Good-Natured Photography

Bryan Mullennix describes his interest in photography as a “burning desire to capture images of natural scenes that are often overlooked by the average passerby.” Since graduating from San Diego State University in 1990 with a degree in economics, Mullennix has built an eclectic body of work that remains infused with an intense desire to show his interpretation of the world that surrounds us.

Mullennix’ love of photography began in the first grade, when he won his first camera in a school-sponsored photography contest. In the years that followed he returned to photography time and time again as a means to communicate his thoughts and ideas. Though nature plays a central role in his work, Mullennix finds meaning in the man-made world as well. He has a knack for making the ordinary special, and the special awe-inspiring. In addition to his fine-art prints, his images have appeared in print ads for companies such as Honda, CompUSA, Tyco, and Pennzoil.

Mullennix lives in Salem, Oregon. In this interview, he spoke with us about his work and motivations.

Image courtesy of Getty Images The core of your work seems to be nature photography.

Bryan Mullennix: Well, it has been. When I started out I was a nature photographer all the way. That’s what I wanted to do and that’s the direction I was headed in. But it’s a very competitive area. My editor encouraged me to try something different. I was stubborn, so I put it off for a while. I didn’t really have an interest in photographing other subjects.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Then one rainy day — we have a lot of those in the Northwest — I just decided to try something [indoors]. I guess the timing was right, because it just clicked. I found I had more control over the process and I loved it. So I’ve been doing a lot of studio work since then. Is this the first studio work you’ve done?

Bryan Mullennix: I’ve done a little bit throughout the years but, again, I was pretty much into chasing the natural light. Did you have to buy all new equipment for studio work?

Bryan Mullennix: No, actually, not at all. Most of my studio work is done with what I call “alternative” light sources. I don’t use any studio lighting. It’s all done with, say, light from a computer monitor or flashlights, or with gels or other strange lighting sources. It was just something I chose to do. I thought I could do things a little differently. Much of your work shows your keen eye for nature, but some shots seem completely out of context. Are these specific images that were asked of you to create or something you’ve explored on your own?

Bryan Mullennix: They’re generally for a project that is being worked on. They come up with a theme such as emotion, or the city, or technology, or something like that. Then I just go off on my own, coming up with ideas that somehow connect with me. Generally I talk with my editor after I’ve shot the images about things we could do to enhance them. What about the rather humorous shot of the mad driver?

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Bryan Mullennix: (Laughs.) That was a self-portrait. I was exploring how I felt about traffic and driving in the city. I had a camera with a wide-angle lens. I put it on the dashboard, pointing back toward me, and kind of guesstimated the focus. I put a flash on it and used tungsten film and cruised up and down a road in Salem for about an hour one night trying to get the right mood, trying to be angry. Other drivers must have been freaked; I was driving back and forth, yelling and screaming, and the flash was going off! While most of your shots seem to be of nature au naturel, some have been digitally enhanced. Is this a new direction for you?

Bryan Mullennix: I’ve been messing with digital work for the last couple of years. That really seemed to go hand in hand with the new direction I was off in. I love it. Nowadays when I press the shutter, only about 50 percent of the work is done. I come and do the rest of it on the computer, whether it’s extravagant [enhancement] or just a few tweaks here and there.

Image courtesy of Getty Images So would you say your work is a combination of photography and fine art?

Bryan Mullennix: Yeah, kind of. I feel free to do the things that are near and dear to my heart — and just explore. Oregon locations seem to play a big part in your nature photography.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Bryan Mullennix: Oh, yeah. Oregon is just beautiful. Growing up in southern California, when I saw water as a boy, it was either from a city reservoir or runoff from a sewer pipe! When I came to Oregon and saw the [lakes and waterfalls] I was amazed: “You mean you can really drink that water?” Because I wasn’t born and raised here I have an appreciation for things that most natives just pass by without taking a second look. You have to get out of your element and appreciate the things around you. I noticed among your work there are shots of a baby bottle, a baby, and a toddler at the computer. Are these more personal than the others?

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Bryan Mullennix: Yeah. Those are shots of my son. I’m always looking for subjects that strike me in a personal way. We skipped the potty training shots! Do you have an overriding philosophy that informs your nature photography, as well as your studio work?

Bryan Mullennix: The bottom line for me is, I want to create images that make me happy and images that people want to look at. I’ve always wanted to take something that’s an everyday occurrence and capture it in such a way that people who never take time off to drive the backroads or stop and look at a flower could experience it without having to leave their office or put their magazine down. That cause is still near to me even though I’m beginning to change directions somewhat.

Image courtesy of Getty Images What directions do you envision your photography taking in the coming years?

Bryan Mullennix: I never intend to give up nature photography; I’m just adding to my repertoire. I’m very interested in stock photography and that’s going to continue to be my direction for a while because of the creative freedom it gives me. The sky’s the limit; if I can think it I can do it. As I learn more and more about Adobe Photoshop I obviously have a lot more possibilities, so I’ll continue down that road as well. So digital enhancement is going to be a big part of your future work?

Bryan Mullennix: Well, I think so. Probably 90 percent of the images I’m doing right now have some digital element to them. A lot of it though is not very extravagant — cleaning up color or some sort of color treatment. I’ve done a fair amount of sepia work on the computer. I’d like to experiment with some other software, but thus far Photoshop has been my mainstay.

Read more by Marty Beaudet.