Photographer Marcus Branch has created poignant studio portraits that delve into the desires of the people in front of his lens
The outlook of our planet seems pretty bleak at the moment. From Brexit to Donald Trump, the refugee crisis, and climate change, the list is never-ending. However, amongst the turmoil, there is endless positivity. Which New York and Philadelphia-based photographer, Marcus Branch, reminds us through his work which aims to show that we all have the power to create, inspire, and cause change. His latest project, Visibility (2018) – which is on show at Philly Arts Collective from tomorrow – is a prime example of this. A series of portraits featuring young creatives in Philadelphia which coincides with their answers to the question, “What is a change you wish to see in the world?”
But before the photographer could others ask this question, Branch inverted it and asked himself. “The change I wish to see in the world is for everyone to see that we are more than capable of being exactly what we can imagine ourselves to be – I’m talking about owning that insight and committing to seeing it through.” If its Branch’s mission to help us to notice our own capabilities, then it’s no wonder that photography is his gift to the world – through his visuals, the possibilities of our future world become visible.
“The change I wish to see in the world is for everyone to see that we are more than capable of being exactly what we can imagine ourselves to be” – Marcus Branch
He adds that asking this question to others was a way to take direct action in his work and show that his subjects need to be seen and heard rather than just spoken about by politicians and our so-called leaders. “I continue to preach about our capacity as humans”, says Branch, “the power we possess and the ability to shape, challenge, and change the conversation. I find myself continuously surrounded by incredibly inspiring and dynamically varied individuals right here in my hometown of Philadelphia; leaders of dialogue and pioneers of change, insight, and action. I then thought this is how I can contribute to shaping, challenging and changing the conversation.”
Much like the intimacy that transcends all of Branch’s work, asking this question allowed the photographer to get personal with his subjects; an intensity and beauty that beams throughout Visibility. “The responses were so flooring, touching, and powerful, and you could literally feel the positive, a free-flowing energy in that space. I will never forget that day,” Branch reflects. The portraits that make-up Visibility are all equally provoking. For example, in the photo of Loza Z, eye contact creates an intense atmosphere but it’s not aggressive, it’s powerful. The simple white background also exaggerates the subject to show the world that these are real-life people who are serious about change.
To make the series, Branch held an open studio in Philadelphia that attracted over 400 responses, making Visibility one of Branch’s most ambitious projects to date. To encourage inclusivity, Branch welcomed people of all backgrounds, all gender identities, all sizes and all races. “The day was more than I could have ever dreamed of. I saw people already lining up outside of the studio damn near 45 minutes before doors open. That hit me heavy, that’s when I thought, ‘there is belief in what we are doing.’”
Photography has been a key part of Branch’s identity since a young age and it is one of the reasons why self-reflection is a key theme across his entire oeuvre. “It was through photography that I got to reflect on my past, so that’s why I believe reflection to be an innate element of my work. I learned so much about my family, where I come from and my childhood through the countless photographs my mom has taken and archived.”
In terms of what’s to come, it seems that we can expect a lot from Branch. “I probably could stand to have fewer plans for upcoming projects! I plan to expand Visibility. I’d love to take this to multiple cities, bring visibility to more than just my home. My main project that I am nurturing with everything I’ve got is my short film project, Dialogue. It’s an undertaking that is a labour of love and discovery. I’m also working again with Polaroid Originals for their new Polaroid camera.”