Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people have quit their jobs and changed careers – including Branden May. 

May worked at a small tech company up until August of last year. He quit in part to better spend time with his family and take care of his son, who was diagnosed with autism, but also to focus on his real passion – photography. While the Brookhaven artist had over 15 years of experience and had been interested in photography since he was a kid, this change meant taking on photography as a full-time gig. 

Photographer Branden May.

May’s work focuses on architecture, taking in the way light and shadows interact with the spaces around them. His work has been featured at several galleries internationally, according to his website, including the Agora Gallery in New York City; the BBA Gallery in Berlin, Germany; and the Blank Wall Gallery in Athens, Greece. 

Reporter Newspapers talked to May about his work and where his interest in photography stems from. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Where in Atlanta did you grow up?

Branden May: I grew up in Stone Mountain. 

How did you become interested in photography? 

BM: My dad was into photography, and he got me into it when I was 12 – maybe a little bit younger than that. I do remember him showing me a camera and I just fell in love with it from there. I think I broke that camera that dad gave to me, but it still didn’t stop me from continuing my journey. 

Was that a hobby for him, or was it part of his job? 

BM: That’s a good question. It was a hobby for him. I’m not sure how he got into it. I do remember him saying having kids kind of makes you go out and buy a camera and go from there. So I feel like that’s probably where he got interested in it.

As far as your own career with photography, when did you decide that you wanted to make it a career? 

BM: I quit my job last August … it’s always been kind of in process, the photography thing and trying to go full time. But I think over the pandemic, and having all my kids at home, and the job that I was working at the wasn’t really understanding that I had a son with autism and how my day kind of gets away from me from there. 

So around that time … I decided that yeah, I’m actually going to just try to pursue this full time. And then by August I quit, like around Aug. 11 or so. That kind of pushed me over there towards photography – my last job and having no freedom to be a dad, or be a good husband, or a photographer. 

What do you photograph the most? Is there a theme or subject you like to focus on more than others? 

BM: Right now, I’m currently doing street photography, but architecture photography is probably my favorite. Especially here in Atlanta, growing up here, I feel like I have a personal relationship with the buildings, you know, seeing them everyday … going to school, and going to class, or whatever. I just feel like I connect to them in a different way than other people.

I know where the sun is going to be, where the reflections and shadows will fall, and that kind of thing. I learned that from just being in Atlanta and looking at the buildings as I’m walking by throughout different times of the day. Architecture is probably my favorite, and street photography is probably a very close second.

I noticed as I was looking through some of your work on your website that you do seem really interested in structure and shadows. In your street collection from 2022, the people in those photos seem to always be shrouded in darkness. What is it about that combination of shadow and structure that interests you specifically?

BM: It’s a little bit of the personal connection, but it’s the silhouettes. I try to capture people interacting with the building in different ways, whether it’s just walking by [or] going to the actual building. It’s really just the combination of the structure of the buildings and the person walking through a shadow or walking through a pocket of light that kind of completes the scene for me. 

On your website, you said you believe your work to be unconventional. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? 

BM: Starting out in photography, you learn the composition rules – the rule of thirds, leading lines, all that kind of thing. I just tend to believe that if the shot looks good, or you feel good with the shot, then that’s what the shot is, and it’s a good shot if you feel that way. A lot of photographers that I’ve known kind of get stuck on the rule of thirds, or the golden spiral or whatever. All their shots are like that, there’s no variety. So I try to break the rules of composition and photography, but it’s more so just trying to be different and standing out a little bit more by not following the traditional rules of photography. 

Who are some artists that inspire you, and what do you look for as far as inspiration? 

BM: I have three photographers off the top of my head. Gordon Parks, he’s the one that before I picked up a camera (I think my dad had a book of his work), and I was just taken aback by how he captured scenes and how some of them were portraits, some of them were just scenes that he’d been assigned to for Time Magazine. But the way that he shot and the way that he draws you in, maybe even think about whatever the subject is thinking about in the picture, kind of led me to photography even more. 

Berenice Abbott is another photographer whose work I’ve been told is similar to mine. We kind of share a relationship between shadows and people. She’s really great. 

Louis Mendes, he’s another photographer in New York, like years ago. He is also one of the main influences of my work.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.