Interview with… Patrick McCormack

Patrick McCormack
Photo: Patrick McCormack
From Russia to Vermont: if yesterday we met Dimitriy, today’s photographer is Patrick McCormack, a 25 year old photographer rasied in Burlington, Vermont. While no subject or medium is off limits, he primarily shoots natural and urban landscapes, with occasional portraits on medium format film. At age 17, he left home for Chicago, where he resided for 4 years, independently pursuing film and music. Since moving home to Vermont, his focus remains photographic projects, though his evolution from 35mm to medium format occurred only two years ago. Most of his work uses available light, and is shot during the off hours of early morning or late night, in order to cultivate scenes completely void of people.

When did you start to think about photography?
I remember eagerly awaiting the monthly RadioShack catalog, just to look at all the cameras they sold, especially Polaroid systems. At that age, $40 for a camera seemed absolutely impossible, especially the $16 price tag on a box of Polaroid 600. Eventually I got an instant camera, but didn’t start thinking critically about images until my first 35mm SLR, pretty simple Canon rebel with a kit lens. That camera got me through my awkward high school years, and a few years later, I lost it. I moved on to more substantial equipment later, and I’m still in the early phases of seeing my work as a collection, not just shot for shot.

Photo: Patrick McCormack
Photo: Patrick McCormack

What does photography mean to you? and which kind of photography do you like more?
Photography means everything to me. It is inevitably the last thing I think about before bed, and the first thing when I wake up. You’ve really got to stick with it, something I haven not always done, but photography requires a lot of attention. To me, it is just as much about the process as it is about the result. Occasionally, I’ll go out for hours and only return home with one or two good shots, but the pursuit of great images pushes you into corners of your surroundings that you would never otherwise explore. Photography is all about discovery, persistence, and cataloging. To get decent images, you’ve got to be a challenge seeking individual, that much I know.

Pearl Street ATM, Patrick McCormack
Patrick McCormack

When you take a portrait, what is important for you?
A quick look at what makes this person an individual, or at least a glimpse of what they’re going through. We’re all so concerned, and preoccupied, it’s difficult to take a moment to clear your head and just have your picture taken. Some people just naturally look great and leave all their baggage outside the frame. I love photographing unnatural subjects, people I know mostly, where I can see their pain or their curiosity sort of lingering about.

Do you think it’s important to follow a school to learn how to shoot?
Not at all, but I do believe it can help, it really depends on your learning style. I attended an alternative high school that allowed me to build my own darkroom and spend most my junior year inside of it, developing film and prints. This was a great system for me to learn by, mostly self guided and experimental. Later, I found conventional photography classes constrictive and I was often misunderstood by my peers. I can see a lot of different methods and philosophies coexisting, even within the small film community, but you really have to follow your gut, that never fails. I’ve burned so many rolls of film doing things the “wrong” way, and you learn a bit more from every frame, especially the bad ones.

Patrick McCormack
Photo: Patrick McCormack

What’s the photo you want to take and you never did?
A portrait of my father. Part of what compels me to improve my portraiture and find true expression within a moment is the unseen moments I shared with my father in his last few years. There was one black and white photograph I took of him on the roof of our house. He’s looking straight down at me, as I point my camera up from the ground, and his expression is a bit irritated and standoffish. It’s one of my all time favorites, and I wish I had more like it.

What’s your photo-mission?
I constantly return to this one thought: what do these places look like when we’re not around? Its sort of like the “tree falls in the woods” idiom, sometimes I obsess over this. While I’m here now, writing, sleeping, or scanning negatives, there are so many places, completely silent, untouched, unmanned, with a soft glow and combination of natural and man made light. These places exist every minute of the day, and will outlive us all, but so often they are just out there, nothing is happening. I like to think a lot of my pictures show that side of a place, or thing, hidden in plain sight, I guess thats a simple theme I stick to.

On top of the subject, I hope to contribute to the preservation of film. I love the practice and procedure of shooting film, and hopefully that will inspire others to help keep it alive. I believe so strongly in film as a medium, there is nothing else like it. My mission is to remain patient, keep developing my methods over time, and never stop learning.

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