Mark Sapp’s Omni is Surreal Photo Creativity

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All images by Mark Sapp. Used with permission.

Photographer Mark Joven Sapp is a photographer living in central Florida. He started as a photographer at Walt Disney World and then transitioned into shooting his own stuff on the side. For Mark, it was all about creativity and expression. “I’ve been shooting for about a year and a half now and my photography has let me travel some of the east coast as well as the midwest. My portfolio is broad in genre but I specialize in surreal photo manipulations.” says Mark about his work.

We were attracted to a specific project of his called Omni; which started partially due to a photography course that he’s taking. However, as Mark tells us, Phlearn’s Aaron Nace inspired him quite a bit.

Be sure to check out more of his work on FacebookFlickrTumblr, and Instagram.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Mark: I started photography after my first year in college, when I was offered a position at Walt Disney World in Orlando. I previously worked at Legoland in Winter Haven but I was actively looking for another job. With no real photography experience under my belt I became a Disney PhotoPass cast member. I started at Epcot, then the water parks during the summer, and I eventually ended up at Magic Kingdom. It was around this time that I became more curious about camera settings; I wanted to learn more than just how to punch in settings. But money was very tight and as my dad would often tell me, I was “paying myself to work there” because of the tolls and the amount of gas I was spending. But at the end of the day, I had the ability to make people laugh and smile even when I couldn’t. And that’s what made it a fantastic job.

So I saved what money I could by sleeping in parking lots between shifts instead of driving an hour and thirty minutes home for two weeks. I then finally bought a film camera (an Olympus OM-1) to learn how to shoot in manual. My first developed roll wasn’t perfect but it was mine. There were a number of photographers I worked with that were professionals outside of the park gates and that’s kind of what inspired me to push out and start shooting on my own.

Phoblographer: What attracts you to this surreal type of work?

Mark: I think Aaron Nace of Phlearn put it best when he said something along the lines of “you are only limited by your imagination” and that is completely true. All the things you think of as a kid aren’t really possible in reality, but with Photoshop they can be. There is a thought process both before and after creating these types of images and I love that because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to almost everything. But I often keep my images that fall flat as a reminder to myself that no one is perfect. There are a lot of people that think surreal or conceptual photography is becoming oversaturated and its losing appeal. But I disagree and believe that there are great photographers out there with different stories/experiences to share.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the project. It seems like it’s all about things levitating.

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Mark: It started when I left Disney to transfer to an art college in Chicago. I couldn’t go seasonal because I couldn’t see myself traveling back and forth from Illinois to Florida to work the amount of hours required to keep the job. So Jen, my girlfriend, and I packed up everything into a Dodge Dart before I even got an acceptance letter. It turns out the school accepted me…for the next spring semester instead of the fall.

So that along with the housing issues we were having, made us move back to Florida. That’s when I planned to turn all these unrelated surreal photos I’d been shooting, into a coffee table book titled “Volumes”. However, after seeing how poorly print sales were going, I decided not to pursue it. I didn’t feel like there was a central theme or story being told. Anyways, my first semester back at my local community college, I decided to take a photography course to push my creativity and give me assignments. This spawned my current project “Omni”.

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Phoblographer: What inspired the project?

Mark: I needed to find a project to keep my head straight after moving back to Florida. I had an idea about getting a portable light source and using uncanny light props for photos at night. So when we came back I bought a portable battery and started using a vintage light table Jen found at Goodwill. The first couple of ideas we had looked like something straight out of the Twilight Zone and I think that feeling kind of stuck. The boxes of light in these photographs are bright and brilliant but they also have the possibility of being something more sinister. Most of this was influenced my Logan Zillmer’s “Spur” series. He is fantastic at composites.

Phoblographer: Every artist expresses themselves in some way when they do personal projects like this. What are you trying to express? There are different moods to each image but there are also common themes holding them together.

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Mark: I think a lot of my work ranges in emotion from nostalgia to astonishment. My high school sweetheart and girlfriend of five years quickly became my model and the subject of my photos and it was by accident before it became a reoccurring trend. I pitched a few ideas that had been floating around in my head and she’s been onboard ever since. I think of them more as metaphors for all the situations I feel like we’ve both been in.

There’s an untitled photo that I paired a quote by Arthur C. Clarke that reads “ Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” I think it was an accurate representation of that sinking or unsettling feeling we both experienced. A month before we shot that photo we spun out on a major highway pretty early in the morning and I honestly thought it was going to be the end of us. But I promise I have plans for more lighthearted stuff soon haha.

Phoblographer: Technically speaking, how are you creating these images?

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Mark: When I started out I was using a Nikon D7000 with a 35mm f1.8, I originally learned on a D90 at Disney so the transition was easy. I’m a big sucker for primes. However, some of the first ideas I ever shot were with rented lenses like the Nikkor16-85mm 3.5-5.6 and the much loved Nikkor 24-70mm ED 2.8. At that time I was renting a lot because I was shooting corporate events. I eventually bought Sigma’s 17-50mm 2.8 and that became my go to lens for everything. I recently switched systems and I’m now using a 5D Mark II, although the mirrorless market is becoming more appealing everyday.

In terms of post processing, Lightroom and Photoshop are the must haves. I learned a lot of Photoshop skills from the graphic design program at my high school. Jumping back into that has proven to be difficult but it has gotten a lot better. My workflow starts with Lightroom for cataloging, curve adjustments and color grading. Then I bring everything into Photoshop to do local edits, like bringing out all the mini polaroids from multiple exposures. But in rare cases where I use the brenizer method, I’ll start in Photoshop and go from there.

I’m guilty of using VSCO presets more often than I’d like and that has me in kind of a rut. I’m beginning to start from scratch now instead of tweaking presets. In the future I’d like to incorporate some tasteful HDR into some of these portraits, as I was never good at processing HDR in the past. I’m also eyeing a color theory book right now.

Phoblographer: What do you want to do with the series? Please tell us that it will continue beyond the end of the semester.

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Mark: It more than likely will. I think Omni has a lot of potential on its own, and I’d like to pursue the book option again. I feel like this time there is more of an underlying theme. I submitted the first image to a student competition at my school so depending on what feedback I get, I’ll be able to gauge where to go from there. I’d never framed and printed any of my stuff before so it was amazing to see and hold a finished product.

Flickr, Reddit, Tumblr, my family and friends have all been very kind to my work and that only pushes me to keep shooting!