DW Mault catches up for a chat with a master documentarian of the city, photographer Mark McNulty…
Every street needs its chroniclers, every town its poets and every city the wake up call to itself. Liverpool is a city alike and not alike to these fanfares of truth telling; it’s a city that exists in the North of England but is not ‘Northern’. A place that looks away from the vagaries that are the banal arguments of National Identity, but inwards to a spirit steeped in saying “no, that will not stand.”
Liverpool is a small miracle, the little town that could; all the while molding the culture of the country it wants no part of and acting as a clarion call towards the global culture that it does. This is where a true scion of the city enters, a photographer who has chosen to stay and document the cultural life of Liverpool; from the dark ages of the ’80s to the present day. Mark McNulty is an artist, photographer, filmmaker and man about town; he is all of these things and none of these things.
D W Mault: Let us start by talking about how the book Ten ‘til Late (published by Cafe Royal) came about?
Mark McNulty: I’d been in touch with Cafe Royal for a couple of years and it’s always been “do you wanna do a book, do you wanna do a book?” And I’d never got round to it, and then the last time they contacted me, I had been going through my archive and it came together in a couple of weeks. They came to me at the beginning of the year and it is now the middle of February. I sent them a collection of images and they chose the ones in the book. There are only 100 copies and it sold out in a couple of weeks. They have asked me to do another book which I’m now thinking about, and they have also asked me to do a series as well. The title comes from when in the early ’90s I had an exhibition of dance photos in the Albert Dock called Ten ‘til Late.
DWM: We have been joking about Liverpool being a village, but here at Leaf we have Delia Brady Jacobs to our left and Geoff Young behind us; it’s like Liverpool’s answer to the Groucho, but without the cocaine or the whoppers! As long as I’ve been an adult at gigs, art openings, film premieres, etc I have always seen you there taking photographs.
MM: I started taking photos when I was 14 but didn’t know what to take photographs of … I was into music but didn’t put the two things together. Then when I started to go to clubs I took my camera and took pictures, which was unheard of, so I took images of what I was surrounded by.
DWM: So what was the step from that to having your work used professionally?
MM: If you’re good at something, someone will pick up on it and say, ‘can you do this for us’. There was a Manchester magazine called Avant and they asked me to go to Quadrant Park… the other side of it was me taking pictures then phoning up people and saying these pictures should be in your magazine.
DWM: You shoot across a wide variety of forms: music, fashion, commercial and now you’re moving into film documentaries.
MM: I started shooting video in Berlin for the Love Parade because I couldn’t get across to people the noise and sounds that were surrounding me. Then someone showed how me to edit on iMovie and I fell into it, but most of my work now is music documentary. At the moment I’m shooting musical sessions by country types, and my latest film is about Mike Badger and him trying to put a band together in Texas. That has been shown in the Bluecoat but I’m re-editing it at the moment. I’ve done a few music videos and at the moment I’m shooting the new Space video – I’ve known them for years; I went on tour with them and met Zig and Zag … All the video work I’m talking about can be seen on my site www.rivercool.co.uk.
DWM: As a creative in Liverpool, how in your opinion, has the city changed?
MM: In some ways it has not changed, it has got bigger … you are still bumping into the same people. I’ve started walking down Wood Street because it would take me too long to walk down Bold Street. The world has changed though, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Liverpool has not lost its individuality, only time will tell if it becomes homogenized, but I think there has been some great changes; and these are Easyjet and LIPA, as much as we take the piss out of students. They brought an influx of new and fresh ideas that were different to our ideas that may, in the past, have come from the sea and the docks … the music that the Cunard Yanks brought back. I remember going to the first night of The Sick Lizard (now The Grapes) and there was someone playing a cello over a breakbeat and thinking ‘what the fuck is going on here’. These are the new ideas that have changed the city. In the ’80s, when people like Courtney Love made an effort to come here, they were famous because they were American; now there is probably an American on the next table. I don’t get people getting upset when somewhere shuts because something new will be along soon.
DWM: What is it about clubs for you?
MM: Well, when I started taking photos it was at Pete Coil’s night at MacMillian’s, where he put bands on and I’d take pictures of the people in there, and from that it was natural to work in the club scene that was just starting, because no one was bothered with you walking around taking pictures. From there I became contributing editor of MixMag.
DWM: So, what have you got coming up?
MM: I am doing a show in Bold Street Coffee for Look 13. There is two halves to the thing. I’ve being given access to Central Library (main image) … which I’m documenting. It’s mixed with portraits of people talking about books that changed their lives. The show is called The Libraries Gave Us Power. The next book I’m doing for Cafe Royal is called Americana and will look at the music and faded seaside towns.
Mark McNulty’s forthcoming exhibition, The Libraries Gave Us Power, will be shown during Look13 Festival at Bold Street Coffee