PHOTOGRAPH IN OCTOBER.
Oil your shutters and take up your selfie sticks, people, it's time to PHOTOGRAPH!
Conservative estimates suggest that humans will take one trillion photos this year. 100 years after Leica revolutionised photography and brought it to the average punter with their portable 35 mm cameras, more people than ever have access to incredibly high-quality, easy-to-use photographic imaging technology - most of us, in our pockets, built into our phones.
So with a world so saturated with images and image-making, this month is a great time to step back and think about how, why and what we photograph, and consider doing it in a more decisive way. We recommend that this month, you take the opportunity to work on a photographic series - it might only be a small handful of photos, but a series is a great way to explore an idea, tell a story or convey complex emotions visually.
During this month, try to find a theme to explore - it might be as simple as finding different lines in the world around you, or light reflecting through glasses of water, or self portraits taken at the same time every day, or dogs on the subway, or discarded hair elastics, or people laughing, or sunsets on window panes. It might be a series of portraits of people you've loved. It might be a complex noir story arc exploring the exploits of a fedora-ed man in carparks at dusk. It might be images shot entirely through a magnifying glass. Pick an idea, a theme or an image that interests you, and take several images that feel connected to that starting point.
For some inspiration, take a look at Gregory Crewdson's 'Beneath the Roses', Bill Henson's 'Paris Opera Project', Nan Goldin's 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency', Phil Toledano's 'Days With My Father' and Cindy Sherman's 'Untitled Film Stills.'
Now, settle in for our natter with actor and photographer Ben Rigby, whose incredible work ranges from the humble iPhone through to digital and film. He talks about his love/hate relationship with American and selfie culture, working to learn how to photograph perfect lines, addiction to the social media dopamine 'like' hit and why Instagram is a Tamagotchi for adults.
THE ART OLYMPICS settles down for a sunny afternoon conversation with photographer and actor BEN RIGBY.
3:17 pm, a sharehouse in Fairfield, two sofas, two rolls of 120 film, one Hasselblad, one Kiev 88.
AO: Alright. So, first things first – let’s bring up your Instagram. I’ll jump on Google -
BR: Just type in ‘Instagram Brigby’ and it’ll come up.
AO: It makes you sound like this nice British constable. Constable Brigby. I was talking to my housemate and saying I was going to interview you, and we looked through your Instagram together, and I was just yelling, ‘It makes me angry! He’s just so good!’
BR: That’s really flattering. Thank you. I put in my first print today! A friend was like, ‘I want to buy a print of yours for my mum for Christmas.’
AO: Aw! That’s lovely!
BR: Yeah. So it’s in Thirds now. I’ll get it on Friday. It’s a big one.
AO: How exciting!
BR: It’s of Bixby Canyon bridge.
AO: Look at that pretty light leak!
BR: Are you entering the National Photographic Portrait Prize this year?
AO: I think so. I’ve got to shoot a few new shots for it. There’s a particular style of shot that always seems to do well in that prize.
BR: Do you enter celebrity ones?
AO: I haven’t ever had any celebrity photos that were relevant. All the ones that get into that prize are just people sitting at a three quarter angle, looking thoughtful.
BR: I know, right. I’m thinking of entering. I’m going to do another sit-down with Ash [Flanders], because it’s topical, and he’s very photogenic in his own right. And I’m entering the Ewan [Leslie] one that I did. That was so lovely. He followed me on Instagram years ago, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, Ewan Leslie follows me? What the fuck?’ And then I wrote to him in a private message on Instagram, and was like ‘Hey, I’m going to be in Sydney in a week. Would you be keen to catch up, and I’ll take your portrait?’ and he was like ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’
AO: That’s lovely!
BR: So I’ve made a new little friend.
BR: And I was like, ‘You have no idea how much I respect your work as an actor.’
AO: So you only learned to do darkroom stuff fairly recently, right? When did you start photographing?
BR: Yeah, I learnt two years ago how to use the darkroom, because I didn’t have the luxury of doing it at my school, because they didn’t value the arts. At all. I always wanted to do photography, and kind of just fell into it through iPhone stuff first. And then did a bit of film stuff – I experimented with 35mm quite a bit when I first moved to Melbourne, but then got to the stage where, with acting stuff, I was so sick of going for auditions and not getting the role. You prepare something, and you’re like, ‘Oh, fuck. I don’t get to finish it.’ So I was like, ‘Where can I have a process where I can properly do this?’ And then I went, ‘Ah, I can learn how to develop my own photographs?,’ and that’s where black and white came in and I learnt how to do it. But I’m doing a lot more colour these days, just because it’s so absolute with black and white. I like to do it with certain people in certain light. You look at people and you’re like, ‘Oh, they’d look great in black and white’, but everyone looks great in black and white!
BR: Colour shows all the blemishes and the lines perfectly, and I think I like that a lot more, at the moment. I go between the two.
AO: The thing about not getting to finish stuff as an actor is really interesting. It’s something that I guess I forget about, because I work so much with theatre people so there’s the illusion of constant creation. But yes, you do spend so much time walking into blank rooms, talking in front of a camera and then just being like, ‘Well, now I just have to let go of all that.’
BR: And there’s that fear. You get that rejection, as an actor, this unspoken rejection. No-one tells you that you’re not good enough for it. Whereas you’re only as good as the work that you’re creating as a photographer, and you can look at it straight away, and it’s instant. And if it’s not instant, it’s with a process, so you go, ‘Ah, remember that for next time.’ Some auditions, you’ll go in, and they’ll be like, ‘Come over here,’ and you’ll watch it back, and you’ll be able to get an instant response, but with theatre, you’ll do a four, five week process, and then you’ll get a horrible review, and you’ll be like, ‘Well, why didn’t anyone tell me?’ But with photography, it’s yours. And no-one else can see it first. It’s still yours, no matter what, and you don’t need to show it to people if you don’t want to. I get anxiety with Instagram, though. It’s hard in the modern age, especially because I’ve started being a photographer from Instagram. You feel the need to subscribe to that in some small way. You feel the need to please your followers. If you post a picture of something that you’re really proud of – like, I’ll lose followers if I post a medium format photo.
AO: People actually unfollow you?
BR: Yeah. But if I post a selfie, I’ll gain followers and get more than 200 likes.
AO: Wow. That’s so weird.
BR: I mean, I never post selfies. If I do, it’s in an odd mirror or something that’s distorting my face. Something I find interesting that no-one else can do for me at the time. But I’ll always get a crazy response. And then with a photo where I’m like ‘This is the best photo I’ve ever taken! I can’t wait to share it with the world!’, the right people do say, ‘Oh my god, this is great’, or they’re really supportive of it. But then it’s obvious that there’s lots of people out there who don’t give a fuck about photography.
AO: Do you use hashtags on your images?
BR: Lately I’ve been putting up 35mms from when I was travelling, and I’ll hashtag #35mm so people know that it’s not on an iPhone. Because I started from iPhone, I always like to clarify that. Or if it’s on a 7D, like if I’ve taken a headshot, I’ll say #7d. But I would never tag a product if they weren’t in my realm, or do an unnecessary hashtag. Unless it’s a funny hashtag that’s really long and doesn’t exist.
BR: I stay away from them quite a lot.
AO: I know a girl who’s a model, and she was saying that, because she’s with an agent, every time she posts a modelling photo, she has this list, this chunk of hashtags she has to post, that are, like, #curvymodels and what not. There’s probably twenty different tags that she has to put on her images.
BR: Oh my god.
AO: Because people trawl the hashtags, and like, and engage from there.
BR: I met a guy in Sydney, years ago, and we were like, ‘Oh, let’s follow each other on Instagram – what’s your name?’ I looked him up, and I was like, ‘Wow, you have, like, 13,000 followers. What’s that about?’ He told me that he signed up to this app that, would go through a hundred photographs from each hashtag every hour, and like photographs for him, so he’d get more and more followers as a result.
AO: That’s so disingenuous!
Ben makes a noise of revulsion.
BR: It’s disgusting.
AO: That really freaks me out. What does that say about our society, that all you want is this number of people who actually don’t legitimately give a fuck about you?
BR: It’s a Tamagotchi for adults.
BR: That’s all it is.
AO: Instagram is a Tamagotchi for adults.
AO: It totally is, isn’t it?
BR: Just watch it grow. And look after it. And feed it occasionally.
AO: What’s the equivalent of if you just let all the poo pile up next to it?
BR: They’re the hashtags.
AO: My poor mother, when I was a kid, Tamagotchis were banned from my school, and my mum used to work nights as a nurse. My brother and I were like, ‘You have to look after our Tamagotchis while we’re at school.’ And so she would wake up to feed them. As an adult, that horrifies me beyond all comprehension.
BR: Oh no! She loved you so much!
AO: I know! Oh my god, I should call her and thank her for saving my Tamagotchi when I was eight.
I read this great article recently that was people admitting the worst thing they’d done in The Sims. And it was people being like, ‘I made a person, and then I put them in a 1 x 1 square metre room and just left them there, and they drowned in their own shit and died.’ Heaps of things like that. People just doing the most horrific stuff to these pretend people.
BR: I think I have too much empathy to do The Sims. I wouldn’t be able to leave it.
AO: I reckon I played The Sims for a couple of months when I was, like, fourteen. And I remember just being very invested in their love lives.
BR: People still do it. I think that’s what selfie culture has turned into. This online persona, this avatar.
AO: Yeah, yeah. I was thinking recently about the way that we structure our online personalities, and what it says about us, and I think there’s this really unique thing about being a photographer, because you’re visually interpreting your world in a way that’s often quite beautiful and appealing. People look at your life through your images and go, ‘Oh my god, your life is so amazing.’
BR: I always take better pictures when I go on holiday, as you know, because you’re much more inspired. You’re soaking in stuff that you’ve never seen before. So people are like, ‘Oh my god, your holiday looks so amazing.’ And I’m like, ‘It was great, but you just need to know that I took film. I don’t take film around Melbourne every day. I had my camera with me at all times, I didn’t just have my iPhone.’
AO: I actually find that when I’m travelling, I photograph a lot less. And I want to photograph a lot less. I think it’s part of being aware that when I’m photographing, I’m separate from the experience, and so I really want to just be in the place. I write a lot, and I note-take a lot – things that I think and see and artwork that I engage with. I think the next time I go away I might just not take a camera and see what happens. I might find it really stressful.
BR: I’d go insane. I’d go so crazy. Oh my god!
BR: That makes me nervous, thinking about that. Because I don’t buy souvenirs or anything. And I don’t sit down and write about my experiences, I just document it through photographs. That’s pretty much my diary. If I didn’t have that, I’d be like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t remember what I did that day, where I was.’ I’ve been taking a lot less on my phone lately, though, which is odd. I go through stages. I don’t know about you – you go through stages of medium format, and digital. Do you take a lot on your phone?
AO: Not really. When I first got Instagram, I started taking more things on my phone. But I never really developed the editing skills on my phone. Because I was so used to using Photoshop and Lightroom, I was kind of like, ‘Why is there no curves tool?’
BR: Yeah. There is an app, though, that I use, called Polarr. It’s great. There is the curves tool. But that’s recent. A photographer friend introduced me to that. Do you know Tom Blachford?
BR: He takes amazing architectural shots in California. He’s from Melbourne. But he was like, ‘I finally got the blues that I want!’ And I looked, and I was like, ‘Oh my god! Me too! Fuck yeah!’ It was great.
AO: I’m so fascinated by your eye for architecture, and for line. Because I often find that when I’m shooting in places that have structural lines in there, I look at the images later and I’m like, ‘What the fuck? If you’d taken one step to your right, everything would be fine, and now you’ve gotta go fix it in post because all the lines are wonky and everything’s all out of kilter!’
BR: I think it was about four years ago when I said to myself, ‘You really need to work on line.’ And I was so strict. I’d just take photos of bricks and walls, and people walking across walls. All the time. It was trying to train that. But you reach a point where you’ve done all that work, where you can just take the photo and not have to worry too much about it. I still sometimes struggle with tiles and stuff, if I’m shooting from above. That’s hard. To get all those lines perfect. Architecture’s a fun one. But I follow a lot of architectural enthusiasts, as well, who really get me off on Instagram. I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m terrible!’
AO: ‘You guys are geniuses!’ As a photographer, my interests and my skills align very much, such that I can’t take architectural photos, I can’t take landscape photos. I can only photograph people. And I’m only really interested in photographing people. I did a bit of real estate photography once, and I was just like, ‘I can’t make this speak to me in a way that is interesting.’
BR: It’s so clinical.
AO: Yeah. But your work has this real sense of irony to it. And wit. Which I really like. There was this kind of spate of photographers when Magnum, the photo collective, started up, who just had this way of looking at the world, and especially America – and I feel your work feels very American in a way that I probably couldn’t pull apart –
BR: I’ve always been obsessed with America. I used to hate it, even. But even hating it was being obsessed with it, in its own way.
BR: I remember an old friend told me, years ago, ‘You’re obsessed with America.’ And I am. I love American pop culture. It’s what our eye is on. I think it’s half of what made me want to become an actor, as well. There’s this irony to it. And it’s so funny, to observe. So when I go to America, I love being, as an actor, a complete outsider. And people have no idea who I am. Not that they even do here. But you can meet people and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m an actor from Australia.’ And they don’t know what you’ve done back home, because they’re there, you know. And people get away with fucking murder there. I mean, literally. But their behaviour is intolerable.
AO: The Americans?
BR: The Australians there! Certain Australians who move to LA, you’re like, ‘Wow, how are you getting away with this behaviour? It’s crazy!’
AO: Like doing what?
BR: Just really sociopathic stuff. Pretending to love someone when they actually fucking hate them. In a social forum. Being like, ‘You’re great!’ and then being like, ‘That person is fucking horrible.’ It’s amazing. There are just these facades, everywhere. And so that’s what I love about LA. It’s so obviously beautiful in parts, but underneath that, there’s this thing, this –
AO: Festering underside to it.
BR: Yeah! And I love how tacky it is. I grew up on the Gold Coast, so I love it. I get off on it.
BR: I go back to the Gold Coast, and I’m like, ‘Wow, how did I survive here for so long?’
BR: But I also love photographing people, as well. I think the portraiture that I do, I’m lucky enough to have great looking friends. And people that have a really clear energy. I think you’d agree that portraiture is about evoking an energy from somebody. Or creating an energy. And with acting, it’s one on one with your bodies, but with photography, it’s that (he holds an imaginary camera) in the middle, and being aware of how that lens really can transform some people. Even film and theatre, as an actor, are two completely different things. As you’d know, as well. It’s so big and so small and so polar. If someone’s massive in the flesh, and you take their photo, you can get a completely different image to what you see. And I love that. And it’s just about how you see them as well. Getting that moment.
AO: I find it really interesting, when you photograph people that I’ve also photographed, because you find something so different in their face and in their expressiveness to what I find.
BR: It’s your relationship with them. Which is so amazing. It’s like the imprint that they have of you in relation to the situation that you’re both in. I love that about portraiture. It’s great.
AO: I find it interesting tracking images that I’ve shot of people, say I’ve photographed someone at an event when I don’t know them. And then six months later, I photograph them as a friend, and they just look completely different, because I stop just seeing them as a face –
BR: As a stranger.
AO: And start seeing them as someone that I know and care about. And they change, the way I photograph them changes. People always say the camera never lies, and it’s nonsense. Or rather, maybe the camera never lies, but the photographer always lies. Because you’re –
BR: Trying to get that light. And trying to get those angles.
AO: And the difference between two instants, when you choose to take the photograph, changes the person that you’re shooting so much.
BR: Completely. When you’re taking headshots, you look at two frames, within a split second of each other – they’re two different things. You’re searching for that honesty, which is fucking hard. Especially with headshot photography. It’s difficult.
AO: Because actors are so used to being given an action, and given an intention and a character, that when it’s just being yourself, it’s really frightening for a lot of people.
BR: It is. Everyone puts up walls.
AO: And so many actors really have a lot of self-consciousness issues. I’ve photographed so many actors who just hate the way they look.
BR: It’s surprising, when you’re like, ‘You’re amazing’ –
AO: ‘You’re so striking and gorgeous’, and they’re just like, ‘I hate my face.’
BR: It’s so strange. But isn’t it so rewarding when an actor turns around and goes, ‘You’re the only person who can take a good photograph of me.’ And you’re like, ‘Ah!’ It’s so lovely!
AO: And such a huge thing. I guess, as we become more and more in control of our images – selfie culture, say what you will about it, has given people the power to control the way people see them and the way that they see themselves.
BR: By controlling what’s released.
AO: Yeah. So everybody now knows a way that they can take a good photo of themselves, even if it’s from above, at 45 degrees, doing a duck face. People know that there is a way that they can photograph themselves that they are okay with. And so when you come in, you don’t know those rules.
AO: And you don’t know how they want to be photographed, and you see them through your own eyes, and I guess, slightly more as they are. And it’s really confronting for people, being like, ‘Oh, that’s what I look like.’
BR: ‘That’s what I look like without copious amounts of makeup, and mood lighting that I’ve set up.’
AO: I find the same thing. Because I photograph myself a lot, and always have, when other people photograph me, I get really mistrustful. And then sometimes people will put up shots of me, and I’m like, ‘Is that…is that me? Do I look like that? That’s not how I photograph myself! Where’s the nice flattering light? Where are the cheekbones?’
BR: Totally. There’s definitely a place for selfie culture. I just don’t subscribe to it. I think there’s a massive difference, also, between self portraits and selfies. I think that reverse camera’s a very dangerous thing.
AO: So, did you photograph when you were younger? Or did you only really start four years ago, with the phone stuff?
BR: Not really. I mean, everyone took a wind-up somewhere when they went on holidays, right? I did that. I didn’t properly get into it until I went to acting school, I guess. I got those crappy digital cameras in 2005 that we all got for Christmas. You know, 8 megapixel. And I’d always take a lot of hobby photographs of things. But I only really started to get into street photography with an iPhone, when I got my first iPhone. And I was introduced to this amazing iPhone photographer called Misho Baranovic. He pretty much introduced me to it when I first moved to Melbourne. He’s from Queensland as well. He’s awesome. He does a lot of iPhone. Pretty much only. And he was like, ‘I’m an iPhone photographer.’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry, what?’
BR: And this was back when the iPhone 3 was just released. And he was really good. And so when I finally got mine maybe six months later, I started just experimenting with people and street stuff, and the light, and what it was doing. Another friend of mine, Amelia Dowd, she uploaded this photo one day, and I was like, ‘What the fuck! How did you do that?’, and she said, ‘It’s this thing called Instagram’, and that’s where it all kind of started. I signed up, and it was this beautiful forum back then, when people would actually comment and be like, ‘This is amazing.’ And then you start seeing these people come in, and it becomes very popular, and things become troll-y. Which is sad.
But yeah, at the very end of uni, which was 2008-2009, I was taking a lot of 35mm, because I bought one at a picnic. Someone was selling their camera, and I was like, ‘I’ll buy it! Fifty bucks! What’s that?’ And then Amelia came down to Melbourne, and we went around and took photos on film. She was taking some of me, I was taking some of her, and it was really fun. I was like, ‘Oh, I really like this.’ And I’d take a film camera wherever I went, and get it developed, you know, even if it was a year later, when you could finally afford the film developing.
BR: But then I luckily got an ad that paid really well. And I’d been taking a lot on my phone, and getting a good response, and learning about lines. iPhone pretty much taught me all that, because it’s instant, and I love that about it. Film, for me, I’ve only gotten good in the past year, where I’ve learned every time. And I got a new film camera, as well. The Hasselblad, which that ad paid for. That taught me a lot. Medium format’s beautiful, but, you know, can be very depressing if you don’t use it properly.
AO: Yeah, you get so few photos, and you invest so much into it, because there’s a time period between taking it and seeing what happened. And you kind of invest all this expectation of magic, and then sometimes you get it back, and you’re like, ‘I just fucked up that whole roll.’
BR: I know. It’s the same with a film process – I think all art is interchangeable. I think if you’re good at one, you’re more than likely to be good at a few. And it’s just where you are at a point in your life when you can grab what you need. When I’m not acting, I do photography. Because it keeps me sane. But when I’m acting, I barely take photos. Unless I’m just auditioning. If I’m in America, holidays plus auditioning, so you have time, and you’re inspired. But if I’m here, and I’m really busy, I don’t. Unless I’m in a rehearsal room, and I’ll take a photo of actors, because they’re people. And it’s familiar. And they’re not intimidated.
Anyway, so Misho introduced me to a lot of photographers, like Greg Briggs. And Olly Lang and Misho, they run a company called The Mobile Photo Network. This is how it all started, actually. They had an exhibition at No Vacancy, where we put on two shows. And he’s like, ‘You should enter. You might get some stuff in.’ So I entered a few photographs, and one of them got in. And then the next year, Head On had their first mobile section. And I entered a photograph from when I went to Berlin. And then that got in. The year before that, they had a special mobile backyard exhibition. And that’s where I met all these iPhone photographers. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s this massive community.’ And I think they couldn’t ignore the fact that it was getting so big. Even a lot of war photographers were starting to use it then. It’s less invasive. You’re not carrying around this big device. It’s quite exploitative, in a way, if you’re a war photographer. But I guess it does the job. Obviously the clarity is not as good. But if you’re a good photographer and you know where to – there’s this great photographer, Andrew Quilty, who photographs in Afghanistan, and he’s just unreal. He’s lived amongst these people. He’s Australian.
But now, I’m going more towards the architectural stuff, the cool portraits and palm trees – I find that really fun. Like George Byrne. He’s Rose Byrne’s brother. He’s awesome. And his stuff was exhibited in Head On as well. So that’s where you meet all these people, you see their stuff and you follow them.
AO: You were part of something they did where they were exhibiting on iPads, didn’t you?
BR: Yeah, that was part of Head On. There were ten Australian photographers that they chose to have their work exhibited in the Apple store. So they had an iPad for each photographer, and you could swipe. It had ten by ten images. That was pretty cool. I didn’t go up this year, because I couldn’t afford it, but it was really rad, to know that people were looking at my stuff. And I got a few more followers from that too, which was cool. And then Buzzfeed went along to it and recorded all the names, and then it was ‘The 10 Australian iPhone photographers to follow’, and I was on it, and it was like, ‘What the fuck? This is silly! You just went to the iPad thing!’
AO: ‘You guys did not do very much research.’
BR: But, you know, it was cool. People were like, ‘Congrats on Buzzfeed’, and I was like, ‘What?!’
BR: ‘What are you talking about?’ I looked at it, and I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’
AO: That’s amazing. That’s big!
BR: Yeah, that was really cool. But yeah, at the moment, I’m just taking portraits, I think. I’m going to do an actor series. I don’t know whether I want to release a book for quite cheap, and then have an exhibition with it, where you can buy prints. I think that’s my next step, if I want to have an exhibition or not. They’re so expensive. I mean, if I get an ad or something – I’ll probably just go back to LA. But I’d like to release a book. Because I know some people are like, ‘Oh, I’d like to buy something if you released it.’ I mean, I have 4000 photos or something on Instagram. I just want to put them somewhere. I feel like it’s so wasted, just being on a page that no-one looks past the 50 photo mark. It’s that age-old thing – you’re only as good as your last work. It’s distressing.
AO: And there’s something nice about having photos to look at physically. Because I think that the statistics on how long someone looks at a photo online for is something like half a second. And so at least when someone’s holding a book, you can only turn pages so quickly.
BR: But I’d really like to release a book. Just for myself, if anything. For my mum. Mum would buy ten.
AO: One in every room. Have you ever put up a photo that people have asked you to take back down?
BR: I have. I did one for a musician in Sydney. I won’t name them. I put it up, and I loved it, because it looked like them. And a friend of mine was also like, ‘Oh my god, that’s them. It’s completely them.’ And I was actually a little bit disheartened when they texted straight away, ‘Sorry, I just don’t want that up. It doesn’t represent the image that I want of myself.’ I was like, ‘I get it, I get it, it’s fine’, but I had this pang of – it was probably just my ego. But, you know, it was my favourite of the series. And it was the first one that I put up. It even had this beautiful light flare and everything. I love those happy accidents. And it was from Sydney, and I was really on point that week with my portraits. I was really happy. Because the light in Sydney is flawless, especially when it’s on its game. So yeah, I got asked to take it down, and I did. And other photos of that artist were approved. But you do have to respect somebody who doesn’t want that image associated with them.
AO: It’s always the ones that you love, though. It’s never the one of a series where you’re like, ‘Oh look, I’ll put that up, but it doesn’t really need to be there.’
BR: But a lot of people do like the boring ones of themselves, that look the most like their idea of how they look. And everyone sees you in a different way. I quite enjoy – as a photographer, you don’t really have that many images of yourself. Because you’re always the one with the camera, everyone always assumes you’re going to take them. Or because you’re a photographer, everyone assumes you’re going to take selfies. Not self-portraits. Selfies.
BR: So when you do see a photograph of yourself, it’s almost like, ‘Oh, great! There’s a photo of me! Somewhere!’
AO: ‘I’m there! I existed!’
BR: I think that a lot of people are really into looking hot, as well. And, fuck it. You’re only human. You can look ugly. It’s okay.
AO: I love when photographers put up images – the shot that’s the preparation shots, or someone just thinking, or just moving their hair. That kind of beautiful introspection, that little moment when people don’t realise they’re being photographed.
BR: They’re the moments that I try to get, with portraits. Obviously there’s the ones where I’m like, ‘Look into the camera, and just relax’ – I always try to have a beer with people before I photograph them, to relax them. Headshots and portraits. Just so that you can get a rapport. If I don’t know the person, I will meet them for a bit before, just so their eyes aren’t lying. At least to some degree. You have to get that energy flow. Otherwise, there’s nothing. You know.
You and I must have so many in our personal archive. That’s why we want to have a book, or an exhibition. There’s so many photographs. What do photographers do with all these?
AO: It’s weird when, because so much of the stuff I do is for promo stuff, that I take it, and it’s used for two months to promote a show, and then no-one sees it ever again. Because afterwards, often they’re using production images to talk about a show. The #throwbackthursday tag on Instagram has been quite helpful for a lot of photographers, to be like, ‘Remember when I did this great thing?’
BR: ‘Bee tee dub, I did this once. Before Instagram was around. No-one saw it then, on that platform’.
AO: ‘I did it when Instagram had just started, and it got 25 likes, and now I think it can get 2500!’
BR: Totally. It’s hard, though. Getting those likes up is insane.
AO: I found it really interesting when Facebook introduced the like function, because people used to comment on photos much more. And engage, and talk about what they liked about images. And have discussions. And now, it’s just, 150 people like an image, and three people are like, ‘Good photo.’ Or an emoji smiley face.
BR: I always try to comment. If I can. We all fall prey to just liking stuff. It is interesting. There’s no discourse around it now.
AO: Yeah. Now, I so rarely know how people actually respond to the work I do.
BR: Well, you don’t know if it’s a pity like, or –
BR: And we’re all culprits of self-loathing. We work in the arts. It’s hard. You put something out, and you hope that people like it. And I feel like a like isn’t worth as much any more, because the dopamine hits are so fucking frequent, and you’re scrolling through your feed on your smart phone – I read this thing, that says that we need the dopamine more now. The chemical that’s released when you do something good and you’re rewarded for it –
AO: So we’re literally addicted to Facebook.
BR: Yeah. We’re addicted to dopamine, essentially. And so we want more and more and more. And so if it was just a comment, it would be worth so much more dopamine than a like.
AO: Private message: maximum dopamine.
BR: It’s such first world problems.
BR: But when you’re creating art, I think you need to have a critical eye of that sort of thing, and how your work is being interpreted online. Because otherwise, no-one’s seeing it. It’s just you. And you don’t have any scope of what that means, but to yourself. I think that’s highly interesting. I’ve taken down pictures off Instagram because it hasn’t performed. And that doesn’t make you feel great. You’re like, ‘Oh, I just took a picture down because it didn’t get enough likes.’ It’s like, fuck, who am I? I’m hopeless!
AO: I hate the fact that as a photographer, you rely so much on social media, because I would love to just not be on any of it.
BR: I think we all would.
AO: And have, you know, authentic experiences. But half the work I get is through social media. People being like, ‘Oh, you photographed someone I knew. I liked it. Shoot for me.’
BR: All the work that I get is from social media. Or knowing someone. Who’s seen my work on social media.
BR: But I wonder how that would go now, without social media. If you deleted Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, how would you get work? Apart from exhibitions. Handing out flyers.
AO: I think you can be a fine art photographer through just being in the industry and having exhibitions and stuff. But it would take a really long time.
BR: Having an agent and stuff. Like Mardiana Sani. She’s a beautiful photographer. She shoots on a Hasselblad as well. Does these really beautiful dream-like scapes. But her Instagram is just whatever, for her. But her fine art portraiture is stunning. She’s quite something. But she really lost her love of it. She went, ‘I need to stop making this a job, for a bit. So that I can find the love in it again.’ And we all fall prey to that, I think. I did that with acting, a few years ago. I was like, ‘Fuck, I need to find something else’ – and I was doing a lot of photos. I was like, ‘I need to focus my energy on photography, instead of having this hobby, because I’m making acting this sole thing that I have, and I hate it. Because I’m not working at the moment.’ And as soon as I let go with the stress of that, and just put it into work with photos, it kind of alleviated everything. And, you know, I still get stressed about not working enough as an actor, but I think every actor feels like that. Unless they’re George Clooney.
AO: It must be so lovely to be at the point as an actor when you have so many projects that you have to turn down.
BR: ‘Oh, no. No, Ridley Scott. I won’t work with you. I’m too busy.’
BR: You still do acting, obviously.
AO: Oh, very sporadically.
BR: You’re still doing bits and pieces.
AO: It’s funny being an actor, now, because I never trained. I just did it. I was such an instinctive actor. And when I came to theatre, I didn’t train in that either. I had good instincts –
BR: That’s half of it, though.
AO: Yeah, but I didn’t have technique. And so doing this radio work recently, it made me aware of just how little vocal technique I have.
BR: But you know that about yourself. A lot of actors don’t even know that. A lot of artists don’t know what they’re bad at. You need to have that in order to improve it, right? Like, I’m sure that in photography, you’re like, ‘Fuck, I really need to work on that.’
AO: Totally. And I reckon it’s probably just everybody presuming that everyone else knows what they’re doing. Amelia sent me an email the other day saying, ‘Do you know how this photo was lit?’, and I was like, ‘Not really. This is my guess.’ And she was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing either! But you do. You totally what know you’re doing.’
BR: We’re all just stabbing in the darkroom, and going, ‘I got it!’
BR: Amelia’s a gun, though.
AO: Oh, she’s incredible. She’s an amazing photographer.
BR: Her lighting is on point, all the time. With her models – no wonder she’s the biggest indie model photographer in Australia. I’ve seen her from the start. She was two years above me at USQ. At acting school. And so she’s been a really great mentor in a way as well. Because she’s always like, ‘I love your photos’, and I’m like, ‘I love your photos!’
BR: Just fangirling over each other. But she was only ever really supportive. And people like that, who are actors and multidisciplinary artists, you really find comfort in that. Because I struggled to say, ‘I’m a photographer as well’ for a long time. Because I didn’t train in photography. You feel like a fraud. And Mardiana was one who said, ‘Just say it. You are.’ And it was like, ‘Why do I have such a big problem in owning a label like that?’
AO: I think part of it is being a bit older and kind of being around people who have trained, and who do know what they’re doing. To stand up and be like, ‘Yeah, I do this too!’ feels really disingenuous.
BR: It’s such an Australian thing, as well.
AO: Americans are totally happy to say, ‘I do this and this and this and this.’
BR: ‘Oh, I’m a photographer.’ ‘Oh yeah?’ ‘I’ve taken three photos.’
AO: I’m on Tinder, which I use in the following way: I download it, I swipe a few people, and then someone talks to me and I freak out and delete it. But everybody on Tinder is a photographer. Everybody’s a musician. And there just can’t be that many musicians and photographers in the world. And it’s all people taking photos of themselves in mirrors looking really serious, with shit cameras.
BR: Oh, stunning.
AO: But, you know, you can’t be like, ‘Urgh, you’re not a photographer.’ Because we’re all photographers now. We all have a camera.
BR: It’s crazy.
AO: I think I read something that said that in 2015, humans were going to take one trillion photos. One trillion photos! There’s only 7 billion people in the world!
BR: That’s insane. We’ve probably taken, like, half of that, so.
AO: Do you remember the first photo you took where you were like, ‘I fucking nailed that’?
BR: I remember the first roll that I took. It was the first time that I’d properly used a film DSLR. And I used it at a picnic and then during Christmas, and all the ones were of my family and pictures of people at lunch. And everyone was like, ‘These are really good. They’re great.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, they are pretty good, aren’t they? Yeah, pats on back!’
BR: It’s good. I used to get rolls back and expect, like, three to be good out of 24. And if it was 36, like, five. Now, I’ve only just been happy with my recent 35 mms, where I’ve been like, ‘Oh, I got ten!’ It’s hard to get a shit one. It’s hard to pick which one to share. So you just share, like, eight of them. It’s a good feeling.
AO: Because it’s expensive, so you want to get your money’s worth!
BR: Especially on the Hasselblad, most of them are good now. Most of them, I can work with.
AO: So you’ve done darkroom stuff with black and white – did you ever do colour darkroom stuff?
BR: I’d love to, but it’s really difficult, because it has to be pitch black. I’d love to learn, however I think there’s not too many places where you can do it, unless you really know what you’re doing. I’m sure you can do it in the darkroom that I use.
AO: Which darkroom do you use?
BR: One in South Melbourne. Melbourne Camera Club. It’s all men in their 60s, so they don’t really use it much. It’s more so a group for them to catch up and discuss their pictures of plants.
AO: Now, did you have a challenge for people doing the Art Olympics?
BR: I might give them a self-portrait challenge. Take a picture of yourself without using the reverse camera. Or – I don’t like to condone taking pictures of self on iPhones.
AO: Well, maybe make it, use the self timer, or take a picture of yourself reflected in something, rather than just turning the camera around. I love the obsession photographers have with – especially on film – the mirror photograph.
BR: I take a lot. Whenever I see a good mirror.
AO: There’s a really particular expression that people put on -
BR: The perturbed face!
AO: ‘Huh, that’s me. I’m really serious about taking this photo.’
BR: So it doesn’t look vapid and self-obsessed!
AO: Yeah, yeah! You’re like, ‘This is how I know it’s not a selfie, because I look serious.’
BR: ‘I’m a real photographer! Fuck you, world! Fuck you, Kim Kardashian!’ Its so absurd, did you see the Amy Schumer Saturday Night Live opening monologue?
AO: No –
BR: Where she’s like, ‘It’s so fucked, that there’s a generation of people growing up, where their role models are a family who use the faces that they were born with as a light suggestion.’
BR: I fucking love you, Amy Schumer. You are the funniest bitch in the world.
AO: That’s so good.
BR: She’s just so clever. ‘As a light suggestion.’ Yeah. Take a photo of yourself without using the reverse camera.
AO: Excellent. Thanks heaps, Ben.
BR: Thank you. Let’s go outside, I'll photograph you.