artnet Asks: Mitchell Funk

What did this photographer fib about to get his first magazine publication?

Mitchell Funk
Mitchell Funk Photo: courtesy of the artist.

New York native Mitchell Funk was first introduced to the medium of photography at the tender age of 16 through working with his father, who was director of medical illustration and photography at a medical school in New York. In a span of three years, he transitioned over to a more artistic intent, and got his first portfolio into a popular photography magazine (lying about his age, so as not to be underestimated by editors). Using the urban landscape of New York as his subject, Funk has since experimented in the possibilities of distortion and representation in photography—burning and fusing 35 mm transparencies, intensifying contrast, and integrating new technologies. Over the last 40 years, his vibrant photography has been featured on the covers of several publications, including Modern Photography and New York Magazine. artnet News chatted with the photographer via email to hear about his experimentation with his newest subject, San Francisco.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
It was right after I graduated high school. Large-format picture magazines like Look and Holiday were in their heyday, and they were doing something exciting…running big color stories. Color hit me. and I was hooked.

Additionally, the film The Pawnbroker was a seminal experience in my artistic development. The look of it had a powerful and gritty realism. Lumet’s film broke all the taboos with social issues, nudity, the holocaust, street life in Spanish Harlem, and raw human emotions.

Mitchell Funk, Midtown Skyline Mitchell Funk, Midtown Skyline 40 x 60 in.  Photo: courtesy of the artist and Robert Funk Fine Art.

Mitchell Funk, Midtown Skyline (1974)
Archival pigment print, 40 x 60 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Robert Funk Fine Art.

What inspires you?
I’m inspired by light’s endless variations and how it strikes form. I can be in the same spot, shooting the same thing, at the same time of day and the light will always be different.

Mitchell Funk, New York City (1971) Inkjet print 60 x 40 in. Photo: courtesy of the artist and Robert Funk Fine Art.

Mitchell Funk, New York City (1971)
Inkjet print, 60 x 40 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Robert Funk Fine Art.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
It’s The Subway by George Tooker. I first saw it in 1968, when Avant Garde magazine published a George Tooker portfolio. The work still floors me even after 46 years.

Mitchell Funk, Pink Umbrellas

Mitchell Funk, Pink Umbrellas (2014)
40 x 60 in.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Robert Funk Fine Art.

What are you working on at the moment?
My new project captures the picturesque and the dark side of San Francisco. Currently, I’m shooting the rough streets of the Tenderloin. I’m intrigued by the untouched character of the place. It’s the last skid row in America.

When not making art, what do you like to do?
I am a film buff and an avid foodie.


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