Behind the Lens: Matthu Placek

By Nilina Mason-Campbell

From behind the lens of his Linhof 4×5, photographer Matthu Placek captures striking portraits of people, artists in their creative zones and fantastical images ranging from werewolves to flying subjects and everything in between. While much of his work falls under the category of fashion photography, his breadth is much larger than that. Recent clients include V Magazine, NOWNESS, artist Terence Koh and Downtown Records amongst others and his work has been exhibited at the MoMa in collaboration with performance artist Marina Abramovic. Shooting since age 11, the 33-year-old photographer currently calls the East Village home after moving to New York 15 years ago. We talk to Placek now about his career, self-education and what’s at the root of his desire to photograph people.

What’s your earliest photo-taking memory?
Matthu Placek: I stole my mother’s camera which I was under no circumstances to touch when I was 11 or so. I still have the same problem with authority. I went to a forgotten cemetery deep in the woods in Ohio, where I would escape to and took self portraits there… not the wisest subject matter when considering I was not to use that camera. Since then however my mother gifted that camera to me and I use it even still on occasion.

Are you self-taught or did you study photography?
50/50 I’d say. I’ve never finished a single school including high school. Proudly stated. I’ve had incredible mentors in my life.

What earlier photo stints, jobs and experiences led you to where you are now in your career?
Every single one of them! But the most influential I would say was working with Todd Eberle who really exposed me to a new way of seeing and sharing space.

What makes a good image in your mind?
A “timeless” one.

What drew you to shooting fashion and art?
I like people. My “commercial” work is primarily portraits where fashion is often included, however I would not consider myself a fashion photographer. My art practice exists because it has to but I don’t really share that work for the most part.

Is there any message that you feel you’re trying to convey in your work?
It’s different for every image but to generalize portraiture is a way to make people live forever. It’s my goal to show where someone is in there life with a lot of where they’ve been and a touch of where they might go.

What’s a favorite recent shoot of yours?
I had the enormous pleasure to photograph Yoko Ono for a portfolio of women in art. I admire her work and its message a great deal. It was my honor to meet the woman behind the work in such an intimate exchange.

Who are your favorite subjects to shoot?
First and foremost, I really love to shoot artists in their spaces.

What’s your dream shoot?
I’m broadening my horizons these days into film so my dream shoots are always moving images these days. The short film I am working on now is the “dream shoot” currently in production.

What inspires you to shoot photos? Why do you like the medium?
People. Like I said, I like people. Knowing someone personally who has sincerity and drive in what they do really melts my butter! That inspires me and the image of them I want to make. I love the medium because I’m recording a relationship between me and a person. It’s an exchange with a record that will last forever.

All images by Matthu Placek except for the Matthu Placek portrait as taken by Adam Dugas.