GWB: Buffalo beautifully expresses the explosion of multicultural Britain in the eighties, this is a time I did not live through - how did this time change things for you?
JM: Everything changed for me around that time. I had just left home and was starting out as a photographer. With this group of people I found a likeminded creative family to work and play with. There were no rules, no boundaries we were just making it up as we went along. Buffalo was formed as a rebellion against the status quo in culture and fashion around that time. It was made up of multicultural characters mostly from immigrant backgrounds, living alternative lifestyles. What really changed was that all the old rules went out the window, anything was possible. Punk a few years before had led the way for that freedom
GWB: What experiences informed your work most?
JM: When Ray and I were working very closely together, we traveled a lot and brought our experiences into our work. Whether it was early hip-hop gigs in NYC, scoring weed in the ghettos of Trench town Jamaica or attending fashion shows in Paris. Wherever we went, we took inspiration. Our lifestyle and work where always playing off each other and inseparable. But it was not just experiences, it was also about books and music and culture. Our work was often inspired by the intellect and knowledge as much as life experience itself
GWB: I am seduced by the romance and storytelling. There are wounded heroes, bereft soldiers. With the newspaper cut outs and hybrid style I get the feeling these character’s wear their experiences with dignity. Where do these characters come from, what is there meaning?
JM: Most of my characters and photographic stories are representations of the underdogs and subcultures. Again, it’s kicking against the establishment. For instance, American Indians, who were incredibly connected to the earth, truth, dignity and spirit, whose beautiful culture was completely wiped out. And the young black men and woman captured and brought to America (buffalo soldiers) to be enslaved. The white man has a lot to answer for, which is why we’ve championed ethnic cultures. Also I came from the era of punk and that was one of Britain’s most powerful antiestablishment youth cultures. I think what we were doing was mixing all of this to create our own subculture and identity.
GWB: So many of the most influential creative forces working in fashion today, credit Buffalo as the pioneers of a new expression - who were your influences, who made space for Buffalo to exist?
JM: I think Ray would be honored and surprised about how influential buffalo has been, and still is in regard to fashion and creative industries. As a creative force it was the collaboration which made it so original. A lot of credit really needs to go to Nick Logan who was the owner/editor of the Face Magazine. At the time the Face and i-D were more fanzine style street magazines, photographing straight up reportage of what kids were wearing on the street. And then there was the other establishment boring fashion magazines with terrible fashion spreads. What Buffalo was doing was mixing everything up, creating an eclectic style. Using only street-cast models, we were mixing mufti-cultural styling references with sport, music culture high street and high fashion, while playing with gender, and casting choices. We where just looking for images that had never been seen before.
In one pivotal meeting early on, I went to Nick Logan with the idea of taking our eclectic style ideas and shooting it in the studio on a white backgrounds like the classic photographers that I liked such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. I think the fact that he allowed us to publish these original images as classic fashion pages, allowed for a new template of fashion photography, which still exists to this day.
Nick Logan hated the idea of fashion pages in the Face Magazine and instead asked to call them “Style” pages. Ray in turn said “I guess I’m a stylist then”, and the term was formed.
GWB: What was your motivation to photograph your people?
JM: I love photographing people. Every face, every person is completely different and so there is an endless journey of discovery in this. Models are people too, so I look at them in this way also. I guess that’s why I’m more of a portrait photographer then a fashion photographer.
GWB: I think a lot about representing real - you elevated the ordinary teenager to heroic levels, how important is reality in your photographs?
JM: Not so much. In my images I like to suggest an open-ended possibility. The image is the sum of its parts and should be even more exciting and beautiful than the reality from which it was formed. The realty on the day of the shoot is always brilliant and I love the experience of shooting, but the final image needs to be more than that experience and reality, it needs to inspire a possible future.
GW: There is such a rich cinematic quality in your work, a balance between fantasy and reality, high and low - it seems you used hollywood high glamour to represent everyday street - how important was film in your process and as an influence?
JM: Actually films not that much, but sometimes I do play off some Hollywood style lighting, as it adds a classicism that elevates the street imagery. You’re also right in saying that my intention has often been to elevate the streets into a poetic expression.
GWB: With Wales Bonner, I often think about how to disrupt something within a classical framework. I recognize this approach in your portraiture - who were your classical influences?
JM: Ray turned me on to paintings of classical portraiture, the strong poses and stillness of gaze and power of intention, he also taught me a respect for classic objects, whether it be a porcelain tea cup or linen tablecloth, Ray loved classic quality. But actually my personal influences are more contemporary in general.
GWB: The Buffalo world seems like a space where women were treated with the same dignity as men, femininity is a quality comfortably felt in the male characters, why was this important for you? Was this difficult to execute?
JM: It always felt totally natural to me. I have never seen gender as fixed. I have always seen it as a fluid thing to be explored. I like girls who are tomboys, and very feminine woman. The same with men, I like to play with gender. When Ray wanted to put a boy in a kilt I immediately said lets also put him in a leather mini skirt. Nick Kamen had great legs why not let him show them. We added the dr marten’s boots to keep it tough and street. I used to wear that look myself! It was quite liberating to wear a skirt and feel that freedom between your legs! But you needed the boots in case you had to kick some heckler!
GWB: I feel a real warmth and sensitivity in your photographs. How do you connect with your muses? How involved are they in the image making?
JM: That connection in the eyes is very important to me. I feel the subject really needs to connect with the viewer of the picture or it is a flat and unrewarding portrait. You can tell very quickly if a model has that depth within them to give that intention. If they do it’s just matter of giving them the space and the confidence to express that inner part of themselves. You just have to make people feel comfortable and they will shine.
GWB: Barry Kamen started off as a model, how did he get involved in Buffalo, was it always clear that he was going to go on to be a part of the creative?
JM: That’s a very special question thank you for asking it. The loss of Barry was so sad I miss him terribly. He was the 3rd Buffalo solider to diewell before his time. 1st Ray Petri, then James Lebon and now Barry Kamen. Barry was always a very creative man. His early Album covers for brother Nick Kamen are still genius pieces of work. His scratch and mash up work is still very influential. His friends and fans like Tyron Lebon and Judy Blameall name him as major influence in their work and as brothers in arms. I only really started working with Barry as a creative collaborator and stylist outside of him as a Buffalo model after Ray died. Once we started shooting together it was such a Joy! It was working with Ray all over again. He was like Ray in his approach to styling, creative, open and meticulous. Barry like Ray was a beautiful soul, a true gentleman and endlessly creative. He carried Rays Sprit with him that’s for sure. Once he said to me that it had not been conscious but being around us all those times while shooting Buffalo as a model he got the Buffalo spirit by osmosis. It was in his blood. The work we did together in only three years of shooting I hope will one day be recognized as special. Even if it remains not so widely known as the work with Ray it is just as poignant for me. I feel honored to have collaborated with him.
GWB: What is the spirit of Buffalo?
JM: Ah the last and biggest question! I think it’s a hard thing to define and means different things to different people but to me the spirit of Buffalo is really just an attitude, a way of carrying your self and of interacting with the world. It’s about being adventurous, challenging the norms of society, and the establishment (including the fashion establishment), being open and generous with your time and in your heart and to respect all things and all people. Support the underdog and be true to your self and go for the art not the money! The sprit of Buffalo is certainly not just about fashion that was just a way to express an attitude.