Seiz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties

Free­lance pho­tog­ra­phy is never easy, but Nic Stave­ley is ex­plor­ing ways to ben­e­fit from his per­sonal pro­jects via var­i­ous plat­forms

The Photographer's Mail - - Personal -

“I swear to God, if you want work, then book your hol­i­days, be­cause the work will come,” Nic Stave­ley ad­vised. It’s an adage that the com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­pher has found to come true time and time again — ev­ery time he books in his own per­sonal ad­ven­tures, jet-set­ting off to ex­plore the likes of Amer­ica and In­dia, he’ll get a call from his agent say­ing a job is ready to roll. As you might imag­ine, it can get highly frus­trat­ing when you book in even a sim­ple weekend in Welling­ton, and then, sur­prise! A job pops its head up, caus­ing you to have to re­think the trip or turn down a work­ing op­por­tu­nity.

It’s some­thing many free­lance pho­tog­ra­phers have to deal with, but Stave­ley has come to terms with the fact that you have to live your life and ex­plore your own per­sonal pro­jects — and that some­times these per­sonal ex­pe­di­tions can also be fi­nan­cially re­ward­ing.

One of his re­cent per­sonal pro­jects saw him re­turn to Amer­ica, af­ter pre­vi­ously vis­it­ing in 2014, with just an eight-year-old Canon 5D Mark II, an f/1.4 50mm, and an f/1.4 35mm in hand, ready to pho­to­graph any scene or sub­ject that cap­tured his at­ten­tion. One thing he took away from this trip was the fact that, while trav­el­ling around the same coun­try, he was see­ing so many dif­fer­ent ways of life.

“The last trip, I was there with my girl­friend, and we drove right the way around the south­ern states, Louisiana and Alabama, all that kind of thing. It was so dif­fer­ent from the first time that we went, when we went to Death Val­ley, South Carolina, Ge­or­gia — it’s like 52 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, 52 dif­fer­ent ac­cents, and dif­fer­ent kinds of ways of think­ing — and it’s all one coun­try,” Stave­ley ex­plained.

And that’s what he wanted to com­mu­ni­cate — he wasn’t in­ter­ested in rein­vent­ing the wheel; he just wanted to cap­ture the images as he ex­pe­ri­enced them.

“You get into these sit­u­a­tions — like we were at a diner — just an all-Amer­i­can, trashy, scum­bag diner in Louisiana — and we’re look­ing around and think­ing every­thing here could be a movie, and you want to take that

photo,” he said. “But then you think, I should try [to] … find an­other angle on this, but I’d just rather pho­to­graph what’s there, and if it’s cliché or seen be­fore, then so be it.”

This can­did-photo style of shoot­ing in his per­sonal pho­tog­ra­phy en­deav­ours, as well as his procla­ma­tion that he’s not too pre­cious about his photographs, has seen ex­pan­sion of the chan­nels in which his pho­tog­ra­phy gets seen and pur­chased. Stave­ley has broad­ened his fi­nan­cial streams from not only his big-project free­lance com­mer­cial jobs — which, of course, are the op­por­tu­ni­ties re­quired to keep his free­lanc­ing ca­reer vi­able — but also by sell­ing his per­sonal-project images as prints via places like Duett De­sign.

“It’s just work that I’ve done that’s maybe been on the back of shoots — it’s all landscapes … stuff that I’ve taken while I’ve been away,” he said. “They’ve said to me, ‘Oh this would be great as a print’. So, ob­vi­ously, I was like, ‘Yep, sweet as’. At the end of the day, those pho­tos are sit­ting on a hard drive, and I’m not pre­cious about my work at all.”

Of course, trends change like the tide, and Stave­ley is aware that some peo­ple may view his prints as what is ‘in’ at a par­tic­u­lar time, but he’s ab­so­lutely not fazed by this, stat­ing that he’ll take a photo purely be­cause it in­ter­ests him to take that photo, not be­cause he’s try­ing to cre­ate a pop­u­lar image which peo­ple will buy. Then, “[i]f some­one else sees it and thinks, ‘Oh that’s re­ally on trend now’, I’ll be like, sweet — that’s how it is, that’s money. I like the idea that those photographs would be sit­ting un­seen oth­er­wise. As far as hav­ing a style to them, it’s just a bunch of images I had, and [I was asked], ‘Do you have any­thing that’s got this in it?’, and I’m like, ‘Yup, I’ve got this batch’. ‘What about oceans?’. ‘Yup, got a whole bunch of that — tell me what you want be­cause I’ve got hun­dreds, thou­sands of images sit­ting there’.” Stave­ley ex­plained, with a laugh.

It’s clear that a pho­tog­ra­pher may never know when an image they shot some time ago may come back into their lives, as has been the case with a project Stave­ley worked on about four years ago, a se­ries of com­mu­nity-hall shots

from around New Zealand made pos­si­ble on the back of a Fon­terra job that saw him travel the coun­try for three weeks with an as­sis­tant, ex­plor­ing the com­mu­nity halls of the var­i­ous small towns that they came across. Stave­ley shot many images that he found in­trigu­ing as an added bonus for the client.

“I ended up giv­ing them to the job be­cause I was try­ing to go above and be­yond, as you do … “[We were] go­ing around all the small towns ask­ing who had the keys to the halls and pho­tograph­ing mainly the doors, and, af­ter a while — we ended up go­ing to 30 or 40 of them — I found the same type of stuff in ev­ery one that we went to. There was al­ways an enamel

jug, al­ways cer­tain things, no mat­ter where it was or how run­down it was,” he re­called.

He couldn’t pre­dict that his jour­ney around New Zealand, and the re­sult­ing images, would come back to the front of his mind in re­la­tion to an al­ter­na­tive project in the fu­ture: “They’ve al­ways stuck with me, be­cause they’re not re­ally like any of the com­mer­cial-type pho­tos that I do. They’re quite a nice his­tor­i­cal thing, be­cause the halls are get­ting taken down, so I would like to do — and I am sure it’s been done — but I would like to do a com­mu­nity-hall book, or some­thing like that.”

With photo books on the mind, Stave­ley said that he’s con­sid­er­ing bring­ing his re­cent Amer­i­can jour­neys from the past few years to­gether into a book as well, and he’s of the opin­ion that he’d be cre­at­ing any photo books that he de­cides on for mar­ket­ing pur­poses.

“Every­one al­ways says art di­rec­tors love see­ing per­sonal pro­jects, which I have been told by art di­rec­tors that I have been to see — they’ve said it’s great to see per­sonal stuff be­cause it shows pas­sion,” said Stave­ley. “Maybe some peo­ple be­lieve that — it’s just a tricky one to know. Know­ing what to pho­to­graph is tricky.”

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