In Conversation with Kevin McCollum

Can you tell us a little about your background, what brought you to photography?

I'd worked various jobs including shoe salesman, failed musician and most recently a nine-year stint with a firm of sheriff officers in Edinburgh. Photography was in the background, an interest, not a hobby but along with art it was there.

The project seems quite graphic, dependent upon shapes and contrast. Are there any photographers in particular that inform your style of shooting?

The direction of the project has changed over time. I've been shooting the area for nearly 7 years but only within the last two or three have I begun to shoot with an end goal in mind (in terms of how I present the shots). The typologies of Bernd & Hilla Becher and the landscape photographs of Walker Evans are works I return to often. They encourage the literal approach that I've taken to the landscape and area and I guess may also in part have influenced the chosen aesthetic of the images.

It's important, I think, to exercise the creative, non-commercial side of your brain, particularly in the current climate of photography when finding a niche is crucial. Was this something that the project was borne out of?

Absolutely, I agree. As a photographer it was an instinctive thing to start photographing my environment. The project wasn't planned as such, but it did become apparent to me as it progressed what I was compiling and how I should take the project forward.

No More Than a Mile seems a project with no discernible end point, but a definite beginning. Can you explain your motivation for starting it? Where, if at all, do you see an end point?

This project started primarily because my wife and I had moved to an area that we weren't familiar with. We would walk and as a photographer I would take a camera with me. I was curious about new surroundings and about simply documenting where I now lived. The body of work has evolved naturally and I guess will continue to do so. I don't see an end point at present; as long as we live where we do I'll continue to shoot.

Restricting yourself to a certain set distance - give or take a few yards outwith the "mile" - do you feel that imposing restrictions on the shooting locations is a necessary part of the project?

Yes, certainly for this project it is important that I've been restricted by distance. It's part gimmick and part enforced by the boundaries of the area. Clearly this impacts on subject matter but I see this as positive, it requires a more focused approach on my part.

So many personal projects are, for me, a way of situating yourself within your environment, framing the world as you see it. To the external viewer, what do you think their impression of NMTAM might be? You've exhibited a much slimmer edit of NMTAM for Collection II and they were the most obviously "accessible" images there. I'm thinking here of the rote response of "That's a nice image" or "That's a terrible image", and I suppose you are at the mercy of your audience in this simple assessment. Do they need explaining, or do you feel a kind of letting go once the images are processed and on the wall?

NMTAM has become as much a habit for me as a source of escapism and opportunity to document my immediate environment. It is personal work and there is no intended response that I'm looking for or expecting. I'm sure opinions will vary from "nice tree" to "maybe you should go further than a mile"…no wrong answers in this one for me. I'm more than happy to present the images and let anybody who sees them decide for themselves what they make of them.

I've seen a few, earlier images from NMTAM in colour, but in B&W they seem to carry more power. Was this a conscious decision as the project took shape? I'd imagine quite a few days were almost devoid of any real range of tones, given the environment..

It (eventually) became a conscious decision that the images would be black and white, and once the decision was made it helped to determine the way that I approached certain subjects. There were many days where the images straight from camera appeared B&W so it was logical and offered a level of consistency in the final images.

You were a showcase member for Collection II, and now a full member. What do you think The Collective's role could be in shaping Scottish photography talent in the future?

I felt honoured when I was invited to be part of Collection II and showcased along with Paul Cowan last year and I look forward to Collection III later this year. I know there are some great photographers being showcased this time around who are producing fantastic work.

I hope that the Collective will continue to exhibit, hopefully inspire and encourage participation with a wide ranging network of photographers. If it does then its role would be to give the talent that is in Scotland the platform it deserves.

Is exhibiting in Fife important? You're born, bred and still a resident there. Is there any local connection with Dunfermline's most famous philanthropist, Carnegie?

When I decided I was going to show images from this project I was determined that it would be in Fife. I think it's very important that the work is seen locally and I'm delighted that the venue has such strong links with Pattiesmuir (with Andrew Carnegie's grandfather having lived here).

What's your partner's take on NMTAM? She is, I'd imagine, privy to the same scenes depicted in the images, and a creative person in her own right. Did you ever face that "What are you taking a picture of that for?" moment?

Gillian has been remarkably patient and hugely supportive of the project although I'm sure she'll be delighted when I utter the words "no more NMTAM." Not sure as I say when that will happen as it would probably mean we're leaving the area.

I suppose the next question is one that all photographers have to face, and/or explain, but where do you see photography moving towards in the future? I probably take most of my "snapshot" images on an iPhone these days, and do struggle with that on occasion, that it cheapens the medium somewhat. Can we afford as photographers to be as elitist as we have traditionally been?

I take a lot of images on my phone, not images I ever envisage I'll present to a client but I see it as a valid form of photography. I welcome the fact that more people have access to photography and a camera (or phone) today and are engaging with it. I'll become upset if I lose a job to someone shooting on their phone but for now my main concern and objective will be to produce a body of work in colour.

View more of Kevin's work at Kevin McCollum Photography.