On the sun washed shores of Sydney, Memento & Ben put feet to sand ahead of #BM-DROP01. Ben shares his background as a photographer and his thoughts on balancing online & offline mediums.
What first prompted you to get into photography?
I've always been a lover of photography and just capturing media in general both video and photography. I think it's funny because I started with film photography and now, I don't shoot film photography at all, apart from Polaroids. And I think that's what brought me in was film photography when I was at school. So I think I was probably about 16 years old, and they ran a film photography class at my school. And I think the class lasted about three, four months because a whole bunch of kids dropped out because they just didn't enjoy it, but I loved it. Because so many kids dropped out, they unfortunately just canned the whole class. Even though I still wanted to do it, I had no access. Cameras were just so expensive back then and I'm only just a school kid. So I didn't have any money to go and purchase my own cameras, but I was always interested. And so, then a few years later after I'd left school, I bought my first DSLR and I took it traveling with me and I took the most terrible photos of all time with it. Back then I wasn't looking to create a lot of the type of artwork you see on my profiles now. It was more about the experience for me traveling.
“I actually loved it from the very beginning. I think it kind of started tickling the memories of my childhood of picking up these film cameras and then just grew from there.”
It was probably quite a few years after that is where I started taking photography seriously. I bought my first drone - it was an Inspire 1 from DJI and it was a super expensive drone and cost me $5,000 dollars. And for me the most expensive camera I purchased prior to that was probably about a $900 camera. And so I was just intrigued by being able to take a camera in the sky. I hadn’t liked the first few drones since they just had this really warped fisheye look at the world. When the Inspire came out it was more of what your eye would see if you were floating around at that level a couple hundred feet in the air. And it was really interesting because any of the aerial photography anyone had seen at that point was usually coming from a helicopter. And so helicopters are usually set around five hundred to one thousand feet. So you are quite high and it's really super wide angle shots because you're so far away from everything so drones just offered this really unique angle. And so for me, I was super intrigued because I had spent so much money to get into it. I just figured I have to take it a little bit seriously. I couldn’t allow it to be this toy that just sat in the cupboard. I actually loved it from the very beginning. I think it kind of started tickling the memories of my childhood of picking up these film cameras and then just grew from there. Then naturally being from Sydney and living on the beaches. I just love the ocean and what it offers, the uniqueness of it, I love the colors that come through at sunrise and sunset, and things just naturally grew from there until where we are today.
Building from what you just shared - do you have anything to add on what motivates you as a photographer today or how those motivations may have changed over time?
I think motivation is 100% different today than when I started. I think this is the evolution that a lot of creative people go on. You do things for you and then it grows to this point where people appreciate what you create. Then at some point it kind of flip-flops a bit and you're actually creating more for others. I think I'm not your typical photographer because I’m not doing less documentary style and commercial photography. For me, it's been more about just evoking emotions vs documenting places, events or people. I know that a lot of people who either live by the sea or live by the ocean. There's just this relaxation. This great reset which I like to call it where you can just calm your mind. And so for me when people give me the feedback that that's what they're feeling like, it's a little bit selfish but I love that, I love being able to give that to people. And so in terms of where my motivation comes from today, I'm not looking to just show people nice pictures. I'm looking to take people on an emotional journey and hopefully one that can calm and better connect them to themselves.
When I see that type of emotion evoked in people from my work it just fuels my fire to shoot more. I’ve grown to learn it’s not only a very pure type of motivation but also the deepest and it goes further and it lasts longer. I kind of liken it to a match stick or a log on the fire - it's something that can burn much longer. As a parent, I feel the same way. My life is so much greater when I'm living for more than just me. I'm living for them too and I want the best for them. So, I feel the same way about my art. I feel like if we can travel further and be more meaningful to more people, it's that log on the fire, it burns longer and longer and it's so motivating for me.
“I’ve grown to learn it’s a very pure type of motivation [and] also one that is the deepest and lasts the longest.”
When getting your work out into the world, how do you think about the balance between offline and online mediums? Whether it be prints, books or your presence through social media and your website, etc.
It's not easy, that's for sure. I'm old enough to remember when things were all offline but I'm also young enough to understand that being online is super important and I think it's a healthy tool. If you use it correctly you can really connect and in a much more efficient way. It's difficult though. Because for anyone who spend too much time in an online atmosphere, you can easily get sucked in and just pulled down the vortex.
“It's humbling that people choose to have a permanent piece of my physical work. I definitely don't take that for granted.””
I sometimes hand deliver some of my larger prints to people who are local to me. And sometimes I have this strange feeling of imposter syndrome related to someone who spent so much money purchasing this huge print from me. And then when I'm hand delivering it, I'm unsure whether or not their reaction is going to be good or not. They obviously spent enough time to invest in a piece that really means something to them, but I always have that feeling like maybe it's not gonna work maybe it's not gonna land. I'm always reminded by their positive reactions that maybe I'm good enough for this and it's super humbling that people choose to have a permanent piece of my physical work. I definitely don't take that for granted at all and it leaves much more of an impression than online interactions. It's something that I want to continue to do for the rest of my life and maybe open up a physical gallery because I'm strictly online at the moment.
Why do you think fashion can be a powerful medium for photography and how has Memento influenced that opinion?
It was interesting when I first spoke to Memento about this concept, I'd never really thought about the possibility or making this connection. As far as my mind would allow me, it was just traditional wall prints. I suppose for me the last couple of years my eyes have opened up to things like nft's and opening up the limits of my work. When you feel so strongly about a piece of art you're proud to show it off in your home or your office. And so I think fashion is a beautiful progression from that. It allows people to showcase a great photograph and feel physically closer to it. I'm nervous about me landing as an artist in this space because it has to be done well but I'm also excited by this massive potential that's behind it.
“Fashion is a beautiful progression. It allows people to showcase a great photograph and feel physically closer to it.”
Compared to other types of artists on social media, hardly any photographers sell apparel. When you think about it, I don't even understand the reasons why, it just doesn't make any sense. It should be something that should be up there with other forms of art. There is probably a bit of this feeling sometimes in photography that anyone can just take a photo vs. say create a graphic design. So that could be where some of the resistance has been in bringing photography to apparel because it could appear less valued. But that’s why curation is critical. Not having any focus on quality and curation until now has justified the reasons why photography has not made a transition to apparel. Photography drives so much emotion and engagement on social media vs. other art forms so I’m excited about the potential.
To wrap up our session, what single piece of advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
Single piece? Okay, I don't want to sound too cliche because I can definitely get super cliche. If it's gonna be a single piece, it's just got to be - just enjoy the process and just keep shooting. If you just continually shoot it's the only way to get better. You can watch YouTube videos or you can take courses. But the only thing that's gonna hone you to be the best photographer you can be is reps. And outside of that, probably also shooting a few different genres that are outside of your typical style. That will absolutely lead to more creativity and progress in your core style.