Artist Byron Spencer. Interview by Benjamen Judd.
One of the fascinating side-effects of living in a digital age with a social media generation is the experience of watching someone grow-up. This is most often in a literal sense, as we witness the very physicality of a person change before our eyes.
But it can also be in a more nuanced, philosophical sense, such as the case with Sydney-based photographer Byron Spencer and his exhibition running as part of Head On Festival – ‘You’ at Leonard Mattis Studio.
Better known for his documentation of Sydney’s music scene and street-style images for the Sun Herald, Spencer’s ‘You’ is an exercise in maturation.
Paired back and raw, ‘You’ takes a look at the narrative that occurs between model, camera and photographer. By focusing on those details that fascinated him – be it their lips, the outline of a shoulder or the contrast of flesh – Byron exposes himself through his images as much as he exposes his subject.
We sat down with Byron to chat about his latest exhibition.
INTERVIEW WITH BYRON SPENCER
In your bio it states that you’re mostly self-taught when it comes to photography. Can you tell me what inspired you to take up this medium?
I have always been inspired by taking photos.
My background is in theatre and classical music so I think there is a lot of the essence from that training comes to life when I take a photo.
I also tend to live a lot in my imagination so I think photography was a real escape for me to physically create a lot of those fantasies!
What other photographers inspire you?
I love listening to interviews and documentaries when I am in the retouch stage.
Years ago I was influenced by classic artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and Helmet Newton.
My transition into hyper-colour surrealness saw me inspired by lots of other photographers. I love the theatre of David La Chapelle, and appreciate his journey and career; I also loved Tracey Moffat in high school. There was so much animation and colour yet was still so emotive.
I love and find inspiration in paintings too!
You are probably better known for your pop-art style editorials and capturing the Sydney party scene – What lead you to the more intimate and sombre tones we see in ‘You’?
This project is still developing a lot as I write this. I won’t be surprised if colour pops back into these works.
When I first started experimenting with more stylized photography, (I was previously shooting street style for the sun herald and various parties around Sydney) I was shooting very simple, classic nudes.
It was a project I had always wanted to do and I guess in a way a bit cliche. But going through all the experimentation I have tried in my work there is something quite nice about stylistically pulling it back and returning to where I started. A lot of the works are black and white but a lot of the subjects are super colourful human beings!
Can you talk us through the process of your images in ‘You’? What kind of relationship did you develop with your subject?
For ‘You’, I am shooting people that have inspired me and intrigued me on some level. I am fascinated with how the internet has made so many people consciously (or even sub consciously) place themselves on a platform for others to view.
I guess in turn, it has deepened my intrigue with these people more as ‘characters’. I have tried to ‘amplify’ and celebrate an element of them that has fascinated me, whether it be a girls lips, or a dancers hands. It’s my view of them.
But I am super intrigued about keeping it feeling raw and true to their personality, so I make sure it also feels unique to them. I am intrigued by self-view versus an outsider’s perspective – “how we see ourselves? How do others see us?” Y’know!
Lastly, and probably the most difficult question – what do you think constitutes a good photograph?
Hmmm. A story. An emotion. It needs to make you feel something in some way. But that is so broad because everyone’s tastes are broad?! What is a good photograph?
‘YOU’ A solo exhibition by Byron Spencer
An intimate moment with one subject, and a celebration of collaboration with a creative team to capture a unique portrait.
‘You’ opens at the studio on Wednesday 6th May, 6.30-9pm.
Exhibition: 7th-18th May.
Proudly sponsored by Two Birds Brewing and Stolen Rum.
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