Sunday Morning with Marcus Maddox

Our Sunday Morning interview series is back with Nashville photographer Marcus Maddox. Marcus shoots incredible photos that are dreamy works of art. He's inspired by minimalist concepts, romanticism, music, fashion and friends. Read our interview with Marcus on what he's working on now, thoughts on fashion, influences, where he hopes to go, plus more. Find Marcus around town or on the internet at @marcus.xoxo and at marcusmaddox.co

All photos by Marcus Maddox and Electric Thread.


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Coffee or tea?

Coffee.

How do you like it?

I like a lot of cream and sugar. I like a sweet taste.

Do you remember when you first started drinking coffee?

I would say when I was a freshman in college.

Did you always drink it with cream and sugar first?

Yes, it was like sugary Starbucks coffee. I'm not into Starbucks anymore. It's not coffee, it's like a hot milkshake.

Would you choose Kurt Cobain's sunglasses or Prince's ruffle shirt?

Kurt Cobain sunglasses. I think those are really in right now. I see a lot of my friends wearing those, I think they look really cool. I couldn't see myself wearing Prince's—

I actually can't picture you in a ruffle shirt.

No, not my style.

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You seem to wear a lot of minimalist clothing. Why do you gear towards minimalistic?

I think I gear more towards it, it just makes me have a more clear mind when I'm out. I don't like to be too flamboyant, I don't like to be too much, I don't like my photos to have too much in the frame. Dressing that way keeps my mindset in a simple frame.

I would say when we go out, you definitely have your own personal style and it's set apart from pretty much everybody in the room. It's hard to come by and I feel that only happens like a shooting star kind-of-thing. People look to other people to dress themselves but I don't think you do that. What's your inspiration? How did you learn how to dress?

Listening to music, watching skate videos. I got into the skateboarding community in high school and the music that they listen to and the way that they dress influenced me and I've always kept that close to my heart, that style and that attitude. I just started with skateboarding and then it branched off from there. I try to dress the way I feel. I try not to be too trendy. Do what I want, do what I feel and not spend too much money. I thrift stuff, women's section at Goodwill.

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Do you skate?

I used to skate a lot more before my surgery. Did I tell you about my surgery?

No!

Okay. It's a whole other interesting story—I got surgery right before I dropped out of college and I had to get my esophagus removed. I don't have an esophagus. I have this big scar on my chest. I could have passed away for sure. It was crazy. I got that surgery a couple of summers ago and it was because I had this condition called Achalasia where your esophagus closes off at the bottom. So you don't get nutrition in your stomach or food doesn't really go to your stomach.

Holy shit. You're a survivor.

Yes, thanks.

Do you think this has inspired you to work hard [and create] your work?

Yes, this inspired me. The idea of Pom Poms came from that because it was a really painful time and I was away from the music scene for about eight weeks because I had to learn how to re-walk again and I had to—

Your whole body has changed.

Yes. Before that surgery I was a regular music photographer, just taking pictures of people performing on stage, like everybody else. Just typical photos and then when the surgery happened and I was away from all those people, I started to grow a new appreciation for shows. I missed my friends. I missed the music, too, and I missed seeing all these cool bands. But, for the most part, I missed seeing the people—being able to go around and hang out with friends like that and dress up and have style and everything. When I was in the hospital, I had to wear all these hospital clothes. I didn't wear the clothes I wanted to wear for over a month. I started feeling old and depressed.

Such a complete contrast from what's happening now. You're skyrocketing right now. It's so great. [You’ve] got to get through the highs and lows in life.

Yes. It was that pain that inspired me to come back and make memories that I can keep forever, and that other people can keep forever, because, I never wanted to feel that pain again. I don't want anyone else to feel like that, to be 20 years old and feeling like you're a 50-year-old sick person about to die.

Pom Poms is beautiful.

Thanks.

Something beautiful came out of what you dealt with.

That's really what I was going for. Creating a dream world that I can permanently have on myself just to reminisce over good times because that hospital experience made me realize how fragile and cold life can get. So, when I came back, I really made it a goal for myself to create beauty out of nothing. To not show people crossing their arms, but show people dancing and enjoying themselves.

Not on their phones.

Yes, not on their phones. It's all romanticism. I've been studying romanticism actually. Just on my own, not for school or anything—it's interesting and I think it applies to my whole style of photography.

That explains your new passion, your new art project.

Yes.

Does your inspiration tend to stand out or is it always changing? You definitely have a point-of-view.

My whole central point-of-view is romanticism and escapism. I gathered different elements of inspiration that surround that central idea, like songs from different bands. The band Alvvays, they have the escapist element to their whole vibe. Movies, old movies, essays that I've read online—everything that has to do with creating a surreal world out of the ordinary. Because I firmly believe that there are little, subtle moments that we overlook that can be seen in a very beautiful way.

That's what I like about your photography is that most of the moments that you're taking photos of are very—

Small.

—normal moments. Something comes alive in them. Each photo is its own piece of work even though it's just someone standing there, but it's the way that you captured it.

Thank you.

What movies inspired you recently that we should watch?

I really like the soft lighting in The Godfather. I've been inspired by Gordon Willis—he's the director of photography for the whole series—he was really cool because he made sure that every frame in that movie was like a painting, like a fine art painting. If you go back and study his methods and the way he lit his characters, he was very intellectual with how he placed people in the frame. He was so strict about having the actors make their marks on set that if they missed their marks, they would've been in the complete darkness because he had the light in a very specific place. I really like his concentration.

This isn't a movie, but music videos like “Humming” by Turnover and “Dream Tonight” by Alvvays—that music video, I'm really inspired by that. It's really colorful and has a romantic feel to it.

Out of your life, it can be anything ever, what is a piece of clothing that really means something to you?

This sweatshirt that I'm wearing right now. This sweatshirt means a lot to me because it was designed by my good friend, Evan Boutte. He's a painter.

That is really nice. Very Picasso.

Yes. He's an artist that's based in New York right now, but he's from Franklin, TN. He's a good friend. He's helped me through a lot of things. I've learned a lot from him as an artist. This sweatshirt reminds me of just dreaming of bigger things, trying to make better and bigger changes in my life. I want to move to New York eventually and I always think about that when I wear this sweatshirt.

I really want it to happen this summer. Hopefully, I can get my finances in order for that to happen. That's the goal, this summer when it gets warm.

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Assuming that you want to move there and keep doing photography full time if you can?

Yes. If I move there I would really want to just make Pom Poms again there. I would do fashion photography too, but my big passion project is Pom Poms. I just want to keep that going. My big dream is to go to Australia and do it.

Why Australia?

I really like Tame Impala.

[laughter]

I don't know. I've always been drawn to Australia. I've never been there, but I have friends that are from there and I really like this band called Good Morning. They're from Australia. They're one of my favorite bands of all time. I just want to see what that scene is like there. I want to find out what it's like and it's super warm too.

If you could live in any decade, which would it be? What's your favorite decade?

I really like the 2010s. I wish I would've started taking pictures earlier in this decade to get that whole Beach House scene and Toro [y Moi] when he wasn't too big. Because, I feel artists like that really define this decade for me personally. They just create really beautiful music and I know that there's been some really beautiful face-melting shows with artists like those. Other than that, I would say maybe the '90s.

When did you actually start taking photos? What got you started on photography?

I started taking photos almost exactly two years ago. I bought my first camera February 1st, 2016 I think.

What was it?

It was a Nikon D90 DSLR. That was the camera that I shot Pom Poms with. What got me started in photography was really the fact that I couldn't be a musician. I wanted to play music, but I never learned how to physically do it. So, to fit in with my friends, I would have a camera instead of an instrument. Because in college I used to hang out with a bunch of musicians. They would pass around a guitar while we'd hang out and it would get to me and I'd be like, "Oh, I can't play. Sorry." I would just watch them. After some time, it felt isolating because that's all I would do, watch them play. My instrument was a camera. I eventually started watching with a purpose, I guess.

It is an instrument in a sense, for sure. Especially if you utilize it correctly. That's cool. I like that.

The first concert that I took photos at was Chloe Kohanski at The End. She recently won "The Voice." That was just a little nuance that I like to remember.

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I'm curious if you could photograph anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

I'd have to think about that. The first person that comes to mind is Jimi Hendrix. That'd be really surreal.

It would be crazy.

Yes. Such a star. Such a legend.

No matter what, he was just a star. Drinking coffee, going to the bathroom. You know what I mean? Every mundane thing. He still somehow is a star.

Him or Kurt Cobain. Marilyn Monroe. That'd be surreal.

You would get some good shots of Marilyn Monroe.

Yes.

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Who are some photographers that you're into right now?

I'm really into Sheila Metzner just because she has a lot of texture in her photos that not a lot of people seem to get or grasp. I really like Ryan Plett, he's a really classic black and white photographer. His style is so consistent and fluent. I know this is not just one photographer, but I really like Annie Lai. She's from the UK. She has a really consistent London fashion style. She has a lot of creamy highlights that make her photos dreamlike. Those are the top three I would say.

Is there anything in particular you're working on right now that you want people to know about?

I'm working on this series right now called "Figures of Color." It's a photo series about black skin color. I emphasize really dark skin by making black models wear all white and then making their skin really contrast to the environment. I'm trying to work on that and make that into a big, fine art project.

Have it in a gallery or something?

Yes, eventually. It's going to take a long time. I feel like that project is years in the making.

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Any last word, anything you want people to take home?

Pangaea is an awesome store.

[laughter]

That's where I'm going to go in a second. A lot of nice people work there.

What do you hope to leave behind with your art or yourself?

I hope to leave behind multiple volumes of good memories for people to hold on to for the rest of their lives, for them, not just for me. I really do want to leave this world knowing that I gave something to people with my art, as a true gift, because at the end of the day I feel like art is about communicating feelings to people and I really do want a lot of people to feel good about the time that they lived in. That's why I'm really working hard to be at different shows in advance, really capture the essence of the good vibes there, so that people can remember and be left with good taste.

That's so important, without any questioning at all. Even though it’s so easy for people to do photos now, it still gets lost. The people come and go. They get lost. The fact that you're trying to keep that alive so much is awesome.

Yes, I definitely want to leave this earth knowing that I made somebody feel alive.

That is beautiful.


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You can order Marcus' published book of photos, Pom Poms, here. See more of Marcus' work at marcusmaddox.co