Featured Artist - Northwoods (Marcus) Murphy
In less than a year the man, the myth and the legend known as Northwoods Murphy has gone from a relatively unknown quantity who happened to sign up as one of our first ever brand ambassadors to becoming one of our dearest friends, most dedicated supporters and quite simply one of the most genuine people we have ever met. His undeniable skill with shutter is trumped only by his humble capacity to learn and his authentic ability to engage. While he may sometimes make questionable choices when it comes to facial hair styling or wearing our women’s hoodie while taking pictures of himself fishing, he somehow manages to make it all work and look better than most others possibly could. If you haven’t already you should join his tribe of followers and most definitely, without question read a little bit more about him...
Tell us a little about yourself. What’s the story of Northwoods Murphy and how did you happen to get into photography?
Of course! Im an open book. Hey there, I’m Marcus. I, my wife and our three soon to be four children live in the beautiful wild northern woods of Wisconsin (hence the name 😉) where I serve as a maintenance technician at a year round bible camp.
When It comes to the story of my start in photography, I honestly stumbled into it. Literally. You see, I was an alcoholic and drug addict since my teen years. We know that addictions begin as poor choices that lead to bad habits and can end in tragedy. The more often we act upon those habits, the more they change the neuropathways in the brain. They soon become second nature. My story wasn’t any different. Thankfully I had good people surrounding me at the time that reminded me who to turn to outside of and eventually I gained some tools to fight those addictions.
The trick is, when you take out a bad habit, you need to replace it with a good one. That’s how photography became a safe haven to me. It gave me something productive to focus my energy towards while providing me with a different perspective of the beauty that is creation. It’s been a passion ever since!
What’s your favorite subject to shoot and how do you approach your shots?
Great question, I’ll let you know when I figure it out! Only joking. It’s actually a difficult one to answer. There are so many subjects that I enjoy shooting, for instance I’ve really been after more portrait work as there is just so much raw emotion and expression while photographing people. However, the forest is where my heart is.
How I approach my subject (ie. The forest.) is by first trying to simplify my shot. You see, the woods can make for a very busy composition, there’s a lot going on in your frame. This will cause a lot of distraction. So I narrow my view down to an object that sticks out to me. It may be a ray of sunlight beaming down on a fern or a lonely looking tree that seems to be a bit out of place. Whatever it is, I isolate it as much as possible by getting up close and using a shallow depth of field. Finally, I give it a story. Almost a personality you might say. This is me literally just blank face staring for a moment thinking of why my subject is sticking out to me. There you have it!
You also do a fair amount of video editing as well. What made you want to get into that and where did you learn your mad wizardly skills?
Haha actually Hogwarts had an elective in video production I sat in on. Videography became an interest primarily because there is so much more possibility when it comes to storytelling. With a photo, you get one shot at telling your story. Literally one shot. But with a video, you get as many “photos” as you need. This gives you a lot of room to capture emotion.
As for learning it, I use the ole school of hard knocks trial and error method. Along with probably too much time spent on YouTube tutorials. (though flattered, I would hardly say I’m proficient yet, there’s always SO much to learn. But thank ya!)
Within the past year you’ve gone from having a huge beard to sporting chops down to a fairly tight trim. What’s next for the facial follicles and how did your wife put up with those chops for that long?
Oh my goodness you have no idea of the kind of conversations my wife and I have had over the matter. No idea what I was thinking going for mutton chops. Bless her soul.
And when my kids first saw the chops they asked why my beard was broken!
I love change and the easiest way to get it is through my face. Been thinking of a fu-man-chu next! Or stick to my follicular faithfulness and grow the beard out again. Who knows?
Love your work on The Handmaid’s Tale. 😂 Do you ever get mistaken for the actor O. T. Fagbenle?
Yes yes yes haha I get it, I am a doppelganger of O.T. I've gotten the comment more than you know my friend. Less now without the beard, but yep!
Why “Northwoods Murphy”? Of all the different “Murphys” you could have chosen, what made you decide to take on the Northwoods?
Well, Papa Murphy was too expensive to buy out, and Eddie told me it was a no go for his, so Northwoods seemed like my next best option!
In all honesty I wanted something a little rough and gritty that suited the common theme that I was looking for. Ever since moving to the Northwoods, my city dwelling friends starting calling me woodsman Murphy, so I adapted and turn it into Northwoods Murphy. My little “touché” towards them
This spring you went on a little adventure to Guatamala. What was that like? And what led to that trip taking place?
Oh man was Guatemala unforgettable. Not only did I learn so much about photography and videography, not only were the sites absolutely gorgeous but more importantly the relationships that were built with my team as well as the locals changed me. It always does. I have many new friends from that trip that will always have a piece of me.
We did see a lot of difficult situations that were hard to take in however. There was a lot of poverty where we went with a lot of physical needs that weren’t able to be met. In that regard is inspired me even more to go after our dream of one day using the visual arts towards helping hurting communities such as the ones we were immersed in.
It came about for me by hearing a story post from one of my photography heros Garret King who was talking about this rad trip he was going on through a partnership with an agency called Vivid roots. They desire to provide clean water to communities that don’t yet have means to it, so the agency teams up with large influencers in order to form a team that can help in making it happen. They share my passion, I saw the opportunity and my wife so graciously allowed me to chase it. Before we knew it I was on a plane heading for Central America.
Since the Guatemala trip there has been a noticeable uptick in the amount of candid portrait work shared on your Instagram account - do you have any secrets for capturing such intimate moments of raw humanity?
Yea, authentic emotion is much more pleasing to me than any posed photograph. It goes back to the aspect of capturing the story in your work. I want the real thing.
Im not sure if I have a fix all secret. I think the trick is to be comfortable in order for the model to be comfortable. many times I'll sit with my camera ready and watch the moment unfold, and capture it as subtley as possible.
After that, I like to use a lot of "unposed" prompts. So for instance with couples I'll tell them to get the other to laugh only using their eyebrows. Or for a solo model I'll tell them to put both arms over their head and stare through the lens like their favorite desert is behind me.
Possibly not the best of example, but you get the idea.
We’ve learned from some of the stories that you have posted in the past that you not only do you have a sweet and savory singing voice but that you also have a tattoo. There’s gotta be a story right?
Shoot, was I really that venerable on social media?! Apart from my vocal chords, the real question is, which tattoo are we speaking of here?
I do indeed have permanent markings on my body, some of which look as if a toddler drew them on with a marker. But every one has its story, every one has its meaning. For instance, the nautical star on my leg was a practice round after I had bought a tattoo gun off of amazon at the mature age of 15 (it was a sale I couldn’t refuse).
But my tribal tattoo is the beginnings of the armor of God, Viking style. Paying homage to my roots. It was also a cover up on a Nike swoosh that just had to go.
You talk about building your tribe quite a bit on Instagram and we know you have a lot of ambitious ideas for how to do that... can you tell us a little about why the tribe is of such importance to you and what you see as the primary focus of the NWM tribe? (Now’s your chance, give us the pitch 😉)
I absolutely love this question. Building a “tribe” is diffidently a recurring theme on my Instagram. Its why I began taking social media seriously.
Any change that is going to happen in life needs to be built through community. Without a support system of likeminded equally passionate people to come beside you to work towards a common goal, nothing will ever progress. That goal can’t be fully achieved. We are made to be people of community and unity and that mentality is something I’m very passionate about.
I spoke a little before about our dream of using the visual arts as a medium through which we can help underserved communities and sharing the need that is so abundantly out there.
My focus with my community on the platform right now is to learn from them and grow as a content creator. As the “tribe” grows I’d like to find those people who will one day be part of the core team that can help make this dream happen.
You seem to have an affinity for asking seriously provocative questions on IG, did you ever reach a conclusion... is cereal a soup?
Not a clue! I’ve l laid awake many nights in search of the answer to that question.
Your repartee in comment sections is second to none! We’ve seen you clap back with witty retorts from Hamilton to Warren G. What type of music is currently running on your playlist?
I’m solely trying to keep up with you my friend. You make it challenging.
Currently I ride to a lot of folktronica. Though I’m always a sucker for classical as well. Something with some moody depth, and I’m all ears.
This question comes to us via our Instagram audience - the people want to know... How so crisp? (I’m assuming that means your photos but maybe also your swagger 😂)
Haha how so crispay? A lot of it comes down to the quality of glass that you're using. After switching to the Sigma Art series I've noticed a HUGE difference. And to be honest, I look at others work and think "dang, I'm nowhere near that level of crisp 😭"
Apart from that I use focus peaking. So when I tune in my focus ring, everything that's in focus will show up red in my viewfinder 🤫
Besides photography what are your other interests?
Woodworking is a big hobby of mine actually. I’m utterly terrible at math which makes it a bit more difficult. But I enjoy working with my hands so I put up with my insufficiencies and love it all the same. We are also big into hiking, camping and biking.
Do you have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken?
You know what, I don’t actually. I think it’s a harsh benefit, but as a photographer I’m never really one hundred percent satisfied with a lot of my work. There’s always something that could be worked on a bit more.
Who are your heroes? (Photography or otherwise)
Outside of the world of photography, my wife is my number one hero. She absolutely inspires me. As simple as that. Along with my Mother and Father who never gave up on this wild child.
As for artists, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Glenn Howell and Garret King.
Oh and there’s also this guy Trent who has had quite the impact on me and my view of social media this past year.
Any bucket shots on your list?
Plenty of bucket shots on the list! One of them being the nomadic people groups out in the middle east. Here lets make it an actual list.
-Bhuntan: Tigger’s nest
-Germany: The black forest
-Southeast Asia: Cloud forest
-Malaysia: Mossy forest
-Italy: The Dolomites
-Africa: The great migration
-Tonga: Humpback whales
-The great barrier reef
-The man behind the curtain
Ill stop it there for the sake of the reader.
What one question would you ask our next featured artist? (Anything you like)
Hmmm, my question would be what emotion do you enjoy capturing most?
Time to pay it forward... who else would you like to see featured on this blog?
I think Jacob (@jd_adventures) would be a fun one!
Thanks so much man. Always a treat.
Thank YOU brother. Love it.
For more NWM check out:
Instagram | @northwoodsmurphy
Twitter | @Northwoods_M