2004 — student runner-up
Mark Murrmann specializes in documentary-style photography for editorial and commercial clients. He was named one of Lürzer Archives' 200 Best Advertising photographers of 2010/11 and had a portrait of Dead Weather chosen for American Photography 27. He loves shooting bands and isn't afraid to get his hands dirty.
Mark's photos have appeared on dozens of record covers and in publications around the world. He has done commercial work for Jim Beam, Levi's, Nikegridiron.com, and Samsung. He is a regular contributor to Hamburger Eyes and curated the Maximum Rocknroll photo issue (and accompanying exhibit) in 2010.
When not taking pictures, he works on the other side of the desk as Photo Editor at Mother Jones magazine.
How has the Alexia grant influenced your career?
The biggest way its influenced my career was getting to go to London to study abroad, and more specifically getting to work with Doc Mason from Syracuse. Going to London was great, of course, but more, Doc Mason really provided a grounded kind of photo instruction that I had missed, just in basic terms of pushing myself to do more. Getting to work with him was really one of the best things that's come from the Alexia Grant. Also, while in London I traveled to Kiev to cover the Orange Revolution, something I never would have been able to do. It was just logistically easier to get to Kiev from London. From the London experience, working with Doc, I got into Eddie Adams, which for me wasn't quite the mind-blowing experience others seem to have. But it was another small step. The Alexia Grant in effect provided (and still provides) a much needed boost in small, unexpected ways.
Did your project lead to greater exposure or solutions for your issue of focus?
No. To be honest, I'm disappointed in myself for not doing more with my project. I lost the main subject of my project and then moved away myself, got wrapped up in, well, studying in London, then struggling as a freelancer in the Midwest. I lost the thread of the story.
Tell us about a moment from the project that you will never forget.
My project grew out of a well-tread school assignment. I was looking for something slightly different, something with a little more impact. Hitting on that idea (focusing on homeless kids in small, rural Northern California cities) and then being let into their world was a great moment.
Have you, or do you plan on expanding your project? How so?
Not at this time, no.
How has being a part of the Alexia community changed the way you view the world?
Aside from having my name listed with some truly amazing photographers, I can't say it's changed my view that much. I maybe have a greater appreciation for work that the Tsairis' do, and am grateful for their support -- not so much for my own project, but for photography as a whole. Their support, encouragement and long-standing championing of important documentary photography is a real asset to the photo community. I'm very humbled to get to be part of that.
List your accomplishments, awards and interests since the Alexia grant.
Regular Portfolio reviewer for Palm Springs Photo Festival
Hamburger Eyes regular contributor
2012 NY Photo Fest Jury member
POYi 2011 Award of Excellence for Magazine Editing, Features
American Photography 27 Chosen photographer
2010 Lürzers Archives 200 Best Advertising Photographers
2010 NPPA BOP Award, First Place and Honorable Mention, Photo Editing, Magazine News Story
2010 NPPA BOP Award, Third Place, Photo Editor of the Year, Magazines
Curated Maximum Rocknroll's 2010 photo issue and accompanying photo show
Focus and photographer of Jim Beam's 2009 "Here's To the Stuff Inside" campaign
Eddie Adams attendee, 2005
At the corner of Keller and Washington in downtown Petaluma, California, a drab, gray movie theater sits dark but not empty. Small, black letters on the understated marquee promise not a Hollywood blockbuster or obscure independent film, but SUBURBAN THREAT, a punk rock band, this Friday night. Under the theater's overhang, a small cluster of teenagers stand with their skateboards and bikes, talking and trading cigarettes.
Tyson walks up with a tattered army surplus backpack hefted over his shoulder. His dog Angel, a pinkish pitbull, leads him straight to Ian and Jennica, who sit on metal folding chairs close to the open doors, smoking and saying little. Tyson decides he needs a haircut and enlists his friends. He and Ian go inside, past the lobby crammed with cast-off couches littered with lounging teens. The two boys slip into the ladies' restroom, pull out three Bic razors and a can of shaving cream. They get to work freshening up Tyson's grown-out mohawk while Porno for Pyros plays on a barely functioning boombox in the hallway. After an hour's work, Tyson emerges with the sides of his head freshly shaven.
The Phoenix Theater, a converted movie house, has opened its doors to area teens for over 15 years. In its currently incarnation, the Phoenix is home to tutoring sessions and health clinics, scrap-wood ramps for skateboards and bikes, local hipsters and live bands every Friday and Saturday night.
I have been photographing at the Phoenix Theater for the past two months. While the work began as an examination of an older building in danger -- earthquake retrofit costs threaten its existence -- the project quickly became less about the building and more about the teenagers who make it a place worth saving.
Among the many people who hang out at the Phoenix Theater, a small number of homeless youth have become regulars. Tyson has lived in Petaluma for a little over three months. He travels around Northern California, eschewing the Bay Area (a popular draw for many homeless kids) generally sticking to the smaller towns around the region known as "wine country," including Napa and Sonoma. Likewise, Ian, Evan and Dave live on the streets of Petaluma, sometimes crashing at friends' homes, or abandoned houses and otherwise camping under bridges or by the train tracks.
Across the country, services for the homeless have fallen victim to shrinking municipal budgets. In efforts to balance the books, shelters, soup kitchens and health clinics face severe funding cutbacks, if not outright closure. In this climate, the homeless teens of Northern California confront an increasingly hostile environment. The Phoenix Theater and similar shoestring projects offering comfort and company are small and rare oases.
Homeless teens have been the subject of numerous documentary projects, most focusing on street kids living in big cities: New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco. As such, homelessness is often imagined as an urban phenomenon, or worse, a problem found only in developing nations. Turning away from this notion, this project profiles the lives of homeless teenagers and young adults like Tyson, Ian and others, on the streets of Petaluma and other small towns. Building on preliminary work at the Phoenix Theater, I will document what it means to be young and homeless in the boutique towns and rural counties throughout Northern California.