Bobby Mills interview

The UK’s Bobby Mills talks to us about his photographic practice and the rewards of slowing down.

Interview by Fraser Stanley
Published November 2013

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i. From the WA series
ii — iv. From The Road Not Taken  series

All images © Bobby Mills 2013

You visited Western Australia for six weeks in early 2012. Tell us a little about your experience of Australia and the process of making work abroad.

Being in Australia was the first time I had been away with the camera. I spent my time driving around in an old VW camper from one place to the next, really getting used to the space of Australia because, geez, there is a lot of it – a bit different to here in the UK.

Ultimately I had time and no agenda, which was good for making work, especially being somewhere unfamiliar. I was free to work intuitively – photograph things as I found them, not knowing what was going to come next.

The change in the quality of light really pushed me too. I can’t describe why, but it was different.

I understand you recently graduated from the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham. How did you find studying?

Yes, recently graduated. I enjoyed studying at Farnham, and my perception of photography changed a lot whilst doing so.

The main thing was how it gave me this bubble to work in. I could experiment, try new things, and figure out what I liked doing with a camera. The tutors encouraged self-development too, which gave me space to crack on how I wanted to, and generally gave me time to think.

Plenty of nice walks around there for when things got stressful.

“I was hooked as soon as I started walking. I found beautiful photographs right next to this roaring road.”

Your series
The Road Not Taken focuses on the M25, an orbital highway that travels in a circle. It is one of the busiest motorways in southern England, however in this project you followed the banks of the road by foot. What was it about the M25 that you felt drawn to when making this work?

So yeah, the M25 is an interesting one. I was reading a lot about 'the road', especially in a photographic context, so that had me thinking roads. The road as an idea traditionally goes somewhere; it leads to some place. The M25 doesn’t. It’s a circle; it goes nowhere. So this was one thing – some contradiction.

But it really came to my mind when I was driving home one day and at some point was on the M25. I wondered what I was passing by at 70mph, and in fact, what thousands of people pass by every day. The motorway forces you to look ahead – all you see is tail lights, with flashes of colours and landscapes passing you by.

At some point I figured I’d slow it down, walk the banks and photograph with a 5x4 view camera. I looked intensely at what was readily overlooked. I was hooked as soon as I started walking. I found beautiful photographs right next to this roaring road.

It seems as though your work is often focused on travel and the notion of transience. This is particularly evident in your work 1440 Eggs and also in The Road Not Taken. Would it be fair to say that travel influences your work?

Travel certainly influences my work. It’s central – whether it’s a subtle sense of transience or something more literal.

“I slow down, and see pictures.”

Your working process is very traditional. You shoot both large and medium format film and present your works as hand-printed C-types. What is it about this process that you enjoy?

To me, photography is all about process. Working on film has a certain process that changes slightly with each format, but ultimately it’s the materials I enjoy – working with something tangible.

Working with large or medium format encourages a certain way of looking or seeing, which is the beginning. I slow down, and see pictures. Stephen Shore said working with large format is the photographic means of communicating what the world looks like in a heightened state of awareness, or something like that, and to me that’s it. The process of working on large format is in line with how I look at what’s around me – slowly, and with a certain sensibility. It’s an inherently considered way of working.

Pushing the analogue process all the way to print is important too. Again, it’s about materials and the subtlety of light that can be achieved printing straight from a negative. I find it gives me truer prints to what I saw when I set the shutter. Ultimately, I think it boils down to control – something that I think is being lost in the digital shift in photography. 

What’s next for Bobby Mills?

What’s next? Some seriously hard work mixed with equally hard play.