Conversations: Conor Cunningham

Conor Cunninham’s photography (@mescondi) has been making a splash in the Vancouver art scene. Surprisingly colourful and whimsical his photography, and recent foray into film, paints a new picture of Vancouver. Continue reading to find out about Conor’s explosive growth and journey with photography. 

 

What should I know about you?

I have been doing art for a long time and I just started doing photography about a year ago. I used to walk around with my friend who used to take photos of me. Then I said “actually – you don’t see things the way I do, pass me the camera – I wanna try something.” I instantly loved it. I bought a cheap camera off my friend and still use the same set up today. Literally I think I just hit my year anniversary with my camera.

 

What setup do you use?

I use a T3I and a portrait lens, that’s all I have. I feel like I have learned to maximize that lens, I even use it for video.

 

 

 A portrait of the artist (Conor Cunningham)
A portrait of the artist (Conor Cunningham)

I noticed a really big change in your Instagram about a year ago where you went from cold and gloomy photos and then suddenly it became saturated colours, what happened?

I just kind of fell in love with colour. My first couple of shoots with friends were based off what I was seeing around from other photographers. Especially around the city (Vancouver) it’s cold and earth toney. But in my experiences, I was always seeing colour so I made the switch. It’s more fun to work with and plan shoots with colour.

 

Take me through a shoot with you!

It’s pretty chill. I will meet up with a model and we will discuss what we are going to wear and stuff. Or if I have a concept I’ll style them in my clothes. I shoot kind of differently – according to my models. It’s slower not a lot of rapid fire stuff. I plan everything out. I look for people who are down to do whatever and I will bring weird props. It’s super chill, laid back – I usually become friends with the people I shoot with. I take it seriously in my head, because I am very critical of myself and my work. Everything needs to be perfect in my eyes but the environment needs to be relaxed.

 

What is perfection in your eyes?

Literally whatever I think is perfect. Things could be off, like your hair doesn’t need to be perfect, but when I see the photo it needs to feel perfect. I like imperfection though. When I first started people would send me Instagrams of these really hot girls and tell me to shoot with them. But I thought it was boring. Using models is cool because they know how to pose, but my favourite is picking someone who looks interesting. In the photos you can always see it. They are a little uncomfortable because they haven’t been asked to take photos before. The audience can connect to it versus a model who has done a pose a billion times. It’s a lot more real.

I like that, I feel like what your photography has been showing me is a super colourful representation of Vancouver which is hard because it is cold and rainy.

People ask me all the time where I shoot and I say Vancouver and they are like where did you find the colour. I just tell them to look.

 

 

How do you look?

I think my brain has gotten to the point where it picks it out when it sees it because I’ve trained it. My nine-to-five job has me driving around the city all the time. So I’m always seeing new places and I’ll take down the cross streets.

 

How much of your work is post editing?

Oh – like all of it. I like film a lot so I try to mimic a film look when I edit. Digital obviously looks so different, especially when I work with colour I need to bump it up so much. Digital tends to wash everything. I actually just picked up two film cameras.

 

Tell me about filming videos, what have you been experimenting with?

One of my buddies is a musician here and before he moves to LA he wants to have a catalog of videos. He is pretty much the one who got me into doing art and sharing it because I used to be self conscious about it – like years ago. He just told me to do it. So he came to me and said he wants to do this video project of five music videos and a short film. I told him I don’t have a dope camera but we can try it on this so we did it.

I’ve always been into video. When people ask me who my inspiration is it’s a lot more directors than photographers. I like my photos to be cinematic like screenshots of a film. It was kind of inevitable that I would get into film and I’m working on my own short film.

 

Tell me more about the short film

It is about being a kid who is into art and wants to do that in the place we are right now. Any place where they don’t push you up to do it. It’s about the escape of it all – which is what it is to me – so it is about the kids who want to escape into art and make it their life.

 

Do you want to make art your life?

Yeah I dropped out of school – I was like nope this is not what I’m doing. I went to Simon Fraser University (SFU) for two years and I took random classes and hated it. I would skip class all the time to do photo stuff or draw anything. I used to think there is something wrong with me. Am I lazy? But nah, I work hard. I work till I die and I have a better chance at making it with something like this rather than an office job.

 

 

A lot of your paintings beforehand had this really fragmented look. It was almost Picasso like and that didn’t appear in your photos but it seems to be back in your videos with two overlaying shots.

The fragmented paintings were from back when I was in SFU. I wasn’t super happy. I felt like I had one side of me that was prim and proper for my parents and the other was just art – art – art. The fragmented stuff was me expressing the two sides. So half a face that is very make-up clean and the other is in my mind and a gong show. In the photos I think it stopped because that is when I stopped school and I was able to be that side. It came back in the videos because I am not super comfortable with it. The videos are also for somebody else so it’s chopped up in that it has both our sides in it.

 

Do you have any big projects?

I kind of slowed down the photos in the last two months because the weather sucks. But I have a couple of shoots that I have been waiting to do since November but the flowers are coming out now. Then the short film and my buddy’s thing. There are two more videos to film. That’s it so far, I just want to keep growing. I’m going to LA in May, with a couple of friends, and I am going to work with a couple of people and go to a Street Dreams party.

 

Are you visiting or trying to root yourself in LA?

I am visiting but I am going to try and do the most I can in three weeks. My goal is to move to the States or to move out of Vancouver. I am not rushing out but I feel like I can’t stay here forever.

 

Why is that?

The attitude towards art I find here, there are amazing and super talented people here, but as a whole – I want to e shooting people like ASAP rocky and I know I have to venture out there. I can’t make it what I want to do personally here.

 

I feel that – a lot of things in Vancouver are temporary.

It’s a good place, especially to start. It isn’t flooded with people actually trying. It’s a little sad because there are so many people I know who are talented but just go to school and feel like there is no possibility of making it. It has to be a mindset, if you put everything out there people are going to notice.

 

Do you have anything else you would like to say?

I hope people see my stuff and don’t think I am always taking portraits. I really use it – art – as a way to escape, I want to create my own world. I look at people like Tarantino and my bigger influences. I look at every scene and break it down – that is what I try to do. Every little detail is that way for a specific person.

That is partially why I use colour, it’s because that is how I want things to be. It looks happy but I don’t usually have a lot of smiling in my photos. I want things to be that colourful but the place I am in now is kind of dystopian and that is why I have that contrast. My photos have a small representation of what I am going through at the moment.

 

Do you have a favourite movie?

Kill Bill – I don’t think that’s the greatest movie ever but personally I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched that movie. The cinematography is insane.