“I have never once felt as though I have belonged somewhere or have belonged with someone or some people… I don’t feel a sense of belonging. I have never been part of a clique or a group of friends and best friends have come and gone. If I am a good photographer, it is because I am an observer. I have always been the observer.”
- Megan McIsaac
Matter Observed: Megan, you have been making images from the time you were seven or eight years old after your grandfather gave you your first camera – you’ve essentially grown up looking at life through a camera’s viewfinder.
Megan: The oddity is that I barely remember a time when I didn’t have a camera with me, and even the years prior to discovering the camera are filled with memories of my parents carrying around their camera or my grandfather with his. I recently visited my parents back in Michigan and spent hours sifting through old photographs; the dozens of Polaroids I made as a child are just hilarious to me. There are many of my classmates and of trees, but they’re mostly of the dogs we raised. I used to make one of our dogs pose with different household objects in his mouth or surrounding him, which are all just silly and unimpressive to me now, but I remember being so very excited about them at the time. I suppose that is how making photographs for a majority of my life has shaped how I look at things, I’ve always and still do feel this rush of childish excitement when I look at life, and especially when I take a picture that keeps that part of life still.
“I think that a photograph without flaws is dull. I think anything without flaws is dull. I am aware that I am not the only one that thinks this, but it is just so strange to me how many people seemingly disagree. I don’t think life would be enjoyable or that my photographs would ever amount to anything if I didn’t unintentionally fuck things up so often.”
Matter Observed: Be it from the type cameras used, to the lighting, to the development of the film, or to the subject matter in the compositions themselves, there’s an aesthetic quality in much of your work which evokes a sense of nostalgia. Is this a conscious stylistic decision, or more of a reflection of your own personal style or fashion that has developed over time?
Megan: It’s only particularly a conscious stylistic decision when I’m photographing products or fashion or something of the sort, but generally I think it’s a reflection of my personal style as I change and discover different things. Used, torn, dusty and antique details tend to attract me and catch my eye.
Matter Observed: Documentary photography, portrait photography, and vernacular photography are three separate and very different styles, yet you seem to be comfortable doing all of them individually, as well as combining them to create a style of your own.
Megan: I just like taking pictures, it excites me and frustrates me and inspires me to try different styles. I’ve spent hours lying around, laughing because I can’t figure out how I want to photograph something or somebody, and other times it’s just clicked and I knew at that second what to do, how to look at something and translate it through my camera.
“I recently made over 90 photographs without realizing that I had screwed up the mirror inside of my camera, making every photograph unbearably blurry. I felt and feel more hurt and frustration from this than I have ever felt from any romantic heartbreak.”
Matter Observed: The subject in your work tends to be either personal friends, like “Renée,” acquaintances, or people you meet along the way in your travels. How does your approach or process differ when making a picture of Renée than that of someone you’ve known for only a short time?
Megan: This is something I’m still trying to work on and strengthen. I wish I could photograph everyone how I photograph Renée, or how I photograph myself even. Everything is natural and it’s not necessarily that she always trusts me and my camera, but that she accepts that its there. I would walk into her room while she’s dressing, with my camera to my face and she’d turn around with the expression of “really, now?” but she’d let me take my picture and we’d laugh about it later. I’d like my approach to be as casual as possible, but sometimes I can’t help but to be a weirdo with a camera around my neck. everyone reacts to cameras differently, of course, which is why the camera is always around my neck or in my hand and never in a bag, it says right away, “hey, I have this thing and I might take a picture of you,” which in my mind gives them a chance to relax and get over it.
“I care about this girl way too much. I think she’s amazing and I don’t understand how the rest of the world hasn’t caught on yet. She is an incredible painter, wonderful musician, her drawings blow my mind, and she is just so intelligent. One thing you might not have known or expected about her is that her favourite book is Dantes Inferno, which she has multiple copies of.”
Matter Observed: What about your ongoing series of self portraits?
Megan: It started because I needed a test subject and was so stubbornly independent that I found a couple of cameras with self timers and started figuring out lighting situations and what my best angles were and how to compose a picture (in my mind). I’ve never taken a class on photography before so I had to be my own teacher and I did that with self portraits. As I grew older I started taking them particularly when I was depressed, as a form of a diary, and then I grew out of that and read a lot of books and experienced a lot of things that took me out of that depression and kept shooting, still. I trust myself and I’m curious about myself and what I look like. It’s not too different from the rest of my photography in the sense that I really just like photographing things and people because I’m curious what it will look like, it’s very similar to how I day dream about everything.
“I don’t care if your favourite band is The Smiths or the Grateful Dead or the Jackson Five. I don’t care if you love bacon and steaks or if you’re vegan. I don’t care if you read a book a day or if you haven’t read a book since high school. I really don’t care if you’re 14 years old or if you’re 47. I don’t care if you came from a wealthy family or you lived on the streets for most of your life. I don’t care if you like American Apparel or American Eagle. I don’t care if you’ve been buying vintage clothes since you were twelve. I don’t care if you’re a photographer or a novelist or you play professional football. I could care less if you’re in a relationship or you’re divorced. I sincerely do not give a rats ass if you are a hipster, if you’re gothic, if you’re a hippie, if you’re an anarchist, if you’re homeless, if you’re preppy, if you’re dirty or if you’re clean. I don’t care if you believe in Christianity or if you’re atheist. If you’re having a bad day, I am more than willing to listen. No matter what, no matter who you are, I still believe you deserve someone to listen to you. No matter what, I believe everyone deserves at least a little common decency. I will hold the door for you even if I don’t find you remotely attractive. I will give up my good seat on the bus for you when it is crowded, regardless if you’re young or old or handicapped or not. I will smile at you when we pass each other just because I enjoy smiling. I will listen with an open mind and perspective to whatever you choose to tell me. If you just need a hug, I will give you two. I am your friend.”
Matter Observed: You also shoot musicians, both performing and behind the scenes. Tell us about your interest in music and why photographing musicians appeals to you?
Megan: I grew up around music. My father and my brother, Tim, both play guitar and both inspired me tremendously with music. I too play guitar and write songs and always have some record playing at all times of the day. I helped run a music venue when I was fourteen/fifteen and started photographing musicians then. After all of that I went on to shooting concerts in Detroit and all over Michigan and eventually all over the states. It made sense and I’ve always related to musicians at least on the level that we both appreciate music and both make music.
“I haven’t yet thought of suiting words to describe today, I did begin writing a new song and made a decent amount of photographs, all out of these peculiar and dark feelings.”
Megan: I ended up in Portland on a complete whim, and I’m very happy about that, but I’m ready to pack up and keep traveling after having lived here for over two years now. I’ll be leaving in April, and I’m excited, but I’ll definitely miss the bubble that is Portland. It enables me to not have to plan my day whatsoever yet I am confident almost everyday that I’ll be productive and I usually end up shooting at least half a roll of film a day, but usually more. Today my roommate and I just cleaned and rearranged the entire house, cooked an incredible brunch, and finally I’m off to run errands and adventure around town for the rest of the day.
Last author read: I’m currently reading “The Stories of Paul Bowles”
Last song heard: Tezeta (Nostalgia) – Mulatu Astatke
Last food consumed: Honey grilled bacon, steamed kale with garlic and mushrooms, some fancy cheese, some fancy sauce, and a fried egg all in an english muffin
Last drink imbibed: Ginger tea
Matter Observed: Megan, thank you so much for your time.
Megan: Merci beaucoup!
Megan’s images have been published in numerous on-line and print publications all over the world. She is involved with several charitable causes, including the Yellow Bird Project. You can view more of her work on her website, or follow her daily photo blog, hello, romantic, where she posts things that matter to her, with sometimes colorful, stream of conscious narrative, as sampled in this interview.
Matter Observed is grateful for Megan’s talent and generosity, and is excited to see where the wind will take her next.