Friday, August 7, 2009

Interview - John Laurie

Photos by John Laurie - food styling by Simon Bajada

Photos by John Laurie - food styling by Simon Bajada

Photos by John Laurie - food styling by Simon Bajada

I first met photgrapher John Laurie through Megan Morton (TDF favourite person of the week/month/year - have you noticed?).

Here's the thing - after 15 years in the business of creating beautiful images, Megan knows a LOT about photographers, image-making and the magazine / print industry... and she reckons John Laurie is the next big thing. You heard it here first. If you're in print/advertising/media - take note! (And get him while you can still can!)

Aside from creating the most effortlessly raw, honest and beautiful photographs, I have to say that John is truly the loveliest, most relaxed and modest photographer in the business! I have had the pleasure of working with him twice recently, and each time John has rocked up to the shoot with just his camera and tripod - no assistant, no complicated equipment or heavy lights. (Both times he has also unsuccessfully tried to convince me it's because he doesn't know how to use them!). On set, John shoots in the most calm, thoughtful way - chatting and joking all the way through... asking my advice (as if I would have a better idea than him!), making friends left, right and centre, and generally making everyone feel completely at ease. It's a rare and beautiful thing in such a competitive and stressful industry!

It's been a big year for John Laurie. He's recently gone out on his own after assisting for a couple of years, and has also set up a brand new studio in Kensington with friend and mentor Mark Roper. He is currently in Spain shooting a feature for Gourmet Traveller (you can also see his beautiful work in the July issue!), and will also soon be welcoming a new baby into the family! However, as you can tell by his wonderfully candid responses in the following interview, John takes it all in his stride with an extremely level-head - and one eye keenly on the surf report!

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

First up I did a Bachelor of Business Management with a Marketing Major at the University of South Australia and ended up in the heady world of advertising agencies for a few years. It was ok but my creative side was being repressed a little so I hit the road and headed on the overseas sabbatical for a few years. I was always pretty artistic at school and the camera seemed like a pretty good outlet for me to capture things whilst I was away. It sort of evolved organically from there I guess. In 2003 I packed my things and came to Melbourne to study photography at Photography Studies College. I ended up majoring in Photojournalism but didn’t complete the course, and started assisting Derek Swalwell and Mark Roper. I did that for about 2 years and finished up last December to be now doing what I’m doing.

What have been some favourite shoots / projects you’ve worked on recently?

Definitely the trip for Gourmet Traveller to France and Switzerland. It taught me a lot of valuable in-the-field lessons that I can certainly apply in the future. It was both really exciting and nerve racking at the same time, as meeting others expectations is always daunting. A recent trip around Australia for Monument Magazine taking portraits of up and coming designers was also fantastic. It was great to work solo and have interesting conversations with like-minded people in relaxing environments.

You’ve recently gone out on your own after assisting for a few years, and have also set up a new studio in Kensington. What prompted this courageous career move, and how is it going?

To date, the career has been going really well (touch wood). I’ve been pretty flat out and lucky to be doing loads of different stuff in a way that I like to shoot (medium format neg) so that has been great. The studio is definitely getting there. My business partner and I have been pretty busy with our personal careers so juggling setting up a studio and managing your own work load is a real challenge. We have really turned the corner though now and are putting a far greater focus on creating a great space / location focusing on a relaxed easy-going vibe. What prompted it? I guess I knew I was ready. Being a little bit older than most assistants and in my second career has given me good confidence to move on knowing that I can deal with clients pretty well, which is a really big thing in this industry. In terms of the studio, it was a real gift horse and I would have been foolish not to pursue it as I am really now starting to reap the benefits of such a beautiful space. Oh and I also needed to get out of the house as we have turned the study into a nursery!

Working for yourself can be really difficult for creative people. What are the challenges you have faced working for yourself – do you struggle with the business side of things, for motivation to get started on a project, or networking etc? How do you tackle these parts of your job?

I definitely do struggle with the business side of things. I’m reasonably rubbish at accounting and keeping on top of incomings and outgoings but I am slowly improving. On the motivation side of things I’m not too bad. I have loads of ideas and some get executed and quite a few don’t. I am learning more and more that it is more about seeing the process from idea to creation through and if at the end of the day the results are no good it has still been worthwhile sticking at it and seeing it through. Working for myself has loads of challenges – definitely book keeping, definitely motivation to be proactive and get test shoots done, and to follow up leads, but aside from that it would be pretty hard to work for anyone else now. I’m a really great boss I think – I allow lots of breaks and if the surf is pumping I’m pretty lenient on myself!

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

The beauty and freshness of Thomas Campbell, the adventurous streak and nonchalance of Wolfgang Tillmans, the perfection and silence of Candida Hofer, the banality and simplicity of Alec Soth, the all round balance of Andrew Kidman, the mysticism and free - flowingness of Haruki Murakami, the cultural significance and timeliness of Dave Eggers, the smooth pared back melodies of Calexico and DJ Krush, the light and shade and awkwardness of Laura Letinsky and the freedom to create and capture things for what they are of Toby Glanville.

I’m constantly inspired by my family and my friends. They keep me wondering, wandering, honest and humble.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I’m either shooting on location (more often than not) or at the studio retouching images, scanning negatives, invoicing and quoting for jobs, organising my portfolio and updating my website (this doesn’t happen as much as it should!), contacting people to arrange meetings to try and get work with either ad agencies or magazines, heaps of procrastinating, sending messages to my mates, listening to music, reading books and magazines and generally pretending to be much busier than I actually am.

What would be your dream photography project?

A tough question. I’m pretty into remoteness and vastness – to go to places that not heaps of people have been to that are still pretty untouched. Places that are rich in their own culture and relatively unchanged really excite me. That’s why I like the old small villages of Europe with their traditional practices and old run down buildings. Beyond this, a road trip across the American prairies during Autumn would be pretty all time – loads of beautiful colours and stark landscapes. It’s real Joel Sternfeld, Wim Wenders country out there and has always been a fascination for me. I love landscapes that have no interruptions along the horizon – just wide vacant scapes made up of colours and textures. Remote Japan would be really cool too, as would Mongolia and a little boat trip through the South Pacific – hanging out with locals and surfing lots of good waves and documenting the whole process would also be pretty life changing. So I guess I don’t really have just one. It’s more of a vibe than anything else that I really strive for. I could be anywhere as long as there is beautiful soft light and heavy shadows!

What are you looking forward to?

Being a dad again, going to Spain, shaping a surfboard, working with interesting and mellow people, eating and drinking good food and booze with friends and family, pushing creative boundaries and having an exhibition.

Melbourne Questions –

Your favourite art/design bookshop in Melbourne?

Tricky one. I used to work at Cosmos in St Kilda (now Readings) whilst I was studying photography so I have a real soft spot for it. I really like the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville, Metropolis and the Greville St bookstore. The NGV also has a great range of magazines.

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

A little Swedish speciality down at Flinders cooked by some friends. Perfect Sunday night food. On a commercial level, the dim sum at Lau’s Family Kitchen last week was pretty spectacular.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Either down at the park chasing my little daughter Mackenzie around or if the surf is good down at Bells with the lads

Melbourne’ best kept secret?

I’m not sure if there are too many of them. I really dig the whole Sun Theatre experience in Yarraville. It’s old, authentic and serves popcorn in paper bags and you can go and grab a blanket if you get too cold. It’s never busy and everyone is super friendly. It’s a good genuine experience.


  1. Great interview and I love John's work. Will defo be keeping an eye out for his stuff in the future.

  2. John;s photos are absolutely amazing - shame he doesn't need an assistant :) Thanks for the great interview Lucy.

  3. His images are absolutely beautiful.

  4. just gorgeous photographs.

    also, big fan of your blog

  5. wow. I find a lot of photography all looks very similar, but there is something in these that stands out. Something raw about them that I love. Really fantastic.

  6. Lovely to see such great talent on the page (from a guy who seems quite modest and still energetic and enthusiastic about what he is doing). I love the wistful food pictures especially.
    Lee Tran

  7. These are lovely, there is something different from other photos i have seen

  8. Hey nice writeup! John is our studio neighbour in Kensington and lets us eat his food props from time to time (like that pear tart at the top - delicious!!). Nice one John!