Photographer Spotlight: Mason Pippenger
By: Valeria Ramos
Mason Pippenger is a creative writer, photographer, and activist previously from Nappanee, Indiana, now living in Chicago, Illinois.
Pippenger has contributed to publications like PopSugar and taken photographs of David Lettermen and Lizzo as well as for brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon.
To learn more about Pippenger’s unique approach to photography and what inspires his work, we spoke to the new Chicagoan about his creative mission, his favorite shoot to date, and more.
When did you first get into photography and how would you describe your aesthetic?
I started doing photography when I was 19 after I bought my first camera. It wasn’t until I downloaded Instagram back in like 2010 or 2011, however, that I began to find inspiration and started playing around with my iPhone self-timer and doing self-portraits in weird poses. I’d say my photos have a kind of strange but still authentic and raw quality to them, at least that is the goal. I want my photos to reflect the subjects but also have an individualistic style that others recognize as being my own.
What camera gear do you enjoy using at the moment?
I still use the first camera I bought, a Canon Rebel T6i. My favorite lens at the moment is my 50mm, it is a staple for some crisp low light portraits!
You recently moved from Indiana to Chicago. What spurred that change and how are you liking the Windy City so far?
I’ve known for a while that I wanted to move to a big city after college and Chicago is relatively close to my hometown so it just made sense that I move here. Indiana has a place in my heart of course, but I know that for me to thrive right now, it involves being in a diverse and accepting city. I’ve been here about three months now and while it’s been difficult, especially considering the pandemic, it has been so rewarding for my creative process. Every day is like a little adventure for the small-town boy in me.
Do you have a favorite shoot or moment that you’ve captured?
My favorite shoot is always changing, so right now it’s the project I’m working on at the moment. It’s a poetry art book called TubLove written by my friend Jacob Barnes. All the shoots we’ve done for the book have turned out so amazing and I can’t wait for people to see the final product.
What inspires your creative work the most?
Music and television. I believe creativity inspires creativity, so I watch a lot of music videos and films. I try to keep up with what creatives in the industry are doing, as well as working with creative friends and bouncing ideas off of each other, which is really how TubLove is coming along.
It seems the LGBT community is a focus of your work. Can you tell us why that’s been important for you to capture?
The LGBTQ community is a place where I’ve been able to find a haven. As I found interest in photography, I realized that the work I was drawn to featured visibly queer people and minorities because I could see myself in them. There was a beauty and appreciation for the “weird” or the “strange” and I loved that. I feel like it’s my mission as a creative to pay that beauty back.
Has the pandemic impacted your creativity?
It has impacted my creativity for sure. At times, it feels like this year has stunted my creative process. At the beginning of the pandemic, like a lot of people, I felt the pressure to make new art and work. But I found that pressure to be draining and not beneficial for me. The goal for much of 2020 quickly became to just get through whatever day I was on. I gave myself time to process my feelings and look at the current state of the world from a relaxed perspective, which is what I needed. Now, since I took that time (and still take that time), I can create authentic work.
In addition to being a photographer, you are also a creative writer. What would you say is the best aspect of your career and what is the most challenging?
A challenging part is when big names or businesses want to separate your work from you and take advantage of your creativity, which is very common in the commercialized consumption world we’re a part of. The best aspect though is doing two things that I am passionate about. I love getting to tell stories and getting to do that in different mediums opens up so many opportunities.
What advice would you give young photographers looking to improve their craft?
Don’t imitate! Recycle creative energy into your work. It feels so much better, you grow this sense of pride for your work and others will see that. Also, keep old files!
Who are your favorite photographers?
A few of my favorite photographers are Tyler Mitchell, Micaiah Carter, Adrienne Raquel, Brooke DiDonato, Ben Zink, and Myles Loftin.
What goals do you have for the upcoming year?
I hope to do more personal writing this coming year, working on essays and such! Also, I would love to do a major magazine feature one day, both photo and writing so keeping these fingers crossed!