Mark Turtoo Creates Haunting Visual Stories of Loneliness and the Human Psyche

All images and text by Mark Turtoo. Used with permission.

I’m a visual artist, a photographer, and storyteller infusing life into the stories that populate my head. Constantly exploring new ways to create and always trying to implement new techniques and experiments in what I do, I have been mixing cinema with my images for a very long time now, to the point where it can be considered an essential part of my style.I create dark and moody images based on loneliness and the intricacies of the human psyche, choosing a cinematic style to better establish the story that each image wants to tell. More often than not I will use myself as the (unfortunate) subject of the shots giving it one more layer of personal involvement in the project. Props and make-up are also all self-made (for the moment) and particular care is put in researching fitting locations (duh). With each shot I strive to improve various aspects of my process, all this to ultimately be a more complete and resourceful artist.

There’s no greater joy for me than seeing people inspired and moved by what I create.

Why did you get into photography?

It’s quite hard to remember this one, and I believe that there’s no big motivational story behind my initiation into this world. I could say that there was simply a fascination in the subject, the whole concept of a medium that can encompass visual thinking, craft and exploration is probably the reason that pushed me into pursuing this path.

Which photographers are your biggest influences?

Quite a few, some old, some new, but all of them fantastic in my eyes:

Chase Jarvis, Joey Lawrence, Man Ray, Annie Leibowitz, Jeremy Cowart, Benjamin Von Wong, Marta Bevaqua, Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Peter Linbergh, John Wright, Oleg Oprisco.

I can’t really remember all the ones that inspired me, but in time many had an impression on me.

How long have you been shooting?

18 years? I have a terrible memory (another reason to shoot) but I believe that it all started in 2000, if I don’t consider fiddling with cameras when I was a kid.

Why is photography and shooting so important to you?

It simply allows me to see what I create in my head, just imagining a scene or concept without ever being able to actually have it before me would be quite sad. It’s also quite therapeutic.

Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?

Creator, definitely, I take my time to envision a scene, “building” the shots is my real thing.

I usually “document” with my phone just for fun.

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?

I usually just let them come to me, I’m not really a “thinking about the shot” kind of person I have a big cork-board full of pinned ideas, google keep notes, and probably something on asana too, if I wake up in the middle of the night I’ll write the concept down in two words and then let the idea sit to see if something else can come out of it. I usually walk past the board each day and glance at the papers, one of them usually hits me and I head out to shoot (unless I need to build a prop, then I’ll do that first).

Want to walk us through your processing techniques?

I could bore you to death with it, my main point is working with color to set the mood just right, dodging and burning, frame extension (when I use my favorite 2.39:1 aspect ratio), particles, I love particles and haze, I shot my own library of those with tons of flour and scented sticks.

Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.

I’ll simply expose my portfolio here, I am always working on expanding the body of work I have, trying new techniques and ideas, the theme is more or less always leaning towards the moody/conceptual self portraiture, eventually I’ll introduce more characters though.

There’s actually a story that can be seen throughout the pictures but it’s more of a line that makes it easier to think about the next shot than a final product, as they say, it’s about the journey.

What made you want to get into your genre?

I love to express moods and emotions through my work, and being cinema my main source of inspiration, the things I do seemed like the obvious choice.

Tell us a bit about the gear you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.

I don’t want to be the kind of guy that says “gear doesn’t matter”, and in fact I won’t, but at the same time, I feel like I achieved a lot with the little I had (to start with). I learned what I know on my trusty old D90 and I think that I mostly used a classic 50 1.8D, it helped me to learn how to squeeze every last bit of juice from something that at some point became old tech (I used it for about 8 years before switching to my D810). Using light to my advantage, pushing it in poorly lit scenarios and building scenes with multiple exposures to make up for the lack of flashes are some of the things I still do on a regular basis, something that I wouldn’t exactly call compositing but almost, basically I just try to see how far I can go on my own and make the best possible work with it.

Gear: Nikon D810, Nikkor 20mm f2.8D, Nikkor 50mm f1.4D, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f2.8, Nikkor Push-Pull 80-200mm f2.8D, 2x Nikon SB-28 Speedlights, Yongnuo YN568EX

What motivates you to shoot?

I just know that I want to shoot, it is true that I don’t always feel like it, but it usually comes back without much effort (even though I had major creative blocks too) I simply stay inspired with what I do — the movies, shows, music, video games, trips, and activities that I do are all a big part of what motivates me.

Don’t forget to visit Mark Turtoo’s website, 500px, and DeviantArt, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook to stay updated with his work.