“I just intuitively know when to stop and shoot”: Marcus Menefee on trusting your gut during photoshoots
For Marcus, building a relationship with your subject is the most important part of any photoshoot and it helps you understand when to press the shutter.
- Daniel Milroy Maher
- 13 October 2021
“While I was in school, and for the first couple years after I graduated, a lot of my work focused around the exploration of masculinity and identity,” begins Marcus Menefee on the themes that define his photography practice. “I grew up with a pretty narrow mindset of what masculinity looked like, but as I grew older that changed and evolved and I used photography as a way to explore that.” Graduating from Memphis College of Art in 2017, Marcus says his time studying photography was key to understanding the style of image-making that felt most natural to him: “At MCA, I had the chance to learn a tonne of different image-making processes, from social documentary and digital manipulation to more alternative methods.” From here, he began slowly to hone his craft, remaining in Memphis to continue experimenting with the camera and finding ways of turning what had quickly become a passion into a career.
During this time, he came to understand that a crucial part of his creative process was the relationship that he formed with his subject. He started all of his photoshoots by conversing with the person he was photographing, learning about them and creating a bond. “As we are walking and talking it gives us the time to share what’s going on in our lives, our hopes and dreams, what’s bothering us. It gives us both a chance to be vulnerable, which builds trust,” he explains. “Then, as we’re talking, I just intuitively know when to stop and shoot. I think these moments [of connection] are invaluable to my process.” Looking through Marcus’ portfolio, this trust is evident in the images. In many, there is a relaxed intimacy, as the subject sinks back into a sofa or waters their plants in a dressing gown.
Naturally, the shots feel impromptu, some taken between snippets of conversation while others appear to catch the subject mid-laugh. According to Marcus, this is an intentional effect and, surprisingly, the result of minimal preparation. “I’ll usually plan a shoot with my subject around a location, outfit, or lighting style, but that's about all the planning I do,” he says. “I like to let the images happen. Often, I’ll have a few specific images in mind that I want to capture, but those usually serve as a starting point, and they tend to evolve into something better.” This go-with-the-flow approach has become a mainstay of Marcus’ practice, allowing his work to feel authentic and personable. Rather than overthinking every aspect of a photograph, he does what comes naturally to him: “I think most of my process comes down to trusting my intuition and experience that I’ve gained from my previous photoshoots, each one informing the next.”
But, despite the trust he places in himself, Marcus says making a career out of photography hasn’t always been easy: “It’s a steep hill to climb. It’s daunting, frustrating, and there’s no sure-fire way to success or getting your work noticed.” The arrival of the pandemic made this task no easier for Marcus, who felt significantly unmotivated at the beginning. During the lockdowns, he went through periods of self-doubt and questioned the path he had taken. But, as always, his ability to adapt helped to lift the cloud and these days he’s feeling confident again about the direction he’s going in. “I’ve worked through and overcome that self-doubt, the motivation has come back twice as strong and I’m more focused than I was before,” he explains. “I’ve stopped putting so much focus into the concept behind my images, and just focused on experimenting and creating, just trying to make images and portraits that both I and the person I’m photographing think are successful.”
Marcus Menefee: Frankie LaFemme (Copyright © Marcus Menefee, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.