Playboy spines by Mark Vessey

Mark Vessey: creating art from everyday objects

Mark Vessey is a treasure hunter. He scours record shops, archives and online auctions for the perfect vintage vinyl or magazine.

But Vessey is looking for something different from other collectors – the perfect spine.

Each magazine or record individually is a snapshot in time but when they are brought together they become something else.

“It all started with a collection of Attitude magazines which were my own collection and were a timeline of my time at university,” he says.

Vessey brought together every issue of the magazine to create a huge piece measuring more than a metre by four-and-a-half metres.

The battered spines piled together gave an insight into cultural phenomenons and passing trends.

“The Attitude magazine piece that I did had a life of its own. People found it really interesting and it encapsulated pop culture.”

Vessey’s friends and family started asking him to photograph their own collections of iconic magazines, including Playboy and Vogue.

“All of a sudden I started photographing other people’s collections, finding out why they were important to them, finding out their powerful connections to these collections,” he says.

Classic Penguin book covers photographed by Mark Vessey
Penguin © Mark Vessey

Capturing moments in time

For almost 15 years Vessey has photographed collections – starting with magazines and then broadening out to records and books.

“I started to look at music and vinyl and the different genres of music,” he says.

As he did so, he started to see the pieces talking to each other. His images of Face magazine linked to music from the same period.

“I just loved how everything started to tie in with each other,” he says.

“Magazines are very popular but vinyl, with the resurgence, there is something so tangible and story-telling about it.

“I could go out and get a new vinyl but I don’t think it would have anywhere near the same meaning.”

While Vessey seeks organisation, his images are not about perfection. Each crease or mark on a spine tells a story.

He will buy the same record four or five times to get a spine in the condition he wants.

“The record shops in Brighton love me because I will just walk in and spend quite a lot on records. I have actually started to build up a bit of a collection myself.”

Despite starting his own collection, Vessey doesn’t keep every book, magazine or vinyl.

“I try to let go of things so I can keep moving on. It is good to let go of things otherwise I am just going to end up the hoarder next door.

“I think that is a massive lesson I have learned from all of this, keep the things that are really important to you and just let go of everything else.”

Norman Cook's record collection photographed by Mark Vessey
Norman Cook © Mark Vessey

Norman Cook collaboration

Last year Vessey collaborated with Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, to photograph a selection of his records.

It was a different way of working for an artist used to controlling which editions or releases he photographed.

However, he said, as a fellow collector, Cook understood his vision immediately.

“The Norman Cook collection was a really powerful thing,” he says. “I asked him to put together three boxes of vinyl important to him.

“I was able to take from what he had given me to put together a stack I thought would work.”

Having worked with Cook, Vessey would love to work with other DJs to see how their collections reflect their taste and history.

“Again there is a whole historical movement of DJs and music,” he says.

“It would be really good to throw open those people’s collections which are probably sitting there doing absolutely nothing.

“Although vinyl is coming back a lot of DJs who have it might not use it in a DJ setting because everything is digital.”

The tops of Absolut bottles as photographed by Mark Vessey
Absolut © Mark Vessey

Celebrating pop art

Whatever he is photographing Vessey believes art should be accessible.

“I have always loved pop art. Art to me is something that I can get straight away or have a connection with.”

As well as magazines, books and records, Vessey has also photographed other everyday objects which tie in with his pop art aesthetic.

One of his biggest challenges was a collection of Absolut bottles.

“I struggled with that for quite a long time. It is a difficult one to photograph, I didn’t want it to be like an advert and it is such an iconic bottle.”

Vessey ended up photographing the tops of the bottles, the white caps giving a strangely 3D feel to the resulting striking image.

Playboy magazine covers photographed by Mark Vessey
Playboy © Mark Vessey

What’s next for Mark Vessey?

Despite working on collections for more than a decade there are still whole unexplored areas Vessey would like to capture.

Clothes, vintage trainers, opera guides and music scores are just some of the things he is currently considering.

“Sometimes I think there is nothing left to photograph but actually there are so many things out there.

“It is about producing work that I would like to see out there rather than just doing something for the sake of it.”

He would also love to photograph original Harper’s Bazaar magazines after being inspired by an archive in Strand Book Store, New York.

Currently, he is excited to be working with Spectrum Photographic on six mother images.

The one-and-a-half metre, Direct to Media, tray-frame pieces, shot on a medium-format camera, are being shipped to Samuel Owen Gallery, New York.

“My work is all about scale, if someone gave me the budget I would push it as far as possible but 1.5 is a nice size,” he says.

“I look for everyday objects that I can enlarge in scale to take on a completely different meaning.”

To see more of Vessey’s work visit

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