I was interviewed a couple of months back for the Hong Kong photography magazine Photo Camera Review and the work has just been featured in a nice 6-page spread in their June/July Issue.
I’ve included the full interview in english and some images below….
Tell us about the first time you started taking photos.
You could say I was a late bloomer. It was New York, November 2003. I can remember the day perfectly. Sitting in a coffee shop a stone’s throw from the Brooklyn Bridge, reading the manual of my new digital camera. I was 23 year’s old, studying in the United States, and in New York for the very first time. What more could a young fledgling photographer ask for? New York was the ultimate playground for a new camera and a newfound interest in photography. Iconic all-American landmarks that I grew up seeing on television – Time’s Square, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park – were suddenly there to explore and be inspired by.
Walking the streets of New York was like walking through the scenes of a movie you’ve seen many times. The neon lights. Bright yellow taxis. Shadowy figures in doorways and alleys trying to get your attention. I’d walk the streets for hours with my camera, in a city bigger than any I’d ever seen, getting lost and disoriented and loving every minute of it. It was on these streets that my passion for photography was born. Not surprising perhaps that my work continues to explore cityscapes populated with lonely silhouettes, anonymous figures set against a tapestry of urban city abstracts, and towering architecture that inspires and humbles in equal measure.
What was your first camera?
I grew up with my Dad’s old Pentax film SLR kicking around the house but never really learned how to use it beyond family snapshots. My first ‘real’ camera was my beloved Minolta DiMAGE Z1 – a glorified digital point-and-shoot with a whopping 3 megapixels, a basic zoom lens and just enough manual control to spark my interest.
Just the way learning to drive an automatic car frees you up to focus on the rules of the road and driving safely – learning to take photos with a simple camera frees you up to put all your energy into creating – or seeing – interesting shots, and the potential for interesting shots in your everyday environment – being inspired by the play of light and the patterns and beauty found in the mundane where other people see nothing. Essentially using your camera to discover and create images that otherwise go unnoticed. If it was up to me, every photography student would be freed of their expensive lenses and filters and professional lighting and would be sent out with a basic point-and-shoot and challenged to go explore and discover with fresh eyes. Strip away all the clutter and distractions and realize that beautiful photography sometimes takes little more than seeing. This is where my journey in photography began.
How did you learn photography in the beginning?
I was never a great student of photography, and while I admire those who are, my journey has been more a journey of trial and error and self-discovery – experimenting and then playing with the results afterwards in Photoshop. I never formally studied photography. Instead I managed to make it through 5 years of university and completely bypass photography altogether, instead completing a degree in Industrial Design that, perhaps conveniently, served as a great introduction to Photoshop. Initially it was a journey informed by magazines, blogs and online forums like deviantArt – one of the largest online photo sharing art communities. At a time when even my family was unaware of my developing interest in photography deviantArt was the perfect platform to be inspired by other photographers and a great place to share work and get feedback. To have a photographer in Romania, for example, comment on a shot taken in New York and posted from home in Northern Ireland was remarkable, and incredibly encouraging for someone who had just started taking photos. To suddenly have a platform for sharing and discussing work became a great motivator to quickly learn and develop new and interesting ways of creating images that caught people’s attention.
At the same time I also discovered the work of the Israeli photographer and writer Gilad Benari. Benari is a very talented photographer who stresses the importance of striving to see the world from your own unique perspective. To a relative novice like myself at the time, Benari’s images were not only visually stunning but remarkably refreshing in their ability to present the world is a new way. His timing, composition and most importantly foresight and imagination – along with all the obvious technical skills – were a real inspiration and definitely helped shape my own approach to photography. A key element of his philosophy was what I call Vision First – knowing what the image is about before even picking up the camera and striving to take a shot that is somehow unique to you – imparting a little of yourself into each image as you strive to see the world with fresh eyes and translate that into images that are bold and creative.
Tell us about any difficulties you had along the way? And how did you get over them?
Perhaps the difficulty that all photographers face is staying inspired through the quiet times. When the weather is bad. When the work is slow. That constant challenge of staying hungry and remaining creative. Thankfully it seems to be a cycle of input and output. The old adage of ‘The more you put in, the more you get out’, seems quite fitting. A friend and work colleague once told me, “The thing that’s so wonderful about the creative life is that you don’t just feed it – it also feeds you.”
I am a firm believer that there is potential for creative and beautiful imagery is any environment. All it takes is a little imagination. Look at the work of Australia’s award-winning Trent Parke or the very talented American photographer Jeff Hutchens. These guys are great examples of artists being able to find beauty in the mundane, with clever use of light and shade and silhouettes – often capturing the simple moments of passing beauty that the rest of us miss.
Why did you decide to choose photography as your career?
It has to be the ultimate cliché, but I’m a firm believer that I didn’t choose photography – photography seemed to choose me. I’m a big believer in finding the thing you care most about and figuring out how to make a living out of it. I love the idea that if you find a job you genuinely love you’ll never work a day in your life. And it makes a lot of sense that you’ll be most successful and satisfied investing your time and energy into something you feel passionately about. As in my case, when you find yourself retouching for fun in the middle of the night or dragging yourself out of a tent at 5am on a Winter morning to photograph a sunrise, I think you’ve probably found your calling. The tough part is staying true to the stuff you care about without selling out completely along the way. For anyone in the creative industry this is always the constant challenge – pursuing the work you love while paying the bills along the way.
Why did you choose to work in Australia?
Growing up in Northern Ireland, Australia was always the furthest place on earth and a popular destination for backpackers looking for adventure. After several years of working-holidays and studying in the U.S. I decided Australia would be the perfect getaway and a great testing ground for a new career in photography. I had graduated from university in May 2006 and along with my partner – now wife – we set off for the great unknown that was Melbourne. We had both just graduated from university the previous year and Melbourne seemed like the perfect fit for a budding photographer and architect. Truth be told, neither of us knew a great deal about the place, and I knew even less about making a career as a photographer, but good luck and a little serendipity have treated us well in the 5 years since. With hindsight, we couldn’t have picked a better city. Having been voted the world’s most livable city a number of times, Melbourne’s strong visual culture and healthy work-life balance has been a perfect fit.
After 6 months of living in Australia, and purely by chance, I stumbled across a Melbourne photographer – Sheena Cooke – who was looking for a freelance assistant for some commercial children’s photography. At the time I was unaware such a role even existed. Needless to say, this was my first foray into the photographic industry and the start of 4 years assisting some of Melbourne’s top commercial photographers. Even though the assisting work was initially sporadic at best, it became the photography education I never had. Working alongside collaborative teams of art directors, stylists and make-up artists was the perfect foundation for my new career. And 4 years later the assisting work has gradually transitioned into a steady stream of studio and architectural photography.
Which kind of work or projects would you like to develop?
Right now most of my energy goes into attracting architectural photography work and growing that side of the business. It’s a subject that fits perfectly with how I see the world around me, and an area I feel I can interpret a little differently. Perhaps it’s the industrial designer in me, or the need to constantly simplify and distill our surroundings. For me it’s a world of lines, shapes and patterns – buildings painted with natural light – beautifully sculpted spaces that reveal their true essence at a given moment in each day – sometimes wrapped in a cloak of dusk or dawn. The process of engaging, discovering, and capturing these moments for me is truly joyful.
Having recently been voted Australia’s Top Emerging Architectural Photographer, in Capture Magazine’s Top Emerging Photographers competition, has been hugely encouraging – especially having the work judged and awarded by some of Australia’s most talented photographers. The goal now is to keep shooting beautiful architecture and attract clients that are producing the most creative and interesting work.
What kind of photography equipment do you use?
Most of my work at the moment is shot on full-frame Canon DSLRs using tilt-shift lenses. I’m sure as time goes on I’ll invest in more expensive medium formats camera systems and digital backs but at the moment the Canon gear frees me up to work quickly and respond to these spaces very intuitively as the light changes. Plus the quality of the images now produced by these cameras is excellent and more than adequate for most clients’ needs.
Tell us about one of your own favourite photos and why you like it?
A personal favorite of mine is a shot taken in Melbourne’s CBD on a busy afternoon. The location was very ordinary and the image was taken under harsh afternoon light. But it’s a shot that I think illustrates the concept of Vision First. Taking very ordinary ‘ingredients’ – an everyday location and very ordinary subject – and creating an image that is visually interesting and dynamic. At first glance the image is quite abstract, but populated with a single passing figure that helps the viewer orient themselves and make sense of what they’re seeing. The shot is as much about the negative space as it is about the details within the frame. And if I have been successful it is a shot that makes the viewer stop for a second look, figure out what’s going on, and rewards them when they make sense of it all. Hopefully it’s an example of finding beauty in the mundane.
How would you define your photography style?
My work is often described as being quite graphic in style. Three-dimensional spaces are often distilled to very two-dimensional views – urban abstracts, if you like, that often simplify a cluttered and confusing world. Perhaps it’s the industrial designer in me – seeing the world as plans and elevations – interpreting and simplifying complex shapes and distilling them to the equivalent of a concept sketch or a doodle on the back of a napkin. I’m also attracted to dramatic lighting, heavy shadows, and very simple uncluttered frames. As such, some of the work is often described as bold, dramatic and precise. A recent reviewer commented that the work “personifies the ability to look at something from multiple perspectives and portray its various forms of beauty”. That certainly is the goal.
Where do your ideas and inspiration come from?
That’s always been a very difficult question to answer. Most shots are simply an impulsive response to any given location, mixed with a little imagination. For example, a very pedestrian underground crossing with a ribbed steel roof, mixed with bold backlighting and a mysterious silhouetted figure is suddenly transformed into a portal to another world.
An everyday empty stadium underexposed and populated with a single figure lost amongst rows of empty seating, suddenly suggests a story of loneliness and isolation. For me, photography is not about giving all the answers, but letting viewers create their own stories – the image becomes a launching pad for their own imagination. And if the work helps open someone’s eyes to the beauty hidden in our everyday environments then I have succeeded as a photographer.
What are your thoughts on creating and composing your architectural images?
Like most of my work the challenge with architectural imagery is about uncovering the essence of a project and shining a light on the ideas and concepts explored by the architect. On a very basic level I am there to document their work and their ideas, but also to interpret and translate – to showcase a three-dimensional project by creating images that resonate with the viewer and speak loudly of the architect’s intention.
What are your thoughts on including people into your architecture work?
I am big believer in including people in my architecture work as much as possible. Not only does it give the image an important sense of scale but I think it also imbues the image with a little humanity. These are of course spaces and buildings intended to be used and experienced first-hand, so adding that human element often gives the viewer a sense of sharing in the experience. I think it also invites conversation regarding the state of modern architecture and the timeless debate of form versus function. How much of what we see in modern architecture is really user-oriented and how much is it architecture for the sake of architecture? Either way, including people in these shots helps tell a story and hopefully inspires imagination.
Why do you do use black and white to express your images?
Rather than necessarily choosing black and white, I think the image ultimately determines if it lends itself to colour or monotone. If the colour is an important part of the story or adds value to the shot then inevitably it will be presented in colour. However, for a lot of my work the colour of the subject is often unimportant. An abstract structural detail of an architectural façade is often distilled further by striping the colour away. We essentially reduce the subject to its core elements of shape and form and the simple lines and patterns that convey a beauty of their own. I say Simplify, Simplify, Simplify! As the renowned Robert Capa once said “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”.
One of your shots ‘Lost in Oblivion’ is stunning. Where did the concept for the image originate?
The shot ‘Lost In Oblivion’ was a response to the breathtaking salt plains of South Australia and the Northern Territory. These dry crystalline lakes are just remarkable. The experience of standing there with glistening white or pink salt reaching to the horizon is very spiritual and other-worldly. There is a silence, a stillness and a serenity not found in many places. ‘Lost In Oblivion’ was an attempt to capture that moment and that feeling.
How do you keep up your ideas and passion for your work?
I think the passion comes from caring about the work I do and always striving to do better and grow as a photographer – trying to capture the essence and beauty that surrounds all of us. It’s a huge privilege that I get paid to create these images and have lots of fun along the way. Like most creative professionals I try to submerge myself in the work – and the work of others – when I’m feeling a little flat or uninspired. That’s the wonderful thing about the industry – there’s always someone else out there pushing the boundaries and challenging you to do better.
Are you planning any projects at the moment?
My real focus at the moment is building up the strongest possible portfolio of architecture work and introducing that work to a bigger audience and client base. My ongoing personal work continues to evolve and sometimes it’s not until afterwards that the bigger picture becomes clear. I’m really interested in travelling and working overseas more and exploring similar themes and concepts in new professional and cultural environments.
How is the photography industry in Australia?
Both Melbourne and Sydney have a very robust and energetic photography industry, but Melbourne especially has an extremely rich and vibrant visual culture. As such, the creative and financial challenges of working as a freelance photographer are buoyed by working in such a creative environment. No doubt it’s a very demanding and competitive industry but like most industries it’s one that offers great opportunities and rewards to those who work the hardest and shine the brightest. Hopefully it’s an industry that will sustain me personally and professionally for years to come.