and his approach to this series…
Interview with Stephen J.Morgan about his process for his photo series for Marwood. Stephen grew up in Birmingham. Having lived in and around London, Stephen, his partner Sam and daughter Gracie moved to Amsterdam in September 2015 for a new way of life.
Interview by Becky French
Photography by Stephen J. Morgan
Interviewee: Stephen J. Morgan
BF: We now have to rely on skype to catch up, rather than meeting for coffees in East London. I am so pleased your move hasn’t meant an end to working together. Having collaborated last year for the logo spotting book, it is great to work on a new series with you. It all came together over skype in terms of the idea, but you led this shoot. How did you go about it and was it easy with the subjects?
SJM: In terms of my approach, I didn’t have a lot of time with them, maybe between 10 minutes and an hour. They were all shot in available light at work, home or in Thijs’ case on the stairs of an old Catholic school (now converted to artist studios) in the middle of artist studio open day. I had about 15 mins with him, shooting in-between people going from one studio to the other. I never really ask my sitters to do much other than where to stand or sit, I think they find their own form a lot easier that way.
BF: I like to try and subvert the expectancy that ties represent formality. Both you and I have quite tender, story-telling visions of ties and their wearer’s. After chatting, we wanted to make sure this series didn’t appear stuffy or conservative.
SJM: Yes, the idea to keep it casual came out of a conversation we had about how your business really took off when menswear became more tailored. For me, although I have always dressed in a very tailored way for special occasions thanks to my dad who always had his suits hand made, I have also always worn ties on a more casual basis. I think a tie with a denim jacket looks amazing, you only have to look at Steve McQueen at Bruce Lee’s funeral, or as in the image of Thijs with that vintage indigo Italian suede jacket! I thought of the 30’s and 40’s when men who worked in factories and on the land would wear ties with workwear or images of L. S. Lowry painting in his studio.
BF: I love the styling. Did all the subjects come dressed like this?
SJM: I influenced the styling a little.
Ron, the first one in the series (1st image featured), I styled. Mainly because he was the first. No one else had confirmed and I was feeling my way a bit. He’s 39 and never worn a tie before. However, we had had a conversation about the whole workwear thing, with him being a carpenter. I said if I was doing carpentry I would wear a tie and jacket with a nice chambray shirt. So that one is really a reflection of me.
I had seen Thijs in that jacket at a friends opening (it’s really an amazing colour, a deep indigo) so I asked him to wear that. He has a great look, very Ska and he brought the only formal shirt he owned, his wedding shirt. As soon as I saw that jacket and he agreed to take part I knew it would have to be that tie. And because it looked very military, tucking the tie into the shirt seemed right.
Dan, who’s wearing the black and white scarf only ever wears black, I’ve never seen him in a shirt. I knew he would turn up with a black t-shirt, it was a given and I didn’t want to put him in something he would not usually wear but he does wear scarfs. I shot Dan just after Thijs. They are both designers, Thijs with Scotch and Soda denim dept and Dan with his own denim label Hadaka. We had a nice little conversation about the quality of the Tie and Scarf, Dan loving the weight of the scarf and Thijs checking the blue of the tie against the old pair of Levis he had on.
Mustafa is the old fella in the blue scarf was the only one I didn’t pre-arrange. I had about 10 mins with him, so not much to think about there but I like his shirt selection.
Cam and Jas already had what they wanted to wear ready. Cam had a fine selection of vintage Levi shirts and in the end we went with his favourite. I asked Jas if she had a jacket with a pocket for the square and the one in the shot was the only jacket she had, but again, it looked great. If I ever wear a tie, I can’t wear a square that matches, it feels too slick, so I decided if a tie and a square were to be in the same shot then they would be different.
Japp is the gardener in the fine hat. He is wearing a shirt I brought along. It was a hot day and he was wearing a t-shirt. However, on other days he had been wearing a shirt. The rest is all him.
Martin came with a nice shirt bit the collar was too small. You make proper ties but unfortunately not many people make proper collars to fit them, so I put him in one of mine.
BF: In terms of everyone’s professions, they are quite varied. What did they all do and how did you meet them?
SJM: Dan is a designer and founder of Hadaka Denim, Ron is a Furniture maker and Thijs is also a designer. I met Dan a few years ago on my first trip to Amsterdam with my wife Samantha, she’s good friends with his girlfriend Rachel. Through Rachel and Dan I met Ron and Thijs at openings, dinners and friendly get-togethers. They all live in Amsterdam.
Martin is a Student doing an MA in Environmental Resource Management and Sustainability, the same MA as my wife Samantha. He Lives in Amstelveen.
Japp the Gardener retired from recruitment management and now works in the community allotment just across the canal from where we live. They have given Gracie, my daughter, a little patch there and they often let her feed and sometimes chase the chickens. He Lives in Amstelveen.
Mustafa is an artist with a studio next to Rachel, the girlfriend of Dan. I don’t know much about him as he was a bit stoned and spoke no English! He lives in Amsterdam.
Jasmine does Public Affairs at OMA. I met through a friend of a friend. She lives in Rotterdam.
Cam is an Architecture Student and Jasmine’s boyfriend.
BF: Do you miss England? How does Amsterdam vary and do you think you will put down some roots?
SJM: I don’t miss England but I miss my family, they are all in Birmingham. I moved away to London in my early 20’s so we have always had to travel to see one another and to be honest it’s easier, just as quick and costs more or less the same for my mom to visit us here than on the south coast where we last lived in the UK.
Amsterdam is a lot more easygoing, really friendly and it helps that everyone speaks English. That sounds a very English thing to say but when you land here with a child and are starting a new life it’s the one thing that can be your biggest obstacle, so it helps a lot. It’s also a great place to bring up children. Where we live, just on the outskirts, there is a forrest with small lakes/ponds and when the sun is shinning we can just jump on our bikes with a a bag of food and be sitting or even swimming in one of the ponds in about 15 mins. I think the biggest difference has been getting a bike and riding everywhere. I never cycled in the UK, it never felt very safe, but here with the cycle lanes it’s fantastic. I can throw Gracie (who’s coming up to 3 years) in here chair on the back of my bike and go anywhere and feel safe doing it.
BF: Finally, who or what is your inspiration for your photographs?
SJM: Not too sure. My personal work tends to centre around my life growing up and can encompass politics, nationality, religion and sometimes drinking, so without sounding too self centred, the life I was born into gives me a lot to think about. Many of the photographers I love made these grand journeys, usually in the USA. If I took anything from that and it seems a bit obvious, it was to get out, walk around and look. Paul Graham has probably been my biggest influence. Not in how my work looks but in terms of trying to approach things in a different way each time. However, for me the change has never been too radical. An example of this can be seen in the series about England called Jerusalem. Jerusalem is made up of 4 very separate sets of 10 images. The first set is of a man being arrested on a street in south London, taken on one roll of medium format film (10 frames). The second set are taken on bus journeys I made in Birmingham of the backs of peoples heads. The third set is of flowers in English gardens. The fourth set are of what someone once called ‘street still life’ and work as a metaphor for English life. Each of these could of easily made up a series on their own of around 40 images but as I was working on them they started to feel like they belonged to one series and the narrative crossed over from one to the other. It’s almost like a conversation between four people about England.
BF: Thanks so much Stephen. I look forward to us working together again – whether that’s at home or abroad.
To see more of Stephen’s work, visit his website: www.stephenjmorgan.com