What brought out your interest in photography? How’d you get started?
To some extent it’s always been there. I remember having a Kodak 110 camera when I was quite young, maybe 7 or 8. For Christmas, birthday’s etc, I’d always get a roll of film for it and that was something I always looked forward to. In my teens I had a Yashica FX-3 that I learned the principles of exposure on, and I used to read back issues of photography magazines in the local library.
What is your favorite subject matter – and why?
Every time I get asked this question, I struggle with it. Partly because a lot of what I shoot ends up dictated by commercial realities which distorts my perception of the work – am I shooting a particular thing because I love it or because it’s getting the bills paid. And partly because my own interests and tastes change over time. I think people are endlessly fascinating but not just as a subject for portraits. The things they do and create are just as interesting, the food they eat, the lives they lead, as are the cultures and rituals that take place within larger groups.
How long have you been pursuing a career (or part-time career) in photography?
In the early 1990’s I considered it but ultimately decided to do a science degree instead. In the late 1990’s, after I’d spent a year traveling in Asia, I again considered it, and approached a few local studios about assisting work but nothing came of it and I didn’t really follow through and persist. I did some work for an NGO or two, but the idea of being a business owner at that age (mid-20’s) didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It was around 2005 that I began actively looking at photography as a career. I started with submitting rights managed stock, and got some stringing work for a wire service. It was a couple of years later when I really dived in with the determination to make it work, first shooting news and moving more toward editorial / commercial work.
Who or what is your greatest influence?
The first photographer I remember buying photobooks by was Galen Rowell. The way he used color really spoke to me. In my film days, my preferred slide film was Velvia, largely because I loved the look Rowell got with it.
My favorite movie of all time is a film by Ron Fricke called Baraka. I first saw it on the original 70mm format sometime around 1994 and that, probably more than anything else, has influenced what I came to photograph. In fact, it was probably that film that ultimately led me to Galen Rowell’s work.
Describe your dream photography job. What makes it so?
My dream job may not exist anymore. The old style National Geographic assignment where a photographer would spend 3 months on location really getting deeply into the people, place and culture has always appealed to me. Last time I saw Michael Yamashita speak at a seminar, he mentioned that whereas that type of assignment was routine in his early days with the magazine, these days they typically give him 2 weeks to produce the same work. So if I could really choose anything, it would be an assignment that would let me do that. I spent a couple of months around Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims in late 2001, and shot some of that on film but was limited in both the expense and availability of film in a tiny town in India, and a lack of any experience in how to approach such a subject. It’d be nice to have a time machine and be able to take my current gear and knowledge back with me and live it again.
I’ve got a few ideas for things I’d love to shoot in that style but all would require at least a couple of months in a place to make them work. They are all about modern “tribes” that gather in certain places at certain times that I think would be really interesting. When I was younger I surfed a lot, and in 1997 spent time at a place called Nias, which is an island in Indonesia that was considered one of the best surfing places in the world. I was there mostly to surf, so only shot a roll or two of film, but I’d love to shoot something like that over a longer period of time. Some of the surfers passed through for a few days, others spent a couple of months there. Making a body of work out of that would be fascinating. There are a few other different groups of people doing different things that I also think would make interesting assignments.
How do you think your work is unique from others? What makes it yours? Style? Subject matter? Context?
I often feel I’m too close to my work, and don’t really see what others see. The photography director of a major international magazine once told me that she was hiring me for a specific job because my style was a perfect fit for it. A lot of the time however, I don’t necessarily see my style as standing out. I do think that I’m fairly good at using environments to add context to portraiture so that may add some uniqueness.
What is your most effective marketing strategy so far?
It might be showing up. I’ve seen more than a few photographers get all excited about making a living at it and when success doesn’t come to them quickly, they get disillusioned and move on to other things. Or complain endlessly how the industry is dead or has been ruined. When I really began actively searching for clients, I coupled it with reading and learning how other photographers did it. And the successful ones just kept doing it without quitting. The actual methods have changed and evolved. Over time I’ve used email, direct mail, PDF, meetings, blogging, guest posts, social media. The one constant is that I’ve continued to do it..
What is your pet peeve about photographers (or photography)? Or do you simply not have one?
I’m less bothered now than I used to be, but people who try to tell me or other working photographers what we should be doing, or what we’re doing wrong, when it comes to working as a photographer, especially when their entire knowledge of the commercial world is what they’ve read on various popular photography websites.
What personal projects are you working on at the moment?
I always have a couple of on-and-off again subjects I love to shoot. Chefs is one, and yoga people is another I’ll shoot a bunch of those, and then go months where I don’t shoot any.
I’m hoping to have some time this summer to start something new, probably a new portrait series but that won’t be until August at the earliest.
Your most favorite 5 pieces of gear are?
Whatever the biggest modifier I have is – at the moment it’s a 120cm octa that I’m increasingly sticking behind a scrim for extra softness.
I can’t really think of more to make up 5. I’m not really a gear lover as such. I have a fair bit of stuff but I never really get into the upgrade cycles. If a piece of gear works for me, I’ll keep using it until it breaks.
Bonus: What/who do you listen to during long editing marathons?
Mostly guitar rock or blues – Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughan etc. Sometimes Australian pub rock – INXS, Midnight Oil, Radio Birdman. And occasionally 90’s electronic music – Goa trance mostly. Or I edit in silence.
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