I guess it was something that was embedded in me from around the age of five. We used to go camping and travelling a lot, and my dad always took lots of slides of wherever we went and we'd have regular slide nights, which I kind of enjoyed. I think that the imagery, the recording of people and places, and the enjoyment that everyone seemed to get from these slide nights struck a chord. My mum was also an avid painter, so that most likely had an effect on me as well.
Years later, when I went to Europe at around 18, I took along a camera (Minolta SRT303) and just shot everything, wherever I went, northern landscapes were my favourite. The bug had well and truly bitten. So when I returned to Australia, instead of enrolling back into engineering, I took up an applied science course majoring in industrial photography. In a way, this provided me with both of the things that have seemingly interested me for a long time, technology and photography.
I'm not sure how, as a five or so year old, I considered photography and what it meant to me then, but it did seem important for some reason. Later in life, when I started to take photos with intent, I think I saw it as a way of recording things that I valued most in my life and which reflected my view of the world. Landscapes and nature have always featured stongly in my photography and that's a reflection of one aspect of life that I see as very important.
We still travel and camp a lot today, and it's funny that when friends who have been with us see the shots from the trips, they invariably comment that they never saw the scenes that I've shot. I guess that's a reflection on how I view things before I put a camera to my eye; I look for the things that may often be in plain view, but many don't see, or see from only one perspective. And perhaps as a five year old, that's how I often viewed things and still do.
Photography still means much the same as it always has for a lot of my personal work. Previously, my photography was pretty much a closed affair and people didn't factor all that greatly in what I did, other than weddings and the like which I did on and off for a studio. But a new dimension has been added since I started to do news and sports photography for a local paper some six years ago. I now have to take a completely different view of my photography and, moreso, a different view of the people I'm photographing. It's a lot more personal (the news/editorial work) than wedding photography (which I hate with a passion), as you often need to interract with the subjects on a much deeper level.
With wedding photography, you always had to take control of the situation, but it was like herding cats most of the time and no one cared at all about the wedding photographer, invariably making life as difficult as possible. With news work, the situation is always unpredictable and you have to be ready to capture the most interesting shot in a eye blink. Sometimes you succeed, more often you don't quite get what you wanted. With editorial work, you have pretty much full control of the subject, but rarely the location, so it becomes an exercise in making the subject look the best in often the worst of conditions. The news/editorial work has changed me personally and made me a lot more flexible in the way I approach photography.
So what does photography mean to me now? Quite a lot more than it did previously. I think that my photography was kind of stove-piped for a long time and personally I was somewhat inflexible in the way I approached photography and, moreso, what I photographed. I still love the nature side of photography, but I'm much more open and flexible now to other things in life, and the world in general. Without trying to sound deep and meaningful, photography has allowed me to grow up somewhat and appreciate the human aspects of the world and I want my personal work to begin reflecting some of the news style work that I do.
This enters the issues that I wanted to approach with you.
You talk about your professional work with a determined passion. You appear focused and with a strong sense of what is needed in the image for it to work.
Let me ask you this .....
When you are not being engaged by a third party to make images, what are the images your making?
Naturally I still do the traditional thing that I always have, which is landscapes and nature in general, but I'm also more interested in abstract (and not so abstract) things; things that tell us about people and also their interraction/affect on the world in general. Most of that interest comes from the newspaper work, but doing it freestyle is a lot harder than being given an assignment sheet that has everything arranged. That's the challenge that I'm looking at from a personal perspective.
For example, I'm interested in exploring people in places, subjects in isolation with their environment, something of a documentary style. I would never have considered doing this with my regular gear, far too obvious and intimidating, but m4/3s provides an opportunity to be discrete. The only thing is that I need to become accustomed to this ability to be discrete and that introduces a whole new learning curve. I guess my photography is on two pathways, the areas that I'm familiar with, and the areas that I'm not and which are ever evolving.
It must be comforting to SEE where you are comfortable working and also SEE where you may be going and not be so comfortable. Creatively that opens the door to getting away from stagnation or complacency in the work. It's nice that you face challenges head on.
So as you look at your work that you've done and looking forward,
What are your recurring themes?
Yes, doing nothing but the same thing all the time, does lead to complacency and a very narrow view of the world, and once you fall into that trap, it's very, very difficult to get out of it. That's one reason why I've been doing things outside of my comfort zone. So what are my recurring themes?
A major direction has been towards 'story telling', by way of photo-essays and slideshows. These make me think about what I'm doing, why I'm doing it and it forces me to look for shots that work together to bring about a story. I like to take a theme and run with it, in order to give a complete picture of what is happening, rather than a series of unrelated shots. Sometimes things fall naturally into place, other times you have to plan and really look for the right subjects. This approach also provides much greater variety of subject matter/themes, and that in itself can be quite challenging.
In a way, I'd really like to get away from being predictable, to myself especially, and that takes a lot of effort. I'm far from being there just yet, but that's where practice makes perfect.
I find it interesting that when asked about themes, you didn't really hit upon the landscape or nature, or people for that matter. It seems that your method of work is forged in a way that keeps you focused on the map of where you are most times.
I asked about recurring themes because they are the roads we travel in our work. They show us in a clear view where we were, where we are and possibly where to go....
What is the distance to your subject you are most comfortable with while working?
You're right. While my themes used to be subject specific, I now try to make the theme location specific and fill that with whatever is appropriate or opportune. That may include just landscapes, people, or a mix of anything. Whenever I now take shots, I always keep in mind the potential of putting together a story of some sorts, be it at the time or in future, as I gather a collection of shots. By doing this, it helps me look beyond the obvious, as well as my comfort zone. That doesn't mean it always ends up with a story, often it just ends up with a series of unrelated shots that may, or may not, please me.
Working distance is somewhat irrelevant, as it's all situational dependent, no matter what the subject. Obviously it's more complex when it involves people, but it also depends on how comfortable they are with me and a camera pointing towards them. Working for the paper that becomes easy, because there's a recognisable relationship between the photographer and the subject (in most cases). I can pretty much walk up to a subject with a fisheye lens and take a shot, but it helps having a media ID hanging from one's neck. Working in a private capacity it's not so easy, as there isn't that relationship, nor is there a recognisable context for you being there with a camera and pointing it at people.
In this day and age, one has to be careful and conscious of the concerns people have with cameras in the public arena, even though Australia is fortunate, as our laws still enable us to take photos pretty freely. However, you can easily be taken to task if someone objects. Even as a news photographer, it's not always a walk in the park when you're tasked to take general shots of people at events etc. But more importantly, for me, if I'm taking shots predominantly of people, I have to have a storyline associated with the photos.
This raises another issue regarding my photography, in that I'm much more conscious nowadays about why I'm taking photographs. Years ago I could just go out and blat away at anything and everything, and come home fairly satisfied. Today, I ask myself what is the purpose of what I'm doing? If I don't have some tangible reason, I tend to not pick up the camera. For me, that makes photography much more difficult, because I've become much more self-critical about what I do.
I knew you'd ask, so I let it hang, but I have no idea why it is so. I'm OK with group shots and have taken part in many of them; you can see me in group shots on my website. But for some reason, I don't like getting personal shots taken. My avatar is one of the few and far between where I've been reasonably comfortable with standing in front of a camera and that was taken by a good friend.
It's not a vanity issue or anything like that, so maybe it's because I've been behind the camera for so long, and being in control of the situation, that standing in front of the camera just doesn't seem right. It's akin to being a passenger in a car, I'm never really comfortable with that situation and I need constant distractions so that I don't think about the driving that I have no control over (this is not the same as being on a bus).
So in distilling all of that, maybe it is an issue of being in control of the situation and, when I'm in front of a camera, that's not happening. Pretty much everything that I've done in my adult life has revolved around leadership (in the military vernacular), so unless I have complete faith in the person on the other side of the camera, I just don't seem to be comfortable with putting myself up as a target.
I'm assuming that you mean whether I prefer prints to screen-based images? Without a doubt I prefer the printed image. To me, a screen-based image is transitional, has limited substance and holding power, and can be seriously corrupted by the viewing mechanism, ie poor screen. I always produce prints of those shots that I think have come out successfully. I also like to print big, and that means larger than A3.