My nickname Mixup has become my trademark and in some ways my work has been influenced by that. A mixed up concoction of idea’s. Based in Nottingham and born in the 1950's as Stephen Howard I grew up surrounded by the new popular culture of post war Britain dominated by a love of music and the art that it has spurned. The weird, wonderful and wacky have inspired me whether they are world renowned or from just around the corner.
Using the music scene as a playground to enjoy and explore I fell in with like minded people in the late 1970's and started documenting, with super 8mm cine film, the activities of this group who were taking part in photo sessions each week in a different location around the UK using masks to make what we called 'Mad Photos'. These were no ordinary friends, a hybrid of hippiedom and punk with lashings of youthful idealism, we were on a mission. Don't ask me what that mission was but we made some fantastic pictures and had oodles of fun.
I also started using some of my own masks in photobooth machines before these journeys would begin, which started a lifelong addiction to these cultural icons. I loved their immediacy, simplicity, and the opportunity for spontaneity they provided. When the photobooth appeared in my life, many different reasons to use it became apparent. Originally it was a place to show my 'artwork' and have fun at the same time. Then I liked using the photobooth just for what it was and started to go each week. So, as the years went by, my work became a record of the art I made and as a documentation of the booth itself. It also became a record of me and the family, friends and acquaintances in my life who I took with me on these visits.
In the beginning I liked using the booth because it had no photographer and I was in total control of the output. The restrictions of the machine made me work harder to achieve good images. It's public setting but half private situation made a strong contrast which added to its appeal. At this time I was also making my first experiments with musical composition, my use of masks widened into the making of small sculptures later used in animation films and the use of photobooth pictures became a dominant feature of my work. Faces and eyes fascinated me. Masks used to hide them. Mutated faces made from everyday objects but everything with a slice of humour. I guess my mask making evolved into paintings somewhere along the way. A way of life was started.
A moment in my life came along when I realised that what I was doing might be called art, in whatever way that is perceived, and I took time at the turn of the 1990's to complete an honours degree and then Masters Degree. By this time I had also built up a network of artists and friends who shared my passion with photooboth machines and the pictures that could be made using them. In 1999 I organized the first International Photobooth Convention to bring these people together under one banner. Some remnants of past escapades can be found on mixup.org.uk. The convention is still alive and now run by the people at photobooth.net.
I drift from idea to idea, sometimes letting them become manifest, collaborating with others, enjoying the feeling of creativity whether for a private moment or to be shared with others.
The power of words has also become important to me and joined forces with my passion for making music. I started a record label in 2013 to give me an output for another old technology I love, the vinyl record. However, throughout the trials and tribulations of an artist’s quest I have never lost sight of the simple fun a photobooth machine can offer. Chemical or digital, they give space and time for anyone to imagine, create and realise a series of images without becoming bogged down with reason and meaning. Use a simple background, dress up, use a mask, bring an everyday object into the booth and use an array of effects and manipulations to produce a miniature masterpiece. Or give a theme and make a collage. I once thought “what can be done in the photobooth”. Well, I’ve never run out of ideas.
I like to be flippant in my conversation. I must find it a safety mechanism when dealing with the meaning of art. "Who said it was art Mixup?” A great friend of mine who was learning English once asked me what the word claptrap meant and when I explained about that text you have to prepare to explain your art he knew exactly what I meant. Thankfully the photobooth world doesn't need much explaining. The pictures on display span a 35 year period and offer a myriad of windows into the mind of Mixup and the many friends and acquaintances that have joined me in the wacky, psychedelic montage of ideas the photobooth has allowed us all to enjoy. From my earliest adventures, photobooths in faraway places, the digital revolution and the plain crazy you will find a snapshot in space and time all bound together by the phenomenon that is the photobooth. There are many people who have influenced and encouraged me over the years and to them all I am grateful.