Marcus Peel

“I enjoy creating a blur between the real and the surreal”

Marcus Peel is a London-based photographer working on commercial assignments and fine art projects. He explained his approach that resonates between the real and the surreal.

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background? When did you start architectural photography? How has it developed so far?

I was first introduced to photography at secondary school and took the opportunity to explore through study, and soon discovered an interest in form, geometry, symmetry, and abstraction.

Towards the end of my photography degree at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design, I began assisting two architectural photographers, an experience which confirmed my desire to pursue architectural photography. In 2000, I began my career as a professional photographer.

I have worked for a diverse range of clients including advertising agencies, design companies, PR companies, artists, architects, interior designers, property developers, hotel groups and luxury brands.

The American School in London (Orms Architects)

My work has been seen in publications, including; Architectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveller, Elle Decoration, House & Garden, Frame, Icon, Interior Design, RIBA Journal, The Architects’ Journal, Vogue and Wallpaper*.

I’ve won awards including Best in Category in the AOP Photography Awards, Gold in Px3 and Silver in the Graphis Photography Annual. I’ve also held exhibitions at a variety of galleries including Anise Gallery, London, Espace Dupon, Paris and Splashlight Studios, New York.

My work is in private collections including most recently The Maybourne Hotel Group, which followed a commission by the group to photograph London’s Mayfair over a period of four seasons, capturing found moments in architecture.

Architectural photography is a wide field considering the audience spectrum. A photographer may be hired to produce images for marketing, sales, journalistic or editorial purposes. How do you define your profile and keep the consistency?

I take an investigative approach and strive to go beyond the ordinary to photograph the extraordinary. I enjoy creating a blur between the real and the surreal. I love abstraction.

Architecture serves as my inspiration. It’s compatible with the way that I view the world and how I respond to it through the camera. I’m a perfectionist at heart which is fundamental to my photography; both in the observation of light and form, as well as composition.

I’m a purist when it comes to the treatment of my photographs and how I represent each subject, always aiming to preserve authenticity.

Like most architectural photographers, you also produce non-commissioned personal works. Can you talk a bit about these? How do they reflect in your commissioned works? 

As photography has been a deep passion of mine since school, I always want to be photographing – to keep exploring, developing, and evolving. Covid has also served as a reminder to adapt to change – to stay resilient and inventive.

Personal work can attract commissioned work and commissioned work can inspire personal work. Ultimately, I aim to achieve consistency between the two.

Which other current architectural photographers you admire most?

There are so many! Hélène Binet, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Nadav Kander, Simon Norfolk, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Michael Wolf to name a few.

The UK cultural business sector is a tough market where extreme speciality is counted as merit. It’s always encouraged to narrow your scope and create a niche for yourself. But you seem to go against the current. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this strategy?

I’ve evolved as my clients have evolved and as a result, my portfolio has broadened over time. I am known for my style of approach as much as I am for my chosen genre of photography.

I adapt to the needs of my clients. I keep an open mind. A more recent requirement for my clients is video. It’s been extremely exciting to start working alongside a filmmaker, Chris Waggott, who shares the same vision and sensibilities as myself. We have just finished our latest shoot of a beautiful new project for Zaha Hadid Design.

There has always been an ongoing debate about architectural photographers, claiming that they twist reality and architectural photographs are not as honest as they should be. On the other hand, we don’t hear that much criticism about fashion or food photography. What is your opinion on capturing or depicting spatial “reality”?

What is an honest photograph? A photograph is inherently subjective from the way it is produced by the photographer to how it’s perceived by the viewer. It’s the photographer’s interpretation, which is based on the relationship between photographer and subject. It’s one person’s reality. It’s impossible to achieve absolute truth in a photograph.

Joseph, 14 Avenue Montaigne

For obvious reasons, photographers had one of their hardest years under severe lockdowns. How was your past year in terms of your ambitions and targets and what are you aiming to achieve in 2021?

2020 was my hardest year to date. All commissions were postponed or worse still, cancelled. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to finally launch a print sales arm to the business, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

At the beginning of this year, I started a new personal project which is an evolution of my previous project, You Have Beautiful Veins. I’m also aiming to produce more projects involving both photography and video.

I recently came across this quote from an architect which I found very apt during this extraordinary time, “If everything else stops, all that defines the architectural practice is the photography.”

How do you reach out to new clients and market your services? What’s your advice for young photographers?

I reach out and market in many different ways including; calls, email, social media, mailouts, competitions, interviews and editorial features, portfolio appointments and leave-behind cards, going to industry events and my website.

Stay true to yourself and produce work that you believe in.

Keep testing and producing personal work, it’s the ultimate way to develop and a safe place to make mistakes while learning and benefiting from them in order to find your voice.

Networking has never come naturally to me but I’ve always recognised its importance – get out there, show your work and show it consistently.

Be persistent and patient. Keep challenging yourself.

How do you work? Do you have an assistant? Do you post-process your photos or someone else does them? Which equipment do you favour most?

I work collaboratively with my clients. It’s all about listening – listening to myself and to my client. I’m interested in the story behind the project and in telling that story through my own emotional response.

I always try to visit the project with my client before the shoot and decide on the creative approach and shot list together. If this isn’t possible then we either talk it through over a model of the project at the client’s office or discuss it over the phone with site visit shots and drawings to hand.

The scope for creativity always depends on the client. One could be very exact with their requirements and another could give me cart blanche.

You can never be 100% sure of what the day will bring so being as prepared as possible, while keeping an open mind, will sometimes allow you to turn the unexpected to your advantage. Serendipity is a wonderful thing! Ultimately, I am led by my intuition.

Each shoot is different and the people involved can range from just me to a crew including the client, art director, head of marketing and an assisting photographer.

ISG, Community Arts Building

I work with the Canon 5DS and Canon’s tilt and shift lenses. Due to the very high resolution of the camera, it has significantly influenced the way that I work and treat my photographs; allowing me to crop the photograph to realise my pre visualisations without the concern of compromising quality. Furthermore, it allows my clients to reproduce my photographs to an extremely large size for print and digital.

Also, the tilt and shift lenses allow me to stitch multiple captures together to achieve one final photograph of a larger area which could not have been achieved in a single capture using the same lens.

Another benefit of digital is that it allows me and the client to scrutinise each capture together on the screen during the shoot.

I post-produce my own work and also use Giles Angel and Mark Hill for retouching.

Ultimately, I aim to go above and beyond what is expected of me as a photographer and a person.