Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interview - Tim James

All photos by Tim James

Tim James is an incredible Melbourne-based photographer with an unusual background... he started his professional career as an accountant! I always think it's incredibly brave to go back to study something new as a mature age student - and particularly if it means throwing in a reliable job, in favour of the ups and downs of the crazy freelance world!

In Tim's case, the decision paid off - in only a couple of years since graduating, he's already working consistently for some of Australia's favourite magazines, including Inside Out and Real Living. (Actually, I met him because he was the photographer on that Real Living '5 Secrets' shoot!)

Anyway, isn't his work beautiful!? Browsing through his folio I realised much of his work includes images I have admired and clipped out of magazines in past couple of years... the top image, of Mark Tuckey's Melbourne home, for instance. Tim's work seems to have a real warmth to it... and whilst his interiors always look polished, they also look relaxed, real and inviting.

Read on for an insight into Tim's background and creative inspirations!

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

Well, I’ve done my share of study. I have a Bachelor of Commerce Degree with a major in Accounting. This was the result of a scholarship gained during my final year of high school. I have a Chartered Accounting qualification and I more recently have a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in Commercial Photography.

What led me to where I am now was a combination of being frustrated with the work I was doing and the inspiration I gained from completing a couple of short courses at St Martins College in London. I actually wanted to be a fashion designer and did a course in styling and a second in design. The outcome of the two courses was a renewed love of photography and a desire to make a change in my life that was probably long overdue.

Photography is a big change from accountancy - It must have been a huge decision to go back to uni and make the switch! What inspired you to make this big move? How does your career now compare with your previous career path?

It certainly was a huge decision to change career paths, but the decision to go back to Uni was an easy one. I could study continuously if given the chance. I’ve always loves learning new things and believe that we can achieve just about anything we set out to do if we remain curious and open to ideas. I was fortunate once making the decision that I had a supportive group of friends who understood my frustration with work previously and knew that I needed to make a change. One of the best things to have come from the decision was to have close friends reassure me and tell me they thought I was brave to have made such a dramatic change. That meant a lot to me as I naturally risk averse and this is a huge risk.

Photography is an extremely competitive business, especially for newcomers... but you’re definitely a success story – you’ve worked steadily for some fantastic clients and publications since graduating from RMIT. What do you think has been the secret to your success so far?

Honestly, I think it’s a combination of work ethic, the fact that I love meeting new and interesting people and a little luck to boot. I think the fact that I’m a mature age graduate and that my previous career involved teamwork and a lot of interaction with people has helped no end.

Creative people often find it really difficult to network and market themselves – how do you approach this side of your business? Do you have an agent? Do you makes a point of actively seeking out clients or publications you would like to work with?

I don’t in fact have an agent. It is an extremely competitive market and most of the agents I know in Melbourne and/or Sydney already represent photographers shooting food/interiors. In the long term I think it would help open up new opportunities, but in the short term I’ve managed to go out and represent myself. I feel as though I have a better chance of getting the message across if I do it in person. I’ve been a huge consumer of books/magazines over the years so I knew who to approach and found everyone to be encouraging.

Which photographers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

I love fashion photography and always liked photographers like Glen Luchford, Richard Avedon and Nick Knight. I’ve also been fortunate enough to see plenty of Art and have loved artists as diverse as Jackson Pollock, Constable, Picasso… but the most impressive series of images I’ve ever stood in front of was a collection of some 38 Van Gogh paintings in the middle of a national park in the Netherlands. You could literally stand centimetres away from the Paris at Night series. Inspiring. Probably the biggest inspiration for me full stop is music. I’m an avid music collector and still cannot come at things like iTunes when all I want is to hold that disk in my hand and have the pleasure of owning and playing it.

Where else do you find inspiration (books, particular magazines, the net, everyday life?)

Many things. I do a lot of visual research. Film, Books, Magazines and Websites all make for good research so long as you can filter out the rubbish and find those rare little gems. Music again (as above) is a huge influence and record/cd sleeves often contain amazing imagery. Music is just one of those fundamentals that’s so important for the soul, for development, for enjoyment and to express what we’re feeling.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

The concept of a typical workday almost doesn’t exist for me at the moment. I tend to shoot 2-3 times a week and spend 2-3 days in front of the computer processing all the files. The only common theme is that I’m up and out the door early and usually sitting in front of the computer well into the evening.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Probably that I’ve managed to make a transition into the industry at all. There are a few little milestones that I’m proud of like my first cover and first published book, but I’m most proud of the fact I finally took the risk and made a change.

What's the best thing about your job?

The best thing about the job is that it’s different every time and you’re always problem solving. The minute you’re outside of a controlled studio environment there are so many variables that have an impact on the way you need to work. It’s also a great job in terms of meeting people from such different backgrounds. This keeps it fresh and means that you’re never far away from another satisfying experience.

And the worst?

The uncertainty. This may be the accountant in me talking, but a lot can be said for a regular salary, superannuation and a logical pathway to progress a career. A creative career involves a great deal of risk until you are established, and I still feel as though I have a long way to go before I can start treating this as a secure and enduring career choice.

What would be your dream project?

To have a cookbook published. I enjoy my food and the challenge of shooting it and would love to shoot cookbooks. Food is far from easy because it changes in front of you, but good cookbooks get the tastebuds going and done properly can inspire people to cook for themselves.

What are you looking forward to?

The day when I can actually step back and find that I have substantially achieved the goals I’ve set for myself. This is not a career you can take for granted. I believe the average career for a photographer spans about two years so I’m not going to take the time to reflect on things just yet.

Melbourne Questions –

Where is the best gallery in Melbourne to see the work of emerging Australian photographers?

The difficulty here is that there are not a lot of dedicated spaces for photographers. CCP is the one that comes to mind. The emerging photographers tend to have to hire space when they have enough work to exhibit so you have to keep your eye out and do some research. There are plenty of galleries around St. Kilda, Prahran, Fitzroy and Collingwood where you’ll find interesting work if you look hard enough.

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

It was a Christmas Eve dinner at Vue de Monde. I managed (as usual) to eat myself stupid but it was worth it. It certainly made Christmas lunch an even tougher test. I’m a sucker for French food and I do like to try different things so Vue’s a perfect fit. Its where I like to take friends visiting Melbourne from Overseas.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

At the gym. I hate sleeping in and wasting the day so this is a good way to get up and going and to have done something positive to start the weekend. I’m usually a little slack with my eating on the weekend so at least I can convince myself that I’ve earned it.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

A coffee from the European on Spring Street. It’s probably not a well kept secret given it seems to be busy every time I’m there, but it’s something I miss when I’m away from Melbourne and something I’ve never been able to match elsewhere. Failing that, it has to be a burger from Andrew’s in Albert Park or my favourite beach, but I’m not letting that secret see the light of day.

I scanned this additional image from a clipping I already had.... sorry for the inset picture on the right-hand side! I just really wanted to include this image of the gorgeous rustic kitchen...! Love the deep, rich colours popping against the white wall and window.

Thanks so much for your time Tim!


  1. love his photographs! very inspiring also =)

  2. Great photography and career change story :)

  3. Tim definitely made the right decision to switch from accountancy to photography. His pictures are absolutely beautiful to look at - hard to draw my eyes away from them!

  4. beautiful images.
    i'm wondering how old Tim was when he went back to uni, any chance he could share?

  5. Thanks for all your encouraging comments!

    Vanessa, John, Lee - I can only agree with you all...! I just love Tim's work!

    The Projectivist... I am not sure how old Tim was when he went back to uni... I will email him and see if he can respond!

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :) x

  6. HI Lucy
    I was just crusing the blog circuit and stumbled up on a post about Tim James (from party perfect) , and then realised it was from your blog. Great to read the interview, I still remember him popping into the studio at rmit, love his work. Very inspiring. And totally love your blog, keep up the great work .

  7. Oh hello Aurore! Would that be Anette's Aurore? I think it must be...!

    Yes isn't Tim's work gorgeous! I've been looking at your photos of the snowy mountains too... so beautiful!

    Must catch up when you are back in town... perhaps that will be a long way off though? Anyway lovely to hear from you! xx