After 20 interviews, you're the first photographer that I have been referred to!
Really? Oh wow! I have just been back from Africa a few days but I've had a look around Gather & Fold and read Byron and Ryan's interview and I can see the spirit of what you have done. The connections are really interesting. My connection to Ryan and Byron comes from friendship, as well as business, from a long time ago.
What were you doing in Africa?
I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro last year, and gave some of the photos I took to the company that had organised the trek. The owner asked if I would come back and take some more pictures for her company. So I went back with some girlfriends for 5 weeks, we saw the gorillas in Rwanda, we climbed another mountain, and I did some safari work. This safari operator has established a school in Meru village, which is funded by them and through donations. So I did some photography there to help promote awareness of the school. We made friends with our guides, so afterwards we took them on a road trip. It was an amazing experience and a great mix of work and also the chance to get away from work. Just enough to keep things in perspective. I always find the stuff I shoot in my holidays gives me a reprieve and refreshment that I can apply to my commercial work when I return. My business always benefits, you really have to step away from things every now and then.
On a commercial basis, do you work mainly with interiors?
Buildings as well. When I started, it was mainly buildings, big commercial buildings. Though I was drawn to photography in the first place through documentary photography. I have always loved it and it's the one genre that appeals to me the most. And it's not necessarily war-torn subjects but also work like Sally Mann's incredible photo documentation of her children.
Are you completely Melbourne based?
Completely. I came here to study photography and think it's one of the best cities in the world to be an architectural photographer.
Looking through your work, it looks like you have documented most of the city as well!
The art is formed by the architect or the interior designer - it's the creative output. So as the photographer, there is a translative practice, in collaboration with the designer. We carry a skill and craft, but also an interpretation. Sometimes it doesn't look like it, but with interior and architectural photography so much work goes into it. Not just technically. In Australia there are only a few lifestyle interior publications that have stylists commissioned for interior shoots. With photography commissioned by architects, it is often the architectural photographer and interior designer who have to assume that role. Sometimes that can prove difficult because styling is a craft in itself, but you have to have a level of awareness about it. Often with some of the larger scale projects, the architect may have been working on them for 5 or 10 years. They are so intimate with it. And as the photographer, you walk in and have one day to absorb 12 months or 10 years of an investment in a design. You then have to decode it and produce a historical record. It's a big ask and it's one that I think needs to be discussed carefully. You have to find the critical elements, see the way the architect sees.
You would have witnessed shift from film to digital.
When we used film and Polaroid we would be contracted for 10 shots and due to expense 10 shots is what you got. But there would have to be a discussion with the architect about exactly what those 10 shots were and you had to be certain before the film went near the camera. Now you can take much more but post production and editing is a big part of the process. These days, some photographers worry that the world has gone digital and architects have their own camera equipment, but still I find now I may get 30 shots from their studio amateur, the enthusiast, but still I'm left with the technically difficult stuff. Digital and available technology has changed the way we work but it hasn't changed the fact that designers and architects who want their work shown in the best light will come to us. It's funny, because there is a fear - with graphic designers too - that now everyone has access to the tools, it threatens their trade. But it's just not the case.
I hear it all the time, but I do feel that the relatively recent, widespread access to software has enabled the enthusiast but that enthusiasm might be the extent of this apparent threat.
I'm grateful for the enthusiast. Now I can see the build, see it through the architect's eyes, before I even arrive on site. I'm grateful for Flickr. They teach us things. It's great to see how thousands of other people see something. It's an education. And I think eventually business will realise that trying to do everything in-house will take them away from what they do best. Architects don't have the time to also be taking photos of their own projects without proper training. They'll eventually realise that it isn't their core business. Design is a business. This is different. People are beginning to value dedicated skill sets. There's still so much negativity around, some people have said "You won't have any work in a year," but no-one really knows what is happening. But I do feel that the creative field is turning upwards. It's had a glut, then a plummet and now it's changing...
And the way institutional design education has changed.
The problem with education I observed as a mature aged student, was that I learnt from craftsmen and scientists, every lecturer was a master of the craft. Now, as a mentor, I find there is little contact with the lecturers. They're under contract rather than tenure. They're popped and plugged. And the costs of education now, even though they say it is still 'free', it's not providing a platform for poorer people to be educated, it's causing avoidance in those who don't know better. I really believe free education is the one favour a country can do for its youth and for opportunity and for the best for everybody.
In this spirit, do you take on interns?
Yes. This year I had Amy, an intern from Canada for 3 months through Monash University's professional pathways program. I have partaken in RMIT's mentoring program for 3rd year photography students over the past 10 years. I have employed 2 of these mentees after they graduated. This mentoring program is how I got my first break with John Gollings so I really think it's an important vessel for students to enter the industry and build relationships. I have done some guest lecturing at NMIT for photography students and guest lecturing at Melbourne University and UTAS for Architectural students. I was recently invited to give a talk at NH Architecture as part of an on-going guest speaker series they run. I really believe if you are lucky enough to have a solid business, you have a responsibility to pass the baton. Most people who 'make it' have had a personal contact in the industry, who has given them a start and some guidance. I try to help but not everyone can make something of it. You have to be completely passionate about it; you have to be prepared to be broke for some time.
The competition in the creative industries can certainly be exhausting!
The thing I hate is this need to keep up an identity, a personal brand; you have to be seen, be published. Sometimes you'll get work just because a client will want a particular name on their project. Success is partly a marathon - the winner is the person who can stick to it the longest and endure the most pain. Lots of people drop off on the way. Then, being able to balance a creative talent with a whole lot of left brain skills, financially savvy enough to run a business or being smart enough to hook up with someone who can, being efficient and economical, to be able to market yourself as interesting, funny, talented, to be the one they want. You've got to market the most of who you are; your personality and your delivery.
Photography property of Dianna Snape