By: Sue Apfelbaum
“People are chronically dehydrated,” says Mark Mahaney, washing down a breakfast crepe at a SoHo café. For a photographer, trained to observe the body’s surface qualities more than its pathologies, water consumption seems an unusual passion. It springs in part from interest in his long-term girlfriend’s studies in holistic nutrition; but he also has a particular body awareness since his father’s recent death from pancreatic cancer. For Mahaney, the external is less important than what happens under the skin.
Raised in a small town west of Chicago, Mahaney studied photography at nearby Columbia College and at the Savannah College of Art and Design, but his interest in the art form developed earlier. “My mom bought my older sister a little Vivitar SLR camera when she was 17, and I ended up using it more than she did,” he recalls. Now shooting primarily in medium format, Mahaney hustles by day as a full-time assistant to celebrity photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, while creating images on his own time for magazines like SEED, TOKION, and the politically conscious GOOD. “I’m more interested in cultural figures that actually have become well known based upon doing good things,” he says. “To take a picture of Jay-Z is absolutely of no interest to me.” Then, perhaps realizing that Jay-Z, an activist for potable water, isn’t the best example, Mahaney adds, “If I were to do it, it wouldn’t be some glamorous picture, or how their publicist would want them.”Some of his favorite people to photograph are on the other end of the celebrity spectrum: science stars such as biologist and professor E. O. Wilson, whose picture he shot for SEED, and inventor and new-media artist Natalie Jeremijenko, whom he shot for RES. Mahaney does his homework before meeting such brilliant minds, attempting “to not be a completely blank slate, to have something to talk about.” The results show in Wilson’s playful expressions as he shows off his ant paraphernalia at Harvard, and in the glint of Jeremijenko’s eye as she stands before her robotic ducks. Wilson generously gave him five hours of his time, and in Jeremijenko’s case, he says, “I actually was helping her move out of her studio during the time we were doing photos.”
Friend and colleague Cary Murnion of Honest attributes that level of trust to the fact that “he is one of the kindest people I know. I think the people he shoots see this kindness in him and give him something that they normally wouldn’t to any other photographer.” He also notes Mahaney’s wicked sense of humor, which appears subtly in his work. In his large-format series on urban sprawl, “The Smartland,” Mahaney takes issue with the misleading names developers give subdivisions like Oak Hills in North Aurora, Illinois, where “there are no oak trees and no hills.” Another shows a square body of water with the caption: “The pond is fake and the ducks know it.” Mahaney hopes such projects might make some small difference in the world. “I want to do things for good reasons and have a lot of good energy behind them.” Whether his subject is ponds or people, Mahaney keeps looking beneath the surface.
More Information—from St. Charles, ILlives in Brooklyn, NYage 27website markmahaney.com—
Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson in his laboratory at Harvard University (2006). Client: SEED magazine.
2009 New Visual Artists: Apirat InfahsaengMato AtomJacob SilberbergRenda Morton Sveinn DavidssonTimothy GoodmanLauren DukoffJosh CochranZigmunds LapsaFranklin VandiverLabourJennifer DanielBudor + CuleJessica HischeJason TamHannah ChoNicole JacekEleanor DavisJosef ReyesRandy Hunt—Find out more about Print's New Visual Artists competition.
About the Author—Sue Apfelbaum is the editorial director at AIGA. She is a former editor of RES magazine, and she writes about art, design, and music for Lemon and other publications.
Read more at PrintMag.com: Mark Mahaney
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