The Art of the Personal Project: Mike Marques

- - Personal Project

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Mike Marques

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How long have you been shooting?
12 years professionally

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I am a graduate of The New England School of Photography in Boston.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
Personal work is what keeps me going so I am constantly thinking about topics and concepts. At that time, I wanted to have a Connecticut focused topic that needed more attention than it was getting. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, CT Chapter had been a client of mine for a couple years and I attended one of their fundraising events. I came across a book, published by the national chapter, that had portraits of people across the country diagnosed with MS. Not one person was from Connecticut. The number of diagnosed CT residents was about 6500 then.

I contacted the chapter about creating a book on a local level. At first, there was push back because publishing a book costs money and they weren’t interested. I had to change my approach. All I asked was for them to let me photograph some residents to show them where I was coming from. They started to understand my view of wanting the local community to see that MS is close to home. After meeting with the communications director a few times she agreed to reach out to some residents.

I personally did not have any connection to the disease and was not too familiar with it. There is no cure and it affects everyone very differently. I knew this would present its challenges and force me to think outside of my wheelhouse.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
At the beginning it was just about creating a few portraits. We put the idea of a book aside and just focused on one resident at a time. The MS chapter came up with lists of names of who could be photographed and we discussed which stories which raise the most awareness. I spoke directly with my subjects before photographing them and talked about how MS has affected them and what they have done to still live the life they want to live. MS affects people differently both physically and mentally so the approach to each portrait was new every time. One of the earlier portraits was of Karen Guarnaccia (in wheel chair, sitting in front of sliding glass door). MS has had a large affect on her physically – some days getting out of bed was not an option. The final image was Karen on a good day. I arrived at the MS office a few days after the shoot with a 16×20 print of Karen. The director finally realized the type of images I wanted to create and the impact they could have in our community. We started meeting on a regular basis to discuss possible subjects. We reached out to well over 100 people, many of which did not want to take part for various reasons. At first we set the number at 25 portraits. When we hit 25, there were some things the images had not addressed so we kept moving forward.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
We started shooting in September of 2010 and the last portrait was taken in December of 2013. We sometimes went a month without photographing anyone. Between me traveling for assignments and the chapter having busier times throughout the year, scheduling was often difficult. Also, we did not shoot much in the summer months due to the most common symptom of MS being heat sensitivity.

Something I decided from the very beginning was that whatever was to become of this project, the final images needed to be shown together as a whole. There are so many stages and severities of the disease that one image alone could not tell the whole story. This idea led us to word “mosaic” – each portrait is strong on its own though everything together reveals an even bigger picture. Word started to get out about the project so we did release a few images that could be used for press and social media.

In February 2014, we had a gallery opening to reveal i am a MoSaic and to show gratitude to those who took part. Many had not seen their portrait until the day of the gallery opening. Some people’s MS had progressed since their portrait was taken. There were many tears, some of sadness and some of joy. It was a wonderful day and a truly humbling experience.

Since the original show, the images have been on display at the Connecticut State Capital in Hartford, The Grove – a co working space in New Haven, CT, and the Aetna world headquarters. I am currently working on putting together a fundraising event in Stamford, CT (just outside NYC) for March 2015. The images would be on display a few weeks before and after the event.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
Portfolio shooting has more of an initial direction and focus you are going for. I was ok letting this project take shape on its own without thinking too much about it. I wasn’t concerned as much about the photography but more about the communication and understanding going into a shoot. I do not work with models often, I photograph real people. With any portrait, there needs to be a level of trust between myself and my subjects. Putting something like MS in the middle of all of that presents a whole other element I don’t deal with often. Working this way changed the way I shoot – for the better – and helped me grow as a photographer.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
I usually post to my blog and that feeds into my Facebook and Twitter. There were numerous production and behind the scenes images throughout the years as the work was being created. Once the project was complete, I had a routine to post a few of the final images per week for a little over three months.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
We did get a good amount of traction from our initial social media outreach. Through that, I was able organized an NPR panel with three of the subjects and myself. I did a couple morning TV shows as well as numerous print media around the state. The MS Chapter continues to use these images for marketing and raising awareness in all media.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
I have created a promo piece specifically focused on i am a MoSaic. It is a 8.5” x 5.5” handmade book with images from the project and the story behind it. I also built a website dedicated to the project: www.iamamosaic.com

Project Statement:

i am a MoSaic is a collection of images portraying Connecticut’s many faces of multiple sclerosis. It is collaboration between photographer Mike Marques and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Connecticut Chapter. As a dedicated volunteer and supporter of the National MS Society, Mike has traveled around the state for nearly three years capturing residents living life as fully as possible in the face of MS. More than 40 residents of all ages, races, genders, and abilities were photographed. This is a unique and moving portrait of the many ways in which people live with this potentially debilitating disease. Together, the images become a composite picture of hope and resilience.

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Mike Marques is a portrait and lifestyle photographer based in West Hartford, CT. The images he creates are the result of the trusting relationships he builds with his subjects. When he’s not traveling on assignment, he can be found cycling the backroads of Connecticut or on a hike with his cattle dog. His clients include Connecticut Magazine, General Electric, Health Dialog, United Bank, World Wrestling Entertainment.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

Suzanne Sease

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