Mystery in the Everyday

Michael McCluskey is a fine art, editorial and commercial photographer. Growing up in the rural American Midwest, he was musician for over 15 years, taking up image-making as a short term project which turned into a career. His new photobook, published by Setanta Books and Open Doors Gallery, is full of cinematic images taken under nightfall. Each shot, captured from the side of the road in Northern Michigan, is rich in narrative possibilities. McCluskey leaves viewers to plot the beginning, middle and end of the stories.

A: How did you get started in photography?
I took PH10 at a community college a few years back. Just for fun. That was when I took my first photo. Our instructor encouraged us to make the photos we wanted to see. So I started working towards that right away.  

A: Where do you take your images? What does a day of shooting look like?
MM: It depends on the project. The images from my first series, Mourning and Evening, were almost all taken close to where I live in Grand Rapids, MI. I walked and shot almost every day that summer. The photos in my second series, Ancient Demons, were all captured while visiting family in Northern, MI. It was a lot of driving! It’s a very rural area so everything is really spread out. I’ve put 50,000 miles on my car in two years. I usually put music on and try to shut my mind off. Enter the moment. 

A: What is it about these buildings, which are often illuminated by glowing light and clouds of mist, that draws you in? What is significant about these locations?
I grew up in an old farmhouse that sat on a hill. I lived there until I was 18. So I feel drawn to that type of subject matter. The light I look for and capture reflects my feelings about my experiences there, at that time in my life.

A: Why do you choose to photograph scenes under nightfall, or in darkened, hazy rooms? What are you hoping to convey?
MM: I’m agnostic. I’ve accepted that there is a lot I cannot and will not ever know. But I’m still drawn to the supernatural and the unknown. Sometimes I think there’s something there, in the darkness or the haze. But I don’t know what it is.

A: Who, or what, are your inspirations?
MM: I draw from a large pool of inspirations. One being my own experiences and feelings. In the end, I try to rely on my gut to help me make good choices. I’m also influenced by all of the photographers I follow on Instagram. Way too many to list. A lot of people write “Todd Hido” in the comment section of my posts. But the first time I ever saw images – in the realm I work in – were photos curated by Valerie Timmermans and were not taken by Todd Hido. I discovered her account while I was still in PH101. I had never taken photos before my first class and had almost zero knowledge of photography or its history. I now know who Todd Hido is and I recognise him as being OG – and for being a very large influence on my “scene”, or whatever you want to call it. I was influenced by artists who were influenced by him.

A: The book is extremely cinematic. Does it tell a story? 
MM: The zine is really a collection of highlights from my work so far. So you’re getting snippets from a lot of different stories. But the main themes are: heartbreak, nostalgia, love, fear, mystery and beauty. 

A: How important is the photobook today? 
MM: I’m more and more realising the importance of physical art. One reason being that the work can exist outside of social media. Which is great. Social media is cool but it shouldn’t be everything. It’s a hard thing to find balance with. Also, I think it offers a more real and meaningful connection between the artist and the audience. And in turn offers financial support to artists, galleries and publishers.

A: Do you have any future projects on the horizon?
MM: I have quite a few ideas rolling around right now. Nothing I’m really ready to talk about specifically. I still haven’t bought a film camera which I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. I’m interested to see what could come out of that.  

Find out more here.

Lead image: Pine Lodge Motel © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
1. The Perfect Crime © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
2. © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
3. Behind the Station © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
4. Strange Yet Familiar © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
5. Hue’s Lounge © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
6. Pine Lodge Motel © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
7. Untitled(8) © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery
8. Untitled(2) © Michael McCluskey – Courtesy of Open Doors Gallery