With coffee cup in hand, Brandon Markin sits thoughtfully at Mugs Café, a film camera to his left and small notebook to his right. The Arkadelphia native is likely to engage you in a philosophical conversation about film, aesthetics, and story telling, if you let him.
Throughout his life, Markin has always worked in various mediums, trying his best to express himself. Predominantly a story teller, he’s dabbled in drawing, painting, photography, and writing at different junctures. No matter the medium, though, his aim is always the same – “to express myself in some way and to also tell stories of our human experience.”
Early on, he was particularly interested in drawing, and took his inspiration from comic books and graphic novels. He says, “I couldn’t breeze by that without mentioning Nate Powell. You want to talk about complexity in story telling, it doesn’t get better than him. Looking at some of his work, something like “Tiny Giants,” – it has that monochromatic format. The way in which he utilizes darkness and light and contrast, I feel like that’s something that I admire in photography as well.”
Markin may not have even ended up pursuing photography if he hadn’t found himself in Little Rock. He laughingly says, “I was chasing a romantic interest. I ended up here, and I really had no intention of ever living here.”
And even though that original romantic interest may not have worked out, he did eventually find his wife and start a family, and he now considers Rock City home.
“Little Rock just kind of infects your blood and now it’s difficult for me to imagine life somewhere else. … The combination of cheap living and good people and a fair amount of entertainment options and eating options… it’s hard to find that anywhere else.”
Thanks to a gift from his wife, Markin was able to follow a lifelong interest and spend some time with local film photographer Rita Henry taking lessons in the darkroom. He says, “I’m glad I started out with film photography. … Each image that you take with your camera, you have to carefully compose, because you can’t just burn film like you can digital.”
Markin has photographed a myriad of subjects, but likes to focus on people, and calls himself a “portrait-ist, or a documentarian of the realm of human life.”
When he’s with people trying to get a photograph, it all just clicks. Literally.
He says, “I honestly enjoy people and hearing stories and getting to know someone even if it’s for five minutes on the sidewalk. I’m curious, I’m eternally curious about what makes us all tick, because ultimately I’m looking for answers as to what makes me tick.”
And while Markin balances commercial work with other, often personal, artistic projects, he’s still always finding a place for writing. He once quit his day job and wrote two novel length pieces. After that he changed his tactic – “I just want to have little flings, like affairs, write short articles and not be locked into the long term relationship of a novel,” he laughs.
Photography allows Markin to be both artist and family man. He says, “After I had children a lot of the other artistic outlets became more difficult because they required blocks of time that I didn’t really have. I knew that I wanted to be a committed father. I think a lot of artists come to a fork in the road and they have to chose …. Some of them, the art becomes their children and their real children kind of get left behind. I knew that that wasn’t something I wanted to do.”
He’s been a part of a fair few shows, but if you haven’t seen his work, you should head to the Argenta Library Branch to see some of his work in the Visual Anthropology exhibit. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and will be up until May 14.
Currently Markin is working on a larger portrait series focusing on immigration. He says, “I’ve always been passionate about it. I think it was amplified by some of the horrible rhetoric that gets bounced around during election time, and the fact that my wife is an immigrant, but I’m doing portraiture and a series of vignettes on their lives and different experiences. There’s an incredible amount of diversity that we see with people that come to this country.”
Markin is grateful to all of the people that have taken the time to act as mentors to him over the years. He’s truly found his niche, as he says, “All in all, Little Rock has been good to me.”
Check out more of his work, here.