November 22, 2017

Meet The #NewOriginals: The Education of Marcus Branch

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by DJ Pangburn.

For New York and Philadelphia-based photographer Marcus Branch, a camera has always been a tool for learning about himself and the world around him. Branch tells Polaroids Originals that when Ryan McGinley gave him the #NewOriginals assignment, he was reminded of how his mother and father photographed his childhood, documenting so many memories from that period. Early on, the camera became an educational tool for Branch—a way of learning about his family. Later, as a queer male, it became a tool to investigate the self and other young black men like him.

“I don’t think it was direct how this happened—it was indirect,” Marcus explains. “The interesting thing is that these photos were Polaroid photos or from disposable cameras. So, this project felt like coming full circle for me because I learned through Polaroid photos, and now I got to express through them.” He recalls that it was during his freshman year of high school, back in 2006—during MySpace’s heyday—that he first picked up a camera.

“I wanted to have a cool picture, not the same duck face high angle photo that all my friends had,” he remembers. “So, I started doing these self-portraits, and then started doing them for my friends and it sort of became a thing… I didn’t really have any photography classes until about my sophomore year, so for two years I was doing it myself and started a blog and learned digital the best I could.”

alex in #telfar, harlem, ny. by #marcusbranch

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Marcus Branch (@marcus.branch) am

It wasn’t until Marcus went to tech school, at Central Montco Technical High School—where he currently teaches—that he took photography classes. There, he refined his skills with both digital and analog cameras. Lately, he has been combining the two formats. He mainly shoots digital, but always brings along a 35mm camera, like his Oktamat with 8 serial lenses, as well as a Holga for variety.

For the #NewOriginals project, Marcus used the Polaroid OneStep 2 to create, as he calls it, an “Ode to Autumn”. He wanted to create an homage to his favorite season in Philadelphia—in particular, the month of October.

“All of the trees and everything around is so beautiful to me, and I’ve yet to capture it that I feel romanticizes it the way that I see it,” he explains. “I also wanted to explore what I feel my work has been dealing with lately as far as duality, unity, uniformity, and also just celebrating individuality and the variety we all have as people.”

dallas, manhattan, ny. 2017 by #marcusbranch – via my @tpj takeover

Ein Beitrag geteilt von Marcus Branch (@marcus.branch) am

For this project, Marcus wanted to learn the eye of the Polaroid OneStep 2 camera. The intention was, as he tells it, to discover how the camera sees things.

“Each camera I shoot with I learn how it sees things and how it captures things for me to be able to know how I want to capture things,” he explains. “So, in the beginning, I experimented with it: used flash, without flash, just to see exactly what it does with light and how it renders everything. From there, I was really able to really understand my approach to it, which was ongoing throughout the entire project.”

“I would try to get certain images I’d see in my head but when they came out on Polaroid it transformed them in a certain way,” he adds. “It shuttered different light and it informed my approach as it went along, which I loved because I felt like I was just learning it and sort of being able to create honestly with it because it was me and the Polaroid—not just me, but a duality.”

Ultimately, the project allowed Marcus to do what he really loves to do—explore. It also reminded him to take different approaches but also reinforced the knowledge that various lenses can achieve a number of looks.

“I kind of felt like a kid with a brand new toy in a sense, and I could see the world through this lens and really get to play,” he says. “And true to myself, I brought along other lenses and was shooting different things, and testing with the square [frame] on the iPhone to see if it was the composition I wanted.”

“A lot of times it doesn’t match up,” he adds. “But what I loved the most was it provided such an experience… What was beautiful is I was able to experience and capture so many experiences, and the photos became more than the visions I had in mind because they embody the spirit and the energy that was achieved in that space and time.”

This is what Marcus really digs about photography as a medium and artform. It’s a mindset he tries to impart to his students. He encourages them to dive into their ambitions, not hesitate because it might not be the right time or because they’re perfectionists and the image has to be exactly as they envision it.

“They’re all excuses, and I feel as though what you’re doing is just delaying the obstacles you’re bound to run into regardless,” he says. “So, if you dive in the sooner the better because you’ll get past these obstacles and you’ll grow to learn from them instead of holding yourself back with this whole idea of perfection.”

“It’s not achievable,” he adds. “Perfection is not real.”

He also recommends that budding photographers use all cameras and lenses to learn how to see with them. Beyond that, he tells his students to experiment by moving away from the perfect ideal and toward abstraction.

“You just have to go in for it. And you have to be honest and true, and then everything will come to you if you just keep the drive alive.”

test: richie, norristown, pa. 2017 by #marcusbranch | new things are on the horizon for www.marcusbranch.com 💫

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Marcus’ work for the #NewOriginals project will be curated by photographer Ryan McGinley later this month and displayed in our upcoming exhibition in NYC this December.

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