Throughout his teens, he was taking pictures with his dad's Olympus Mju whilst working towards a career in structural engineering – happy for his love of Robert Frank, Irving Penn and Saul Leiter to remain nothing more than an interest, a frivolous, escapist hobby. But then he discovered Rinko Kawauchi's ground-breaking 2001 book, 'Illuminance' and decided perhaps it was time to carry a camera with him every day. He bought a Panasonic GF1 with a 20mm pancake lens, left his steady job in the engineering business and started his freelance hustle in the world of portrait photography. Fast forward to November 2019 and he's just shot the 20th anniversary cover for Vogue Mexico.
Now I'm a lifelong lover of brown and beige in all their badass forms, be it wicker chairs, Ronseal varnish, chocolate, unbleached linen, cork tiles or the perfect crispy trench coat. So, when I stumbled across his work a few years ago on Instagram, it only took a quick scroll to confirm this guy had nailed all my favourite hues in his candid snaps of strangers on the streets of Buenos Aires. I decided to follow him – and we've been friends ever since. During a brief trip back to the U.K., I asked Michael talk to me about the work he'd made during his recent stint, living south of the equator. Here, he explains the allure of South America:
"Argentina was the first time I felt freedom in my work, I didn't know anybody – but more importantly, nobody knew me. Buenos Aires felt like a distant land, stuck somewhere between 1940s Paris and the 1970s Milan. It was, and is, a cool place. The daylight lasted (what seemed) like forever, as did the heat. There was this Italian bravado mixed with Latin flare. The people there are beautiful, approachable. I made friends quickly and thought I'd take a swing at fashion photography and began working with brands – things were going really well, but after 3 years of the commercial work I wanted to get back to exploring documentary, street style photography so my girlfriend and I decided to move to Colombia. We moved to Bogota at the start of 2019, which was a bit of a shock to the system. It rained. It was cold. There was no tango.
I spent a spend a lot of time in the El Bronx area, the place where I started my first personal project, 'Downtown'. When the sun was shining, it gave the city this inimitable brown-orange glow. I waited all day for it. The people had so much character, men dressed in tweed jackets, feathers popping out of their hats, spit-shined shoes playing cards, drinking 'poker' beer and smoking like crazy. I never noticed anyone else taking photographs in the area, and although I knew it was dangerous, and I felt alone, I knew I was around something special. I kept my camera very close and would only take a picture when it felt like the right time. For 7 months I would visit 3 or 5 times a week. It helped me to slow down, to focus, and really look at things. In the summer of 2019, someone at Vogue Mexico picked up on the work I was doing for 'Downtown' and asked me to shoot a front cover. I trusted my gut and took risks to make my work – I'm just pleased to say that my patience was rewarded."
Leanne Cloudsdale is the Studio Nicholson Editor-at-Large