Documentary photographer Mike Belleme on the things that inspire his unique lens on life.

Documentary photographer Mike Belleme on the things that inspire his unique lens on life.

Mike Belleme is a documentary photographer from North Carolina who’s not afraid to blur the boundaries between the observer and the observed. Having come up in a skateboarding community that’s steadfastly ‘DIY-or-die’, where foundation spots are still built with bare knuckles for the benefit of all, Mike gravitates towards tales of community spirit. His personal portfolio flows like a cinematic montage of inspirational life stories, charting the adventures of skaters, activists and community doers who, by turning their back on modernity’s perceived norms, have carved an alternative path through life.

The stories he’s contributed to Huck – intimate portraits of skateboarding adventures, foundation-spot builders, gay rights activists and regular people leading irregular lives – have become a foundation stone of the magazine’s DNA, from the Huckleberry Finn spirit of The Kids of Hate and Love (a fly-on-the-wall snapshot of NC’s tight skate scene) to the anti-establishment ethos of One Man’s Trash and In The Wake of Progress (photo-essays about trash-divers and homesteaders who live an off-the-grid rural life).

Four years ago, spurred on by a growing interest in alternative lifestyles, Mike started documenting the inhabitants of Wildroots, a community homestead dedicated to primitive living in Western North Carolina. What started out as a personal project soon became a way of life as Mike found himself weaving the skills he learned into his daily routine – growing his own vegetables, foraging for wood, even going as far as decamping from city life entirely to live in a treehouse in the woods. Today, Mike lives a homesteading lifestyle with girlfriend Kristen and their treehouse existence, complete with stoop and rocking chairs, is testament to what can happen when work melts into life.

THINGS THAT INSPIRE ME

Bryan Derballa

Bryan Derballa has been one of my best friends since I was about 16 years old. We skated together for the same team and travelled around together on skate trips for years. After moving away from our small city, he invited me to be a founding member of his blog, Lovebryan. None of us were photographers, but we started taking more photos for our blogs. During that process we both started getting serious about photography and have totally grown together in every step of the way as we’ve developed and matured into working professionals. I would probably wouldn’t even be a photographer if it wasn’t for him. We still talk about once a week about photo stuff and bounce ideas back and forth. He’s been the biggest influence on me as a photographer by far. I love his photography and continue to learn from it on a daily basis.”

Tim Hussin

“A couple of years ago, I got really into Tim Hussin‘s work and was looking at it all the time for inspiration. I just loved the way he saw things and felt that it was very similar to my own eye, but more refined. He has the perfect balance of technical skill and loose free style that feels totally raw and effortless. During this time that I was looking at his work a lot he happened to move to the town I live in and we became great friends. Getting feedback on all of my work from one of my all time favourite photographers is one of the coolest things I could ever ask for.”

Coen Brothers

“I get tons of inspiration from movies in general. Obviously, the visuals of any good movie are mind blowing, but more than that, I just find true genius very inspirational. Coen Brothers films are not necessarily the most visually stunning but they ooze with genius. The dialogue and character development is just bat-shit-crazy good, and that makes me want to be that good at anything.”

Dan Winters

“Lately, I’ve been getting more and more excited about portrait photography and am trying to transition into more high end editorial work and am in the process of opening a studio right now. Dan Winters is the photographer that I’ve looked at the most during this transition. His colour palette, tonality and lighting is just mind blowing. My goal has basically been to try to accomplish the same aesthetic without biting his style too much and give it some of my own flair.”

This American Life and Radiolab

“These guys – This American Life and Radiolab – know how to tell a story. Storytelling is what photography is all about. Even if it’s portraits, it has to tell a story. Listening to really good radio is a great way to develop skills in creating narrative. Also they just pump out so much good content it sometimes gives me ideas for stories or concepts that I want to explore through photography.”

Huck 41 – The Documentary Photography Special features Mike Belleme’s personal photo essay, At Home Outside.

Keep up to date with Mike on his Tumblr.