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The Story Behind the Cover of VICE Magazine's April Issue

Michael Northrup

"I grew up with this mirror, and there was always a mystique about it."

This story appears in the April issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

The photographer behind April's cover, Michael Northrup, graduated with a BFA in photography from Ohio University in 1971 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980. Between his degrees, he lived primarily on the West Coast, where he studied with Jack Welpott and Judy Dater, and he spent time in Prescott, Arizona, learning from Frederick Sommer. He taught for ten years before moving to Baltimore, where he now shoots commercially.

VICE: What's the story behind our cover image?
Michael Northrup: This is a mirror in the house of my uncle Edgar and aunt Miriam. They had taste, and my mom and dad… not so much. When my aunt and uncle went on vacation, I had the run of their house. I grew up with this mirror, and there was always a mystique about it. I played on that [mystique] with the colors only happening within the mirror. Alice through the looking glass. I also know that you can't go wrong with beautiful floral wallpaper as a backdrop.

When did you start using colored lighting in your work? Was it a happy accident?
I used a view camera in the late 60s and relied on natural light for several years. I felt that format was slowing me down, and I was tired of being a slave to the light. I bought a medium-format camera and on-camera flash. I'd already had my interest in flash light keyed up from the work I saw in photo-history classes, which had included Weegee, Edgerton, Arbus, and other contemporaries who relied on flash out of love or necessity. So it just followed me through black and white, into color, and beyond. I was always trying to see what I could come up with.

Where do you get your day-to-day inspiration?
That comes from everyday life. Aside from the light painting work, my favorite images are mostly autobiographical in some way and heavily influenced by the snapshot aesthetic of the 60s. I work more from perception than conception. I know it when I see it. It's not unlike being a monkey on a typewriter.

What are you currently working on?
I have 40 years of images, and all I've shown is about 3 percent of them. I'd like to do about ten more books, but I'd settle on two or three. I'd still like to do a book on my ex-wife. She was a beautiful and wonderful muse and companion, and those images are at the heart of my sensibilities and during the most dynamic time of my life. I also have a series of portraits I'd like to get out. I'm always looking for a publisher.

Flashback

1975: Michael Northrup starts experimenting with flash in black-and-white photography.

1980: He continues employing flash effects when he moves to more color work.

1980: Seeing the way this man's visor pours light onto his face, Northrup plays with flashes and color strobes, almost as if painting the man's face in blue.

1981: Northrup begins using colored flash.

1984: He applies multiple exposures of multiple colored flashes on to one negative in the camera.