Mark Ratcliffe

As part of our “Manifesto For A New Wakefield” project, we are proud to be commissioning an exhibition by Mark Ratcliffe. 

“As a photographer, I’ve captured images in locations throughout Britain and the world but recently my focus has moved back to my locality.  My current project documents the people of Wakefield and the Five Towns in contrasting settings within the same communities: the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. To show how these two faces of the city sit side by side, the subjects of my photography are all portrayed in the same style using bright, saturated colour.”

Tell us about the photographs that make up the exhibition, were they taken over a long period of time?
I’d been working on a project about my locality on and off for several weeks before applying to take part in the commission but following this, I continued to take the photographs over a period of about two months, adding to the bank of images I already had. I’m lucky at the moment that in my other job, I’m out and about around the local area everyday and so I was able to pop out at lunch times in different localities with my camera to capture the daily goings on of the people there.
As a photographer, what is your main passion, what are you trying to capture in the work you do?
For many years, I enjoyed taking photos of places and objects which I found interesting – buildings, walls, doors. I then realised that this was the easy way out and that images of people were much more challenging to achieve but ultimately more interesting for the viewer and more rewarding for me. Now I try to combine the two, people and places, by finding an intriguing or colourful set and waiting for a principal actor to star in the shot.
I love the effect the sun has on photography, particularly at golden hour when the sun is going down. I also love a bright blue sky and sharp shadows – I think it can contribute to capturing a beautiful image. Unfortunately, at the time I was taking these photographs, West Yorkshire wasn’t blessed with an abundance of sun. However, on those rare days when it made an appearance, I would head out in my car hunting for those sun-kissed images I was after. Since I finished the project, I can’t believe how much sun we’ve had. Typical.
I’m also very much a fan of colour, I appreciate black and white photography but there’s something about a bright, colourful image that I really love. I find myself noting brightly coloured walls and shop fronts that I pass to return to another time to photograph. I like to really over saturate my colours, giving them an additional level of interest and bringing a slightly unreal feel to the photograph.
Do you feel Wakefield is a place with a distinct character?
I’ve lived in several different place in Britain and abroad so I can confidently say Wakefield has its own distinct character. I think that you often get the best street photography images when you are invisible and your subjects are either completely unaware of you presence or you catch their glance just at the moment the shutter clicks. This way of working is perfect in big cities and tourist spots where a person with a camera is nothing out of the ordinary. However, I found that pointing a camera in Wakefield’s satellite towns, attracts a lot of attention! Although it can be quite daunting, you have to embrace this and speak to as many people as you can. I met so many lovely people doing this project. I’d presumed I’d be rejected if I asked for a shot, but those who said no were heavily outnumbered by those willing to take part. I met people from all backgrounds. They all opened up to me, telling me about their lives, their families, their jobs, their locality. It was a really positive experience. 
Did this commission allow you to do or try something new?
I’ve been taking photographs for years and have a huge amount of prints in boxes and files on my laptop. Other than Instagram (@markratcliffephoto), I’ve never had an audience, so this opportunity to show my work in physical form rather than on a screen has been really great. It’s given me a renewed enthusiasm and opened up some opportunities to be involved in other arts-based projects in the area.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently taking part in the ‘foh-toh’ project, which is also part of the Long Division commission. It’s a great idea, thirty people with disposable cameras sent out to capture their own festival weekend in Wakefield. I hadn’t used a disposable camera for about twenty years before this. It’s quite liberating having spent so many years considering camera settings and viewing and editing images. One shot, done, no going back. I haven’t seen the images I took yet so I’m getting pretty excited at the prospect. I’ve no idea what I’m going to get back. 
I’m also hopefully going to work with friend who has suggested a poetry-photography collaboration (I’d be doing the photography side!). He’s a talented chap so I’m keen to get started on something new and different. 
Last year I also made a music video for a friend’s band, it was a first attempt at this medium and it wasn’t easy but I really enjoyed learning all about it. I’m currently planning a new video for the band – it’s the perfect way to get to grips with the filming process and the editing software whilst having fun with friends.