Mark Peckmezian, Nice

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Roma Publications (here). Hardcover (21 x 18 cm), 224 pages, with 115 color photographs. Includes an essay by Charlie Engman. Design by Jop van Bennekom. In an edition of 2000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: “The ideal portrait, in my mind, is utterly simple, but with all the details tuned right,” shares Mark Peckmezian, a Canadian photographer now living in Berlin, in an interview with AnOther. His first photobook, with the ambiguous and somewhat off-putting title Nice, brings together a collection of portraits that perfectly fit this description. Peckmezian has a background in portrait photography and today works primarily in fashion. He has worked for Gucci and Hermès, and photographed various celebrities including Steve McQueen, Mark Bryan, Kate Winslet, George Clooney and Joe Biden. He names William Eggleston as a key influence in his work, while his artistic practice is rooted in curiosity and fascination with people.

Nice is a hardcover book of a standard print magazine size. A square portrait of a young woman with blue eyes and an almost matching blue jacket appears on the white cover, and the title is placed under it to the right. The title and the artist’s name are also neatly placed on the spine. Inside, most of the photographs are square format and hosted on the right side of the spread, and from time to time, the visual flow is interrupted by pairs of group shots placed across the spread. The book was edited and designed by Jop van Bennekom, a well-known magazine maker, so it comes as no surprise that Nice feels like both a photobook and a magazine. The photographs are printed on a light paper, and as a result, a relatively thin photobook packs in an unexpectedly high number of pages.

The portraits in the series were shot over a period of about four years, and had to be edited down from an initial selection of about 500. As Peckmezian traveled for work related assignments, he always found time to dedicate to this side project. Usually he invites a local friend to help with approaching people and explaining the project. The photobook organizes the portraits into a joyful expression of life.

The portraits in the book speak for themselves: there are no captions or background stories to provide more detail. These mostly young people were photographed in various countries, yet the specific locations are also obscure. The book opens with a photograph of a young woman in a white t-shirt deep in her thoughts, the wind lightly touching her red hair and a fountain is seen behind her. The photo looks dreamy and timeless. It is followed by a portrait of an elegant young man wearing a full suit as he confidently looks straight into the camera. The generous amount of white space that surrounds the images keeps our focus on the photographs.

Peckmezian’s portraits are simple, and this simplicity brings out something rather unique about each person. There is a reassuring sense of humanity and warmth in most all of the portraits. A young woman with messy hair smiles gently as she looks right into the camera, a young man is shot in profile putting focus on his nose and slightly narrowed eyes, and another woman with long dark hair and bangs appears against a window with sky blue blinds, while her coat color matches a nearby building. And pages later, there is a black and white shot of a girl smiling with both her glittering eyes and teeth dotted with braces. Peckmezian says that “the people I am most excited about are the ones who I feel are, well, greater than they seem to know they are.”

Every ten pages or so, the sequence is interrupted by a spread pairing two images featuring group portraits, breaking up the parade of single faces. A photo of two teenage girls is paired with a shot of four young men as all of them look at the viewer. They feel almost like advertising pages in a magazine.

Peckmezian smartly uses light and shadow to frame his photographs, and his backgrounds, while unassuming, add depth to the images. A young woman looks straight into the camera, her blue eyes and blond hair stand out even against a blurred light background, and her red turtleneck matches the red of the blurred car in the back and the signal light in the top left corner. The very last photograph captures a woman in a red dress with vertical stripes, which matches the red in her flash lit eyes and her lipstick; and while she remains in the center, this time there is a glimpse of another person, and her eye looks right at us.

Between the simple design with generous white space and the easy-going dream-like photographs, Nice brings together a notable collection of portraits. The best of Peckmezian’s photographs are simple collaborative portraits that capture the humanity of the strangers he has encountered. Much of photography today is connected to political and social issues, reclaiming historical narratives and advocating for change. Peckmezian’s photographs do something different; his portraits reflect the joy found in the pure act of taking a photograph.

Collector’s POV: Mark Peckmezian is represented by Webber Represents (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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