Please could you start by giving us an introduction of yourself and your path to getting where you are now?

 My name is Matt MacPake and I’m programme leader for the BA Photography degree at University of Hertfordshire.

You could say I fell into photography by chance. My parents bought me a 35mm film camera for my 21stbirthdayand I started to take photos for fun. Around this time, I was considering career options and back then, it was possible to do a part time BTEC course for free. So, I took full advantage of this and enrolled on ‘Beginners Photography’ at a local college in Preston. I thought this would simply be something to do whilst I looked for work, but as I learnt more, I started to take photography more seriously. Following the course, I self-taught for a few years, built a darkroom in my parents’ loft and eventually decided I wanted to study photography at university. I completed a degree at Blackpool & Fylde College in 2005.

I moved to London in 2010 & completed my MA in 2015 at university of Hertfordshire, which led me to being employed here part time in 2016. I’ve been here for nearly three years now and I’ve been programme leader for the last two years.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

How would you describe the work which you create, are there certain subjects you are constantly drawn back to and a theme you like to explore?

Photography is an opportunity to discover and understand your surroundings. I tend to walk a lot and spend time around the boroughs of London. I have a young family now and time is a precious commodity, so it’s about making things accessible.

Over the last six years, my work has largely been set in London. At first, I started out trying familiarise myself with a daunting and exciting city, and soon the unfamiliar became something I’m at ease with. I feel that my photographs are an exploration of place and people. I’m interested in society today and our changing cultural and political landscape.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

Please could you give an overview of Whisper City Bones and what you intend to say within the project.

I always remember the Olympics and watching ‘Super Saturday’ on a big screen in the park, when team GB won three gold medals. I’m not patriotic but that summer, it felt like London was truly open and everyone connected with each other and celebrated our cultural diversity. I suppose, since then I feel we’ve gone backwards.

Since the referendum, 2016, a lot has changed. We’ve witnessed political events and tragedies which will define the era. It feels like a shift in mood.

You could sense it in the air and feel it in the pit of your stomach. Whisper City Bones, is my response to the atmosphere of these uncertain times.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

Are there certain areas of the project you set out to photograph or is it more a process of seeing what you discover?

 A bit of both… Very early on I started photographing Euston & St Pancras station, none of these images are in the project but it’s interesting to me now that the project began at the point where we’re connected to Europe by the Eurostar.

From here I moved around the city, I’d often like the idea of photographing in busy spaces but after a while I realised I tend to find the quiet areas within the busy spaces, or I’d go to places at different times of the day to see what I could find.

I remember travelling to a lot of landmarks Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Parliament, the square mile… but the more the project evolved the photographs around these places became more significant, not the recognisable locations.

I would still pick places to go or photograph between journey’s whilst travelling around. The places, were planned, to kick start something but I was just as interested with what I captured on the way, somewhere.

I do make lists, of things to photograph and plan out places to go, things to shoot. If I compared those things to what I actually photograph they’re probably quite different. I use this more as a starting point or to push myself down different avenues. I’m pretty sure I’ve read Paul Graham write about the importance of getting out the door! Once your somewhere else your open to other possibilities.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

How do you approach people in the street?

 I ask for a few moments of their time & briefly explain what I’m doing. I don’t go into too much detail. Occasionally people will want to talk, about why and what I’m doing. That’s really lovely and very helpful for me when making the images and helping me understand the project. I always offer to send a copy of a picture but lots of people never actually get back to me or request images – probably only 5-10%

I do still get nervous when approaching strangers, but I know I can do it. Often, it’s just a case of falling into a zone of photographing and finding a rhythm so that you just don’t over think things and suddenly everything is a natural reaction to what is going on around you.

 How have you been received by people you ask to sit for you, are most open to being photographed?

 On the whole it’s very positive but I do find it’s very much about how you ask and approach people. I have had a few bad experiences including a time when one man got quite abusive towards me. I quickly tried to run away – I was carrying a 5×4 camera I had borrowed from a friend and was more worried about that getting damaged. I don’t think the poor man was very well. It was very sad to see and I hope he got the care he needed.

People do say no, but I just kindly say thanks for their time and wish them a good day and carry on. I don’t look for portraits all the time I look for other things and find people along the way really. Maybe there’s some truth in the idea if you look for something too much you won’t find it.

Most people don’t expect to connect with anyone whilst they are going about their day, so it’s really nice to have a chat with someone and make a portrait, it can leave you both feeling good about the day.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

Have your impressions changed of London? Are there any moments or anecdotes you feel are prominent which you would like to share?

I still love London. I know it’s not for everyone and there are huge political issues with how the capital is distanced from the regions. There’s no doubting the rest of the country needs investment and there are political and social issues across the country. I’d be happy for the government to move out of London. I don’t have any specific anecdotes but I do see acts of kindness everywhere in the capital it’s not always full of rude people in a rush…just some of the time.

Is the project ongoing? With it being such a big idea, how will you know when it is completed?

That’s a great question, I was hoping you may be able to answer that for me!

I think I’ll keep taking images like I am now but I will try to bring what I’ve done so far together as a project. I may add to it again later on or look at the similar themes in another way. I think Brexit will have an impact on us for years to come so it will affect what work I make. MP’s talk of austerity being over but I’m not sure that’s true.

Interview with Photographer and BA Course Leader Matt MacPake

What is coming up for you in the near future with your work?

I’m always trying to make work of the things that are going on around my life. I’ve been photographing the children in my family for 4-5 years now as they grow up and I’d like to continue that as a long-term project.

I have been working away in the background trying to gain access to some organisations and places to start new work. I’ve also been going through old work and starting to look at that from a different perspective so we may see elements of that come out in the future. I have lots of ideas but not enough time so I just try to keep busy and active. I look to consistently take images and work it out as I go.

Do you have any main lessons which you teach your students that you would like to share with the Collective?

Teaching works both ways, as much as I teach my students they are always teaching me. I think Photography is full of life lessons so it’s probably why it’s so supportive to our mental and physical health.

Keep active, good things happen by doing things not from just talking about it. Sometimes you need to just take a different approach so, try something new. It doesn’t have to be complicated it could be a subtle new approach or a new technique.The more you experiment the more confident you will become.

Making bad photographs is part of the process don’t beat yourself up for it, learn from them and use them. There’re answers in everything you do.

Show your work to lots of people and ask for help and advice everywhere you can, you cannot work in isolation. Listen to what people have to say but ultimately, it’s up to you to find the right answer. Don’t expect others to tell you exactly what to do. Only you can decide what you need to do next.


Matt MacPake – Photographer

Instagram: @mattmacpake


Article by Collective Photographer Kate Wolstenholme.

If you enjoyed this piece by Kate, check out another Collective interview with Photographer Donald Weber: