Introducing… Photographer Ming De Nasty 

In the second in our new series of interviews, we meet portrait and documentary photographer Ming de Nasty. Ming has been a practicing photographer for the past 30 years, blending her work as an artist developed through numerous commissions and exhibitions with extensive work in social engagement, education and outreach. She will be capturing the extraordinary range of people and characters engaged in building The Factory, the world-class arts space that will be our future home. 


How did you get into photography?

Music led the way. I was in an all-girl punk band called ‘Curse of Eve’ and I had a 35mm SLR camera so I used to take pictures of other bands. It was an interesting time – I met some brilliant people. That’s where my name came from. Ming was my nickname at the time and I added De-Nasty to be a bit punky. Then, a lot of my early work was with local independent record labels creating record sleeves and publicity materials.


Have you always been drawn to photographing people?

I like photographing nature too. I did a project a few years ago about people growing their own food called ‘Sufficient’ which explored back garden growers and involved close ups of seedlings, but the central theme of my work is and always has been people and portraiture. It can be a scary thing having your portrait taken. Some people are instantly at ease and other people you can talk to all day and they’ll still feel uncomfortable. It totally depends on the individual.  I’m not a bossy person so making a person feel at ease is really important to me. You always know when you’ve taken a good picture because you can see and feel that a person is relaxed.


Have you worked on a building project before?

Yes, back in the mid-90s I created a project for Walsall Art Gallery when it was being constructed. I took a lot of portraits of the architects, those that worked in the gallery and also the construction workers, the steel workers, the steel fixers, the concrete pourers, the carpenters etc. I set up a little studio in a portacabin on-site and did black and white portraits on a medium format camera.


Can you tell us how you will be approaching the Factory project?
Well, I want to get to know people so they can be more relaxed around me – I don’t like to go into a situation and just start taking pictures and then leave. It feels a bit like stealing something from someone. I like to build up a sort of character sketch for each person I am photographing, particularly what they do outside of the construction site. For example, I was talking to someone who is going to see his daughter in her first boxing match this week – he’s really nervous. I think it takes a while to get to know a place and for people to get to know you.


What are your first impressions of The Factory construction site?

The logistics of it all is quite amazing. I was learning about how much concrete they were going to need. How does that get mathematically worked out? It blows my brain! But most of all I’m fascinated by the history of the location. I was given a tour of the site and I didn’t know about Granada Studios or Stephenson’s Rocket. Lots has gone on here.


Do you use digital cameras or film?

I use both. When I first started using digital cameras I think it made me quite lazy because you just have an endless amount of pictures you can take. I find that film slows you down and makes you more considerate. I love the developing process when working with film. The dark room is a really calming place to be. I’ve still got all my negatives from back in the 80s and I just carry them around with me, but sometimes, when there’s low light or when people need things quickly, digital is really useful.


Do you have a favourite photograph you have taken?

There was one photo I did for Walsall Art Gallery at a boxing club. I was spending lots of time in an old warehouse down by the canal with everyone from ten-year-olds to much older guys doing their boxing training. There were these brothers I photographed called Bullitt and Pellitt posing looking really proud of themselves.

It’s now in the Walsall art gallery collection and apparently Bullitt and Pellitt, now both in their 30s, came in recently to find the photograph!

Ming De Nasty, Pleck Boxing Club. Bullitt and Pellitt, The New Art Gallery Walsall collection


What makes a perfect photograph to you? 

Nothing too deep really – just a person who is relaxed and being themselves.


What advice do you have for budding photographers today?

The world we are in now is very different to the one in which I first started taking pictures. We are saturated with images now. There are images everywhere. And we have things like photoshop which is a bit clinical for me. When I first started taking photographs it was much more hands-on. Sometimes I think you can take a picture on a digital camera and feel quite removed from it – because you never get your hands on it. My advice is, get your hands dirty!


The Factory is a world-class cultural space being developed in the heart of Manchester. Building on the success of MIF, it will commission and present the world’s most exciting artists, attracting up to 850,000 visitors a year. 


Feature image credit: Hannah Prentice

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