Amin McDonald

1 September 2018

Amin McDonald

WE THE OUTLIERS caught up with Amin to discuss his photography, representations of masculinity, and using colour-blindness to his advantage

Where does your inspiration come from?

I think my inspiration comes from my environment, myself, or my religion. It’s obvious to a lot of people that know you, they know that your work comes from you. They can see that kind of spice from you. They can tell how you think; they can see it in your work. ‘Alfiah’ came as a result of  me being colour-blind. I wanted to explore colours more and I was like: “Why have I never done this before?” I picked up my camera and did a very light project to explore colours in China Town because I like the neon lights, but I don’t really know what colours they are. 

What impact does colour-blindness have on your photography?

Editing is an absolute pain. I have someone who helps me with skin tone and colour balance because I can’t do it, but I’m not going to let that stop me. I want to apply it in a creative sense – maybe mess about with colours on purpose. But for now, I want to see how my eyes can adjust and kind of learn again. I don’t want to see it as a disadvantage; I’m going to use it to make my work more interesting. I purposely make things black and white because that’s how I like to see it. I have difficulties seeing red-green colours, and funnily enough skins tones are usually red and everything else usually falls underneath that as well. But I think that’s a good reason to start using black and white, to start using film again, and to direct a lot of my attention more to the subject and the surroundings. If you remove colour, you’re able to strengthen all this other stuff. You’re weakening that colour side to your photography, but at the same time everything else is parring up because you’re focusing on that more. Texture, for example – I didn’t even know that was important, but it is! It’s there now!

Is there anything that you’re listening to, reading, or watching at the moment that is pushing your creativity?

I don’t really listen to music at all; it’s strange, isn’t it? You never hear that! I’m Muslim and, ever since I converted or reverted last year, I haven’t found that joy in it any more. I always listen to podcasts about what’s happening around the world: interesting stuff that’s happening in India, Russia, or even in the UK as well – just to keep that bubbling creativity alive. That can inspire me somehow.

What is it you want to say with your photography?

The message I want to give out is be comfortable with who you are as you have been created, with what’s around you, with being wrong, with being different, and with being yourself. That’s what I’m putting into my work now, and I try to convey that through portraits. I’m trying to convey a different message from what people usually expect. So, for a man, I wouldn’t project a stereotypical “masculine” man. With a woman, I wouldn’t portray the kind of woman who’s helpless – the princess-in-a-castle kind of thing. I would portray someone who’s a lot more independent – someone that’s stronger. With the man, it’s someone who’s not afraid to have that balance in his life. He’s able to understand his feelings instead of brushing it underneath the carpet. Someone who’s able to do away with the stereotypical ego and isn’t always talking about women in every single conversation. Allow yourself to be a bit more secure and not worry about what other people are thinking, if you’re talking about your feelings.

How do you balance making money and doing the kind of photography that you want to do?

I can admit that I haven’t made money from it. But I think that’s also something that weeds a lot of people out when it comes to this field: how far you are you willing to go without making a single pound? Would you do this for the love of it? I hear a lot about people who want money from something as soon as possible and, when they don’t get it, that kills their vibe – they stop doing it. I’m enjoying it, and obviously I have a job on the side where I see it as a good deed almost. But for now I’m just sending out a message really, and I love doing it, honestly.

Denis

I guess I was going through some sort of… I don’t want to say phase, but I was definitely interested in youth culture. I wanted a project that portrayed a young guy who’s almost kind of rebellious. I wanted to have a brutalist landscape; the only one I knew was the Barbican at the time. We took shots of him as he is because he naturally is someone who goes to parties, and he’s a very free-living type of person – a proper London guy. I shot him in a laundrette; I didn’t know there was a laundrette chilling in the Barbican! And I spent time hanging with him, chilling out, realising how much he really is a person who goes out, does whatever he wants, is modelling at the same time, and free living. He was a really cool person to work with. It wasn’t a huge, in-depth project; it was really relaxed, and maybe that’s what I loved about it. It was a chance to take really sick pictures for fun and also use the Hasselblad. It was one of my first times using the medium-format camera, and I wanted to see what it was like to have that crisp black and white but also get that kind of 90s vibe because the laundrette worked so well. I was so lucky that day. I told him a 90s outfit; he put on a standard Pulp Fiction t-shirt, and I was like: “That will work!”

NATHAN

This project came at a time where I felt kind of insecure: a time where I wanted to explore what it meant to be a man not in London but in the 21st century. It was super personal to me, and I couldn’t use a person I didn’t know because I wanted them to understand what I was talking about. I needed someone who knew me, so I used one of my friends. Because he’s very flexible, he was able to do feminine positions with his arms and hands. That’s the contrast that I really wanted to get into the work. I showed someone the pictures, and they thought it was a woman. That’s exactly what I wanted: I wanted you to wonder if it was a man or a woman. Getting on with the work was so fun because it meant so much to me. I think at that point I realised I’m going to do stuff I care about. When I compare it with stuff I was doing for other people, I don’t have any attachment to that work at all. It was nice pictures, but I don’t feel attached to it. It’s incomparable: the satisfying feeling you get from doing your own projects and seeing that people can relate to that. We talk about how men have a lot of insecurities that a lot of them don’t like to speak about. You don’t have to, but at the same time you also don’t have to project this macho man 24/7. With that project, I wanted it in black and white. I didn’t want it to be an average masculine image with a bunch of feminine colours and feminine references like flowers and stuff: I don’t want the colours to distract the audience. I want them to look at the man – at the subject – and really understand what’s going on. Really understand how that guy’s feeling. You can’t even see his face; I wanted that. I don’t want you to be distracted; just look at how he’s holding himself – that’s it.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I’m going to do an Islamic project on something called ‘Them, Not Us’. You can understand why a lot of people see someone wearing a hijab, a burka, or a niqab and in a lot of European countries that’s seen as a threat. But at the same time, I want to portray people who don’t even look Muslim. You would never know that at all. The contrast is that you’re afraid of these people, but this guy’s walking right next to you: why aren’t you afraid of him as well? He’s a Muslim; you wouldn’t think it, but he is and he’s not going to hurt you. I want to separate that connection that they have of people who look Islamic or who practice their religion as being dangerous. Some people call themselves Muslim, but they’re using that as an instrument to portray a negative image. That’s not the religion at all. Islam is a beautiful religion, but it’s people that are not perfect. With everything there’s a bad side – bad people.

I’m also going to revisit the idea of masculinity, femininity, and identity. It’s a working title, but it’s called ‘Men like Statues’. I’m going to get contrasting images again, nice colourful ones with black-and-white ones, and put them together on a piece of paper – maybe double exposure. This time I’ll talk not only about men but women, the battle that they have inside themselves, and how they see themselves fitting into society. It’s going to be a lot more diverse, a lot more people from all parts of the world. It’s going to be a good chance to connect with a lot of different people because that’s why I love photography: I get to see people from all over the world. I was a person who couldn’t speak to anybody; I was the shyest guy in the corner of the room. Now I have the chance to speak to all these different, cool people because of what I do. That’s just a dream, isn’t it? That’s just fun.

Thank you, Amin.

Check out more from Amin on his website and via Instagram


The original interview was conducted in English and has been edited for brevity and clarity