entering the creative space

emma byrnes melbourne photographer
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
Weavings by Melbourne textile artist David Pearce. Photographs by  Emma Byrnes

Weavings by Melbourne textile artist David Pearce. Photographs by Emma Byrnes

Exploration is often the necessary first step when photographing creative people in their working spaces and over time I have learnt that it’s OK to go in blind and stumble around for a while to get my bearings and soak up their environment. In fact it is the most magical way to undertake the brief. Maintaining my child-like curiosity and appreciating the small moments can help to formulate the story. Slowing down and having a chat by taking coffee/tea with them in their workspace or just sitting and observing them at work can be very valuable time spent.
Because my approach as a photographer stems from a place of observation and interest in human behaviour - I am sensitive to emotions. I am also very happy to be the one on the camera-side and profess I am particularly sensitive to what people go through on the other side. But whilst I like to be on my side of the camera I am certainly not a stealthy, detached observer.  A big part of my job is connecting with people, reaching out across the borders and boundaries of what may be perceived to exist.

One of the first things I read is how comfortable this person might be with a lens in their face.  This is something that may have been flagged beforehand but I generally also judge on the day.  I don’t like being an imposition on people’s intimate spaces and so I often choose to tread slowly yet quietly confident that the trust will build over time.

If the person is more reserved I will often employ techniques like long exposures (blurring the subject), unconventional framing and letting their work and tools speak on their behalf whilst they can ebb and flow around the edges. This approach can tend to result in more ethereal or suggestive imagery.

But If I sense that they are instantly relaxed then we can begin with gusto and the images will often reflect that more robust, sharp and bold approach.

Often their personal grooming/attire can be a good indicator of their general approach/working method and hence how they would be best represented.
For example my friend David Pearce whose work is featured in the photographs above is a very meticulous textile artist (it can take up to 4 years for him to make a garment from scratch ie hand spinning, hand dyeing, knitting) His clothes are always well-pressed and he is very well-groomed. His work is painstaking in it’s detail and therefore when he asked me to photograph him with weavings in his studio I almost unconsciously ensured that the images were stripped back and minimal - much like him. 
Another visual creative friend Anna of Sweet Polka asked me to document her folio. There is apparently a tried and true formula for documenting folio’s - flat lay, point/shoot done. This is all well and good but I couldn’t help but bring her into the process. Her personal aesthetic reflects the work she does. She wrote a blog post about that day we spent together.

Paintings lined up at Sarah Tomasetti’s studio. Photograph by  Emma Byrnes

Paintings lined up at Sarah Tomasetti’s studio. Photograph by Emma Byrnes

Another thing I will observe when entering the space of a creative is the colour palette of their work and how it may be reflected in their belongings/clothing/studio environment.  
For example my client Sarah Tomasetti has very pared back colour palettes in her oil paintings. And her studio reflects this unfussy quality featuring deep timbers and plastered white walls with very few bright colours, even on the book shelves (pictured above).  Having been trained initially as a photojournalist I generally don’t like to interfere with what is in front of me. I take environments more or less as they come and use the surrounds to inform the work. But for some of Sarah’s photo sessions I have removed just one or two items (such as bright plastic buckets or a flouro highlighter from her desk) as they have distracted from what is otherwise a very unconsciously nuanced scenario that ties in so wonderfully with her paintings and their palette.  

I will also look at the equipment and materials the artist uses. How they are stored? Are they messy? Tidy? Does this reflect on their personal style/artworks/design? Physical features can also play a big part - wild hair/dirty hands/bare feet? 
For example my friend Joanna Fowles is a textile dying creative . Her indigo-stained hands and mottled drop sheets are a big indicator of her work life and practice. Images capturing these details would certainly be key photographs in a story about her creative practice. In fact next time I visit Sydney I am compelled to enter her studio and put aside some time to capture her at work :-)

Sometimes time pressure can take me into the SHOOT FIRST/ TALK LATER work mode.  Or the artist may be already engaged in their work when I step into the space. Rather than interrupting what is obvious flow I will stand back and observe - ascertaining the mood, environment, personality through subtle cues and markers. Are they happy for me to be there? I try to make eye contact and if they respond then I will nod and gain their trust. Other times they may feel uncomfortable with me interrupting and I slow down to let them know that I am not a threat to the pace of the environment and will warm them up slowly.

Other questions that I will ask myself during a shoot are:
Do I need to change my point of view or my lens? Do I need to guide the artist into a different part of the workspace? Do I wait for more suitable light? Should I get less literal and use slower shutter speeds or multiple exposures?

So many variables go into creating the right circumstances for these shoots to succeed but when I find myself in these situations I am like a pig in mud.

Get in touch if you would like to book a photography session in your creative space.

And view other blog posts in the “intimate observations” series here.

signal arts

emma byrnes photographer melbournea
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes chi ngyuen
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
Signal Arts  is a creative studio for young people aged 13-25 in Melbourne CBD. The images above are from the Signal Summer showcase 2019 and the Young Creative Lab project. Photographs by  Emma Byrnes

Signal Arts is a creative studio for young people aged 13-25 in Melbourne CBD. The images above are from the Signal Summer showcase 2019 and the Young Creative Lab project. Photographs by Emma Byrnes

I was invited to document the impressive summer showcase at Signal Arts. Ten days of workshops culminated in an impressive showcase with 120 young people presenting words from a variety of creative disciplines including visual art, sculpture, music, spoken word, theatre, performance and animation.
If you know any young creatives who live in or near Melbourne be sure to steer their attention towards the Signal - it’s a terrific program offering young people the opportunity to work alongside professional artists in a collaborative way, through multi-artform workshops and mentoring.
What a gift to emerging young artists and ultimately the City of Melbourne!

mid century playfulness

emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
emma byrnes, melbourne photographer, sustainable interior design, megan norgate, brave new eco, the design files
The suite of images above were featured on  The Design Files  - a beautiful mid-century family pad that speaks volumes of the ‘character, tenacity and good taste of the people that inhabit it.’ Photographs by  Emma Byrnes

The suite of images above were featured on The Design Files - a beautiful mid-century family pad that speaks volumes of the ‘character, tenacity and good taste of the people that inhabit it.’ Photographs by Emma Byrnes

2018 was fantastic for my working relationship with Megan Norgate of Brave New Eco - a client I have had since 2014.

My work with Megan includes interiors photography and occasionally donning a communications/marketing hat!
Megan had a terrific amount of media coverage (that included photographs by me) in both print and online publications including The Design Files: Inside Out; The Local Project; Sanctuary Magazine; The Lunchbox Architect; House and Garden; Domain and Dwell Magazine.

Megan summed up the bonanza of press attention in a recent BNE newsletter:
”It seems that this year a whole lot of people sat up and took notice of what we have been doing here at Brave New Eco over the last few years. Sustainable design is finally where we have always envisaged it - at the forefront of people's design-thinking.”

Looking forward to the privilege of working alongside such a talented interior designer as Megan in 2019.

throwing shadows from the sun

emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
emma byrnes, spacecraft studio, garland magazine, screen printing melbourne
Photographs by  Emma Byrnes

Photographs by Emma Byrnes

In November I captured Spacecraft at work in their Rokeby studio on a botanical prints series that had been commissioned for KFive + KinnarpsBoyd Collection. The images accompanied an article on the project by Eugenia Lim in Garland Magazine and needed to reflect the interplay between Spacecraft’s research, handcraft, materiality and digital production - the conversation that Lim explores in depth throughout the article.

As Lim writes:

“In Spacecraft’s series of commissioned prints for KFive + Kinnarps’ Boyd Collection furniture, site, history, language, art and architecture intermingle under the guise of soft-furnishings. On face value, these textile designs are simple botanical prints that take the specificity of trees as a motif. The silhouettes of leaves, vines and flowers are assembled, repeated and mirrored onto linen.

But deeper, beyond the “upholstery” of surface, these designs speak of a skilled, curious studio who bring craft, research and experimentation to their work across commercial, artistic and architectural projects.”

The article is well worth the read and highlights the “the quiet and conscientious work of Spacecraft, engaged as it is with the elemental, the material, the botanical, the artistic, the political and the social.” 

Wonderful!

rhubarb rhubarb

emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
emma byrnes, rhubarb rhubarb, organic foodstore
Photographs by  Emma Byrnes
Photographs by  Emma Byrnes

Photographs by Emma Byrnes

This beautiful organic grocery store is run by beautiful people and sells beautiful produce! What more could you ask for?
In 2018 this family-owned business at Preston market turned 18! Congratulations Rhubarb Rhubarb on reaching such a huge milestone. 
Photographing for small business is a huge pleasure of mine especially when it is owned by legends such as Sue and Hayden (pictured above). They were able to use the image series I took for them in their social media/website and now have them up their sleeve for future marketing purposes. The photoshoot also coincided with a series that I did for my client Brave New Eco who designed the beautiful new fit out for their retail space.

Two awesome clients in one space! Shazam!

If your business could benefit from some professional imagery get in touch to book a session with me.

creative frameworks

emma byrnes photographer melbourne
Melbourne artist  Lee Mullen  captured at  Claire Scorpo  studio in Fitzroy where her artworks hang.  Photography by  Emma Byrnes.

Melbourne artist Lee Mullen captured at Claire Scorpo studio in Fitzroy where her artworks hang.
Photography by Emma Byrnes.

When I am working with creatives the style of photography tends to sit within one of the following frameworks:

  • BEHIND-THE-SCENES of everyday practice - showing the process of the artist.
    A good example of this is a series I photographed for Spacecraft.

  • DOCUMENTATION of a design/ art event or an art installation.
    See a blog post I have written about documentation here.

  • Work hanging in a GALLERY ENVIRONMENT.
    An example of this type of work can be found here.

  • PORTRAIT - a picture of the artist/creative in their studio.
    See an example here. 

Sometimes I will know the artist and other times they come to me through a recommendation.
Either way I will often take the following steps via email or over a phone call:

  • WHAT IS THEIR ONLINE/SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE?
    I will usually look up the artist and see how they have chosen to represent themselves already. Some people are fully engaged in a web presence/social media conversation and others are not. Even their absence from the online world can reveal a lot to me.

  • PERSONAL VISION
    I will also ascertain whether or not they have a personal vision for the photographs. From my personal experience I find that most creatives who come my way understand the creative process and are therefore happy to give in to a more intuitive journey - not needing to fully control the outcome. But there are some personalities for whom control is crucial and it is important to establish this beforehand to avoid a clash of intentions. I like working with both types of clients and am not afraid of a more prescriptive approach. Whatever the case may be if the creative has certain requirements (ie needs a portrait taken for a certain publication; needs the orientation of the images to be in landscape format for a website, needs to have a series of images or just one hero image) this all needs to be planned/discussed beforehand.

  • LOCATION /LIGHTING INFORMATION
    I always talk about their location/studio beforehand so I can think about the light and the parameters beforehand. Sometimes I will visit a location in advance to get a feel for the kinds of shots I will aim for and notice details that might help on the day, such as vantage points, window placement. Or I might just look up the studio/workplace on Google and note where north is in relation to the location and also open shade possibilities in case we need it.

  • NATURAL LIGHT
    My preferred style of photography is to shoot in natural light. I have mastered the art of manipulating my camera on manual at all times so that I can avoid setting up added lighting or distract my subjects with flashes. I feel if I can remain unnoticed and shoot pictures unobtrusively, I’ll capture more natural scenes. Sometimes if the light is low this will lend the images a grainy texture and if I know that this may be one of the possible outcomes I will flag it to the client so we can troubleshoot if need be.

  • A SERIES OF IMAGES
    When talking about visual storytelling through photographs it more often that not refers to a series of images that work together to reveal a narrative. In a way you could look at each image as being a chapter in the story, unfolding towards the climax. A series of images emphasises several ideas, whereas a single image usually emphasises just one idea. One image may be able to say everything you are trying to communicate but most often you will also need a series including close-up details of tools, attire and environment to flesh out the tale.
    Portraits don’t always need to be traditional head and shoulders and I usually find that the most successful portraits of creatives are of the artist/creative lost in their work. However some people suit a more staged approach. Unless this has been outlined beforehand I tend to make this judgement on the day.

  • STRONG EDITING SKILLS
    It is also worth noting that capturing a good image takes time. It is more than likely after a long photoshoot we will only bear a handful of images. That is because if you are trying to tell a strong story you need to show strong editing skills and only use the strongest images. However If I am documenting an event there will often be many more images as the aim is to tell the story of the event from as many angles as possible.

  • HOW MUCH TIME DO WE HAVE?
    I always ascertain before the shoot how much time a subject has and if on the day I sense they are in a hurry I will make a series of photographs within the time constraints but if there is no rush I love to slow down, observe and enjoy watching the scene unfold to be able to tune into the nuances.

Click here if you would like to read more blog posts in the INTIMATE OBSERVATIONS series.

And get in touch if you would like to book in a photography session.

fast and fearless: the benefits of documentation

emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
rmit-4.jpg
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes, rmit interior design, design hub
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
emma byrnes photographer melbourne
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
Photographs by  Emma Byrnes
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
emma byrnes, RMIT interior design
First year RMIT Interior Design students during their 2018 orientation week. Photographs by  Emma Byrnes.

First year RMIT Interior Design students during their 2018 orientation week. Photographs by Emma Byrnes.

Photographing 130 RMIT Interior Design first-year students during their orientation week and installing their collaborative exhibition got me thinking about how much I enjoy documentation as an arm of my photographic practice.

Documenting people at work/play is a terrific way as a photographer to hone my technical skills - by working in a fast and fearless manner whilst remaining curious and responsive to what unfolds before me. And I am well aware of the benefits that documentation can bring to my clients.
Having documented events over the past year for organisations such as Queen Victoria Market, City of Melbourne’s Signal Arts, The Kimberley Foundation, The Craft Sessions’ Soul Craft Festival and RMIT Interior Design I am a firm believer that thorough documentation plays an essential role in running a successful program.
One picture won’t usually do it, but a well curated collection can really tell the story of what has unfolded. It can also assist in marketing what may otherwise be intangible or abstract ideas to a future audience. In the words of Dr Olivia Hamilton at RMIT:

“Emma has photographed many RMIT interior design student events, exhibitions and projects. These can be complex events involving over a hundred students and running for several days. Her photos document the event beautifully and thoroughly, but more importantly she is also able to capture the fleeting and subtle moments that make the event unique. She has a particular ability to capture the human experience and the relationships and interactions between the students. Her images have been invaluable in the publications and marketing material that has come from these events.”

— Dr Olivia Hamilton - School of Architecture + Urban Design RMIT University Lecturer - Interior Design First Year Co-ordinator

For individual artists/makers good documentation is the best long-term investment they can make in their art practice. It will serve as the backbone of their art archive, and the primary factor in how their entire practice is viewed long-term. Even if someone has strong work it doesn’t mean that it will be perceived that way - if the documentation isn’t strong the work will most likely be perceived as weak :-(

How you document your work determines everything from how it is reproduced in print publications to how it is seen online. In our visually savvy world it is crucial to keep this aspect in mind. Strong visual documentation could mean the difference between securing a grant or an exhibition, or being rejected and passed over for opportunities.

Artist Jen Rae of Fair Share Fare has come to appreciate the value of strong documentation:

”Working with Emma on our projects has been a game changer in how the creative works of Fair Share Fare are documented. Her ability to place herself within the artist’s lens means that she captures the moments that matter - the big picture, nuances, subtleties and aesthetics of what can be very complex projects. She listens, comprehends the scope and is always present. Her stealth modus operandi means that she can get behind the scenes and within performances without ever detracting from what is at play between subjects, performers and public participants. I value Emma’s contributions and considered approach, so much so, that I see her as an integral part of the creative team in planning and sharing the story of Fair Share Fare’s work to various audiences.”
— Jen Rae: Creative lead and director of Fair Share Fare

Often documentation is the only evidence from non-permanent work, such as performances, art installations, popup events, etc. In fact it will be the only thing that survives and can actually become the work itself! This is why it is very important to budget and plan for this essential step in your marketing plan/art process.

Past (and ongoing) artist/maker clients of mine include Katie Stackhouse, Fair Share Fare, Sarah Tomasetti, Jing Wei Bu, Angus Hamra, Martin Lee, Lee Mullen and Spacecraft Studio.

Book me in for your next event.

Em x

NB - View all of my blog posts on documentation