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Work / Photography

“The power of the camera has always amazed me”: Will Cooper-Mitchell’s explorative photography

For photographer Will Cooper-Mitchell, photography and place are inherently linked, neither existing without the other in his practice. Shooting almost exclusively on black and white 35mm film, Will’s classically stylised work sees him using the medium to explore the world, drawing inspiration from greats such as Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank and the Japanese Provoke movement.

“The power of a camera has always amazed me, in terms of giving you access to discovering a new place or meeting someone new,” Will tells It’s Nice That. Over the years, he’s travelled from Cornwall to the Congo, Peru, Nicaragua and Morocco to Sri Lanka and Costa Rica (to name a few), refining his process along the way. “My approach to capturing an area varies greatly. In Cornwall, for example, I’m always there, so it’s more of a slow, peaceful process of creation,” he outlines. “In the Congo, however, I was in Virunga National Park for four nights only, so was much more on it. More thoughtful, more intense. Seeking out images to make sure I came back with work that says something.”

Will got his start in photography after discovering Don McCullin’s work during his teens. “I couldn’t believe how this guy from Yorkshire was walking into a battle on the other side of the world carrying only a Nikon,” he recalls. Simultaneously stumbling across the images of photojournalist Sean Flynn, Will decided to pursue photography as a career, exampling how: “Aged 19, I wanted to be like these guys.”

Now, his practice focusses on place and his relationship to it, whether it’s capturing the beauty of an area and his reaction to that, or documenting more serious issues related to the environment. While shooting in the Congo, he visited the last refuge of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world, while navigating “UN vehicles, checkpoints, government, rebels, poachers, oil companies all fighting over control of a fragile wildlife habitat the size of Belgium”. Here, Will captured an image of a baby gorilla, only a couple of months old. “I love this picture as, to me, it perfectly sums up the tragedy of what is going on there. And whilst I never ended up becoming a photojournalist like Don McCullin, I like these pictures [from the Congo] because there is a serious message present.”

Will’s astute eye and ability to adapt to his environment is clear when flicking through his portfolio. His consistent tone provides complexity and understanding to his images, especially when they touch on the more serious. “I used to shoot a lot of street photography and portraiture but now more quiet landscapes seem to be creeping in,” he remarks. “I would capture unusual things going on in the street but now it’s really important to be more subtle. Softer. More about the natural world and our relationship with it.”

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