Mark Lobo just wants to make good work.
Aside from gracing the monthly illustration for our Backwards theme month and the photographer for CreativeMornings/Melbourne, Mark Lobo is a banking-software-programmer-gone-creative, a Melbourne-based photographer working in commercial, editorial and portrait photography.
Beyond his professional work, Mark is involved in several side projects and extracurricular programs—including Phoot Camp and his Von Vintage film photography series.
We spoke with Mark about how he made the transition from IT to photography and makes time for all his projects.
CreativeMornings: How did you get your start?
Mark: Photographically, I started out around six years ago. I have to go a little bit back before that, though, because I was in a different industry after I finished university in 2004. I studied Information Technology and was geared up to go into programming. I ended up getting a job writing bank software.
It was totally different than what I really wanted to do. I wanted to be a designer at the time. I just remember thinking this isn’t for me, this isn’t who I am. Sitting in an office writing software isn’t going to work, but as a student right out of university, I needed to make a bit of money. I was qualified to be a programmer.
I ended up thinking, okay, I’ll head into the IT industry just for three to six months, get a bit of money, sort myself out, and head toward design or architecture or something a bit more creative. Of course, the convenience of having a regular paycheck took over and having a bit of money, a bit of freedom, had me feeling content even though I was writing bank software everyday, which I didn’t really want to.
Mark leaning with it in a photo by Paul Octavious.
Three years later, I got fed up with it, as I thought I would, and it took me a few months to figure out what I wanted to do. At the time, I was getting a few photography jobs on the side and using Flickr a lot, getting great feedback. Through that and a lot of other online mediums, I ended up getting a few jobs and realized that I was actually a better photographer than a programmer.
I love photography. I don’t like programming. I am better at photography than programming. It was a bit naïve of me at the time; If I look back my work back then—it was so bad. If I saw someone with that kind of work coming into the industry today I would discourage them, tell them to get a better portfolio. But, I was pretty eager to get out of programming and had some money to back me up for a few months. I took the risk and never looked back. It was a good move. I haven’t been happier.
CM: How do you find that Melbourne impacts your work and the types of things that you do?
Mark: I moved here because every time I visited Melbourne, whether for a job or for fun, I always came away really inspired. I was always taking photographs. All my photos from anywhere I traveled always ended up better or more interesting to me than the city I was living in at the time. I felt that Melbourne, of all the cities in Australia, was where I had the best photos and was the most inspired.
It’s a city that inspires me on quite a few levels, not just photographically. There is always something interesting happening here and people aren’t afraid to make their ideas happen. On top of that, the lifestyle here is really good. I think that’s reflected in the way that people are comfortable to create. There is a huge creative community here that is really supportive of what I do. The main inspiration is just the comfort of living a good life and creating good work.
CM: Speaking of that community, is there anyone along the way that encouraged you to go into photography?
Mark: No one specific, but a lot of people that I met through this creative entrepreneurship program. It’s founder, Michael Doneman, is a specific person, but really it’s more the people I met through this program.
It’s like business school for creative people. Their motto is: “Make money, have fun, and change the world.” That has stuck with me. You need business to make your creative dreams come true and you have to have fun, enjoy what you do. At the same time, you want to change the world, not necessarily in a big way, but make an impact and be heard. That group has always been really supportive.
Also, Phoot Camp is a yearly photographic retreat. You have to apply and are picked based on a number of things—whether it be creative projects, personality, backgrounds—you might be working in the IT industry as a programmer, but you have really good film photography or you might be a videographer doing something else, but you have a good side project. Laura Miner, who has also spoken at CreativeMornings, selects about thirty different people to come together and does it so that when everyone gets together on that first night they feel like they’ve known each other for years.
That community is inspiring; not so much in that everyone is an amazing photographer, but that everyone is a creative person interested in photography and creating good work. It just becomes this really supportive network. Over the last few years I’ve gone to Phoot Camp. It’s in a new location every year, so every year people create totally different types of work.
I think that definitely being involved with that Phoot Camp community has inspired and pushed me to do new things. I try new things every time I go there and when I come back and I have an entirely new portfolio. It’s amazing.
CM: s there a certain project that stood out to you as really letting you know that photography was the path you wanted to focus on?
Mark: I’m not too sure. I’m trying to think of my early projects. It wasn’t necessarily a project, but the type of stuff that I was shooting at the time, which was very experimental and the feedback that I was getting was positive. I think the one thing that pushed me into photography was the online community. I was very involved with the Flickr community.
Just being inspired by other photographers and getting feedback on my own work was really good. Overall, I think I got into the way that I shoot by having a disposable camera and just shooting everything, documenting life. I that is really not so much a project, but what made me think I love doing this.
CM: What sort of advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Mark: I always tell new photographers to know what you want. That works on many levels—from knowing what you want to actually shot, like if you have a camera in your hand looking at a scene and knowing what you want to shoot before you bring your camera up to your eye or change any settings on your camera. But also, in the long term, knowing where you want to be in thirty years’ time, I think helps bring value to the things that we do on a daily basis.
It goes both ways. It’s both a short term bit of advice, as well as a long term one, but I definitely stick to that and I think it is important.
Part of Mark’s Project, In Their Shoes.
CM: What are three things you believe in?
Mark: Great work comes from loving what you do and working with the best people. Run your own race. Just focus on your own game doing what you love and making that happen rather than worrying about what other people are doing. And finally, a solid night’s rest. I really feel like when I have a good night’s sleep, I am much more creative. A lot of creatives are like, “You need to be up until four am and that’s when you get your best ideas!” But, to be honest, that doesn’t work for me. I think eight or nine hours of sleep, in the morning leaves you just buzzing with ideas.
CM: Do you have a lot time for side projects beyond your work?
Mark: I find that if I schedule time in for jobs, I can schedule time in for side projects. It’s something that I’ve only recently started doing. I have quite a few ongoing, all at the same time.
The last one I finished was part of this collaboration, an exhibition called “Seven with Another.” The whole idea was to have seven different teams of two people who were from different creative backgrounds, so you might have a fashion designer teamed up with a computer programmer.
I was teamed with a ‘maker’ Adam Head who built things for movie sets, or public art projects. We found our commonality, an interest in vintage aesthetics and lenticular prints.
We made this huge cube out of a metal frame and put mirrors all over it. Instead of you moving, the whole cube kind of spun and reflected a different image from its surroundings. On top of that, to put a photographic element into it, we put a light that was always on in the inside. We set it up so that if someone at the exhibition took a photo of it with a flash, it would have this optical sensor inside that would relay a flash back, so that when they took their photo, another flash would go off inside the cube itself.
We brought it out into the woods and did a little video of it spinning there.
CM: What is your greatest motivation right now? What are you excited about working on?
Mark: I think creating good work. Whenever I finish a shoot that’s what I am thinking, every time that I finish a shoot and I am happy with it, that’s the motivation. Overall, I think what I want to do work-wise is to create good work, I guess that’s a given, but I want it to be good, and nice and fun and I just want to enjoy it, really.
CM: That’s a reasonable request. Is there anything that excites you about photography moving forward?
Mark: I’ve only been in Melbourne for six months, so what I am looking forward to is continuing where I am going. The last six months have been amazing, working a lot of great jobs and with a lot of great brands.
Knowing that if I look at my work six years ago, it was so bad, so that’s another thing is just knowing what I am going to be shooting next and I just want it to be good and I know with time stuff gets better and I’m looking forward to seeing what I make next.
CM: What are some of the challenges with that? What are you looking to improve or change what you are doing?
Mark: I think one of the biggest challenges for me is where I lived earlier, so it was only in early March that I moved here and before that I was in a city called Brisbane, which is a tropical city. It is really hot in the summer, but it doesn’t get cold in the winter and the weather is amazing. You can always rely on a blue sky for your shoot except for rainy season which is end of the year when there isn’t a lot of work around anyway.
The challenge I have found in Melbourne is the weather. I’m having to change what I am doing to do more editorial, more food photography, less outdoor portraits, which is what I did a lot, so in the winter here it is pretty much rainy and 70% of the time or it’s overcast. Whereas in Brisbane, I was doing outdoor portraits I was using the vibrant blue skies all the time whereas now I am doing a lot more interior stuff. I am doing a lot more food, so my focus has changed toward more of an editorial focus which is good because I think I like to tell stories. It has definitely moved into a storytelling kind of area.
CM: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Mark: There is this really bland cereal. I’m glad I’m almost finished with it, but yeah I had a bit of that and some yogurt and a banana.