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Marcus Bell on Covid silver linings

Award-winning wedding photographer, Marcus Bell, has found a silver lining in having his clients abruptly freezing all upcoming jobs: the cleared schedule offers an opportunity to work on personal projects.

Marcus Bell.

‘This pandemic has been good and bad, in some ways,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘The blessing is that all the current jobs we have on the books have simply been postponed. So there are no jobs at the moment, but the ones we did have booked remain secure.’

Income came to a grinding halt a couple months ago, but fortunately Marcus and his staff at Studio Impressions in Brisbane are, like many Australians, ‘JobKeeping’.

He recalls recently visiting a local gallery to view an exhibition, and got chatting to the gallery director about how they’re coping at the moment. Marcus was surprised to hear they are working harder than ever – 12 hours days – as they felt compelled to utilise this rare opportunity.

‘They said at the moment some people may just be tuning out, while others are making opportunities or working really hard so that when they come to the other side of this they are in good shape,’ Marcus said. ‘I think that was good advice. This can be used as an opportunity to work on projects you wouldn’t normally, and hopefully people are encouraged to look at the silver lining of the situation we’re in.’

As an upmarket wedding photographer, Marcus’ signature style of ‘weddingscapes’ – blending traditional posed wedding portraits with landscape and street photography – have won a staggering number of awards.

He’s travelled across the globe to photograph clients in breathtaking scenery, and in-between shoots Marcus spends his downtime scouting the city streets for meaningful, unstaged compositions. Then he returns home, transfers the images onto a hard drive, and moves onto the next job.

‘Photographically, I’ve always put forward my clients in relation to everything I do. The expense is I put aside the images I take for myself. The upside now is that I’m able to delve into these projects, and work on images and ideas I’ve had for quite a while. I’ve been relishing this opportunity.

‘I’m always intrigued and learning. As a photographer, no matter how good you get, you’re always on this journey of learning. When Covid happened, I had this body of work and I asked how am I thinking about this and how can I find these feelings in the images and create that mood?’

From the series Waiting, by Marcus Bell.

Marcus is exhibiting Private Collection in the Queensland Centre for Photography (QCFP) 20/20 Photographic Vision program, which has moved online. Every fortnight the gallery shows 20 images by 20 leading photographers, and has so far featured work by legendary Australian photographers Jeff Moorfoot, John Gollings, and Neil Duncan.

‘I had these ideas, and planned it to be something along the lines of this back when I was asked to participate. But when the pandemic rapidly developed, it cemented the direction I wanted to go in. It made everything a lot clearer to me – that this is what I want to show and why. When I see these scenes, in my mind it relates to how I’ve felt at some time in my life – whether in business or as a person.

Private Collection is four series of images – Crossings, Outings, Waitings and Outings II. They are primarily street photos captured overseas, which invite viewers to ‘move beyond sometimes superficial person-to-person connections and explore connectedness through the feelings invoked by the natural beauty of the world in which we exist’.

‘Even though the images were taken quite a while ago, they relate to how I feel now about the situation we’re in. It’s like they were unfinished canvases, and it was a matter of picking the right time and reason. I guess it’s what I look for when I’m out and shooting. I’m looking for scenes with meaning, which may reflect on a time in my life. When I see something I’ll gravitate toward capturing that.’

We’ve all seen the various photography projects coming out during the pandemic, from family porch portraits to eerie empty cityscapes. It’s intriguing how Marcus’ series, captured pre-Coronavirus, bears a strong resemblance or explores themes relevant to the current situation.

A strong image in the Outings series, shot in Dublin, shows an elderly lady looking through the window of a funeral home.

From the series Outings, by Marcus Bell.

‘What the lady is wearing is sort-of drab and colourless, and it seemed bizarre she was looking into this funeral home like she was window shopping. Then there are the two young girls, who are really colourful and full of life, with the world in front of them. It was the juxtaposition that really struck me. Then there is a chained bike in there, and a lock around the other pole as if the other bike escaped from this life and is on a different journey now.

‘Walking around that suburb, it was a place where there was a lot of hardship. But there is resilience in the place like that, and a lot of unsung heroes. Whatever is thrown at them, they just get through it. They just stand up. People who weren’t born or lived in a suburb like that, might today find the current situation a lot more challenging that others born into hardship. Battlers will fight.’

Outings II, also shot in Dublin, shows various frames of one family captured during a 40-minute train ride.

From the series Outings II, by Marcus Bell.

‘These were all shot as is, but I feel these images represent how people feel at different points in their life, even though this was a relatively short journey for this family. What I noticed is when they saw the sea or something beautiful, their faces lit up and their demeanour was so different. But when we went through an area of town which was industrial and run down, their demeanour resonated with those scenes. The way I saw that is, sometimes in our lives, not everything runs smoothly and there are challenges and hurdles. We can be up, and life is wonderful, and suddenly be down.’

Click here to view Private Collection.

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