We’ve been watching the inevitable progression of Murphy for a long time now, enjoying his impressive growth as an image-maker. The Kent-born photographer has been quietly, but prolifically, producing one-off portraits and larger photographic bodies of work with such consistency over the years that it’s impossible to deny the extent of his talents. Born and raised in the relative isolation of the UK countryside, Spencer’s images reflect a quiet persona, exuding a thoughtfulness, and often a stillness, that really forces the viewer to engage with their narrative.
Inspired by his mother’s back issues of Life and National Geographic, Murphy took a keen interest in photography from an early age, persuading his family to buy him his first camera at 11. Since then it’s been ever at his side, providing a constant channel for his creativity.
Like all jobbing photographers, Murphy has applied his talents to a multitude of projects in his career, from advertising and editorial to portraits and personal documentary work. Despite this variety his imagery maintains a consistency of vision that almost unites each image into a cohesive body. This seems to come from his ability to elevate his subjects beyond simple documentation, almost glorifying them in his presentation—but this idea of glorification sits uncomfortably with him; “I try to bring the same sensibility to all my work, whether that be landscape, portrait or still life, commissions or personal work. Glorify is maybe too definite a word… I’d say they are quiet.”
Quiet they may be, but they’re also incredibly powerful, as anyone who’s laid eyes on his recent portrait of the actor Mark Rylance will testify. Nominated for the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize (for the third time in his career) the image was commissioned by The Telegraph for the front cover of their weekend magazine, but demonstrates as much care and attention as a piece of personal work. Is this perhaps because of meticulous procedures undertaken for each photograph? “I definitely have set techniques with what equipment I use and how I use it. So often the situation is dictated by space and timings that you have to adapt and think on your feet. It’s good to go in with a set idea but that will quite regularly get blown out of the water when you realise what you’re dealing with. I’m quite a quiet director, so it’s a lot about how people react to that.”
With such an impressive body of work behind him you’d think the next steps might be intimidating for a photographer like Murphy, but he’s more than happy to set his sights incredibly high, ploughing ahead with a personal project that’s “a life’s work that isn’t about a single subject. It’s more about those bigger questions that the romantics were obsessed with; Man’s relationship with nature and God.” No big deal.
Is that his plan for the future then, to pursue more personal work? “The dream really is to be able to afford the time and money to travel more and make the work I’m passionate about. I’d never give up the commissioned work though as it’s a great challenge and too much fun.”
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