Interview | Michael McCluskey

American photographer, Michael McCluskey, captures some of the most transcendental scenes that I’ve ever seen. They’re stunning; however, simultaneously, they make me feel sick to my stomach. They make me question a lot of things I’ve seen in my own life, reminding me of emotional and traumatic experiences. I desperately wanted to find out why McCluskey’s images made me feel this way. 


Your work really grasps me and somehow forces me to reminisce about things I've seen in my own life, almost like I've lived in the scenes of your photos.  Do you hope your audience places themselves in the images you're capturing?

I like to create images that feel familiar, or sometimes maybe slightly nostalgic.  One way that I do this is by using subject matter that viewers can relate to.  It creates a connection between the image and the viewer by drawing a line between the subject matter and the viewer's own history. 

When I look at your photos, there's such a mesmerising, trance like quality, but they also seem to give me a sick feeling in my stomach.  Do you intend for the viewer to feel the same way when they see your work? 

I think that spaces and objects can sometimes take on the energies of the people that interact with and inhabit them.  This is a part of the reason that I like photographing old places and things. There's a lot of history there.  Both good and bad.  Conflict is at the centre of every story. 

What is the subject matter behind the majority of the photographs?  I can't help but feel that the scenes portray something dark, like a brutal event has taken place in something. 

I have an appreciation for both the light and the dark. You can't have one without the other because they exist in parallel to each other. I think that by including two strong elements that exist in opposition to each other in a single work, a sort of pleasing dissonance can occur between the the two.


Is there a type of trauma paired with the places in the images; to yourself or another person? 

Not directly, no.  But if you mean, have I experienced trauma personally and has that affected how I approach my work and what I choose to photograph then, yes, definitely.  But I'd prefer not to go into any detail about that now. 

There are a lot of houses and cars in the pictures.  Do you have any affiliation to the locations or objects? 

I don't have any affiliation to most of the locations or objects in my images.  I spend a lot of time walking and driving around looking for things and scenes that catch my interest.  I've been busted trespassing a few times by cops, neighbours, property owners, etc.  Sometimes people get really weirded out when they see me lurking around their neighbourhood (understandably). 

Do you have any sort of relationship to the people in your photographs? 

Yes and no.  Some of the people in my photos are people that just happened to walk into frame. Which can be a very organic and magical moment to capture. For the others, they are family and friends that I make stand in for photos (haha).  Lately, mostly my roommate, Tomek. He's a good sport. 


Why do you usually photograph at night, or when the daylight is bleak? 

When I was a kid, every night my mother would tuck me in and pray with me before bed.  When she would turn my bedroom light off I would sometimes think that I could see things moving in the shadows. It was my eyes playing tricks on me.  Sometimes I like to leave some room in my images for my audience to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations.  

Finally, is there a particular camera / film that you enjoy using? 

So far I've only owned two camera bodies. Both DSLRs.  I started with a Nikon D3300, and recently upgraded to a Nikon D750. I've only been shooting for three years.  Right now I'm saving money for a medium format camera.