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Tony Hewitt: Finding Your True Self in Fine Art Photography: The reDefine Show with Tamara Lackey

Tony Hewitt: Finding Your True Self in Fine Art Photography: The reDefine Show with Tamara Lackey


Hi I’m Tamara Lackey and on this episode of reDefine Show for AdoramaTV I sat down with Australian artist and print competition chair Tony Hewitt while we discussed the art of challenging the assumptions about what we see. Check out the fantastic episode. What are the genres that you have been shooting in? Well I was going to say that I’ve done about 1000 weddings but you corrected me, it’s 987. I was 13 short. I’ve got one coming up. This young lady was seven and I did some work for her parents and she always said that she wanted me to photograph her wedding. So I got a phone call about a month ago and she said she was getting married. I told her that I don’t do weddings anymore and she said, “You’re doing mine.” So I did weddings, I’ve done thousands of portraits, we still have a portrait studio. Where exactly? In Perth, Western Australia. It’s called Hewitt Studios and that’s with my wife and we photograph babies and families. About 70% of our family portraits are past clients. A lot of them are past wedding clients. Incredible for your portraits. I look at people today and I think don’t get too caught up in shortcutting relationship building with your clients. Don’t just automate everything don’t make it so technical and online and no contact because you’re not only doing a job, you’re building a foundation for a lifetime in your career. We see so many people come into this industry now that don’t stay around very long. They find it harder once they get over the honeymoon period and they get over the adrenaline that drives them along and they’ve actually got to work. But for me I’ve had that and so we do that, I have a lot of commercial clients now. So I went from little commercial clients to now I have maybe half a dozen big commercial clients. They provide a big chunk of our income through the year, regular ongoing work. I’d love to talk to you about the commercial work because I think some people will be interested what I do with it. It’s very different Then, of course, there’s my landscape and fine art. I used to get annoyed when I was starting out because people would call you a wedding photographer. They’d say, “Are you only a wedding photographer?” No, I’m photographer. And the same thing would happen the next day. “Are you just a wedding photographer?” Do they actually say “just”? Yeah and I stop entering wedding in competition because I didn’t want to be typecast. So I started entering portrait and then it was like, “So you’re a wedding portrait photographer?” So I entered landscape and illustrative. Then it was too long to say it all so they just said, “So you’re a photographer.” I’m an image maker. I’ve started to understand, after all these years, what it is that I like to photograph, like, who am I as a photographer? Which comes out of who you are as a person. Some of us find that really young, I mean, I know you’re pretty switched on on what you do and what your goals in life are, both with a camera in your hand and without a camera but some people don’t find out till later. You fight things, you think I’m supposed to be like this, I’m supposed to be like that, I’m supposed to be doing what Jerry does, I’m supposed to be doing what such-and-such does. Then you realize it at some point, hopefully you get to a point where this is what I do and it’s okay. I started off, when I was at school, I did really well with mathematics and science. So I was getting 96% in physics and maths and things like that but I loved art and in my photography what I see if I look back on my wedding work, if I look back on my portrait work, simplicity is a concurrent theme. It runs through everything I do. Design, abstraction, geometry, I’ve seen it over and over again. Now my fine art work is my chance to sort of say this is who I am as a photographer and I’m comfortable with it because it’s who I am as a person. It’s actually been with me since I was little. There’s things we all do. So the other thing that I do, that’s been with me since I was a little is, I grew up as the oldest child of an oldest child, the oldest grandchild, so I was in charge of kids all my life. So I love people and I’m used to working people. I’m used to sharing and looking after people and being onstage and all of that stuff, like what you do. That’s not something you go and learn to do or choose to try and do, that’s just it. It’s who you are. Without a camera, without someone filming, you would still do what you do. It’s inherent to you. Yeah. So now, with the fine art, I’m at a point where those pictures are more me than anything ever. It’s cool, I love making people think. I love challenging the way they see things. So what better way then to view the world, the planet, from above? I love the ocean, I’m a beach guy. Whether it’s fishing, surfing, diving, kayaking, body surfing, all of that. So all my exhibitions tend to be around water and coast but simplifying that really thin boundary between where we live our lives and where we have our fears. This is where I get really deep with my stuff. I have pictures of the beach and it might have tracks coming through to the sand and on this on the beach you’ll see all these umbrellas and people on towels and body boards and all of that. Then the water gets deeper and deeper. So literally, it’s just a picture of the beach. People look at that and they can relate to it as being symbolic of life because in Australia we live our world, mostly we work in a city, we work in an area that is pressure, stress, all of that sort of stuff and then we escape on the weekends whenever we can through those sand dunes to that thin boundary between the deep water and work. That’s what that beach represents. People get there, you’re down to your bathers and you jump in the water and it’s just a relief. But the deep water represents something else, it also represents our fears because particularly where I live is the shark capital of the world. As you swim out even 20 or 30 meters you start to be conscious of what’s down there. So that’s just an example of what an ocean, like a beach shot, might mean for me. So I photograph it and I’m thinking there’s the beautiful literal shot, there’s the dynamics of a great photo, color, balance, blah blah blah… but to me there’s more because one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that people value something when they can truly connect with it. We had a chat today earlier, briefly, about soul in pictures. That to me is what soul in pictures is. Can you can you create a visual that somebody at a deep level looks at and doesn’t even necessarily understand why, they just go, “Wow, that’s me. That’s my life. That’s something that I don’t know why but it means something to me.” It’s not just pretty. That is one of the things I mentioned to you was that there’s such an apparent soulfulness in your fine art landscape work. Would you use the word “landscape”? Yeah… By now you know I don’t like labels but it doesn’t bother me. People come into my exhibitions and they’re printed on a beautiful rag paper and I do not exhibit them with glass over them, we might have one or two to show people what they look like but the bulk art have no glass, so people can look at the pictures and they can see they’re tactile but they’ll look at them and they’ll say, “Are these really photographs?” And I don’t really care. Then I’ll get photographers saying, “These aren’t really photographs.” It’s kind of crazy. So people look and say they’re not photographs, they’re paintings and the photographers say they’re not photographs and I look over and say, “They are photographs, that’s how I took them.” Fine art landscapes is probably best. The gallery now look at my work and they just basically say it’s fine art. So we’re just going to stick to calling it fine art. Like I said, most people come in and they question whether they’re photographs anyway. Who cares? I’m not really a purist. I really appreciate the camera artistry, in camera artistry and I’d say I’m pretty good at capturing a picture in my camera but I’m also pretty good in doing post-production. The reality is most of my fine art landscape does not have much post-production. It’s pretty much what the camera sees and then I bring out the tonality, I bring out the contrast, I bring out the saturation where I want to tell the story. So I’m all about using the raw file and expressing my narrative, the soul, the feeling that I had when I was in that environment to share it. How do you literally take these photographs? I use Phase One XF System, I have a 80MP, that’s the IQ280 and Schneider lenses. Most of my aerials are done with a standard lens, which for medium format is 80mm but for say, 35mm users it’s 50. It’s usually out of a helicopter or a plane, I don’t use drones. I’ve never used a drone. I’ve flown one for 10 minutes for fun. Are there drones that could take that large of a cameras set up? There’s a couple of drones that carry Phase One cameras, if you can afford the insurance. Yeah, exactly. So for me, to use a drone is akin to an artist or a painter having a robot paint for them or asking someone else to hold the brush and then telling them a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right. It’s the same with competition prints. I have no problem, no judgment, when people send their prints to someone to do the work for them. All my competition prints I conceive, I shoot, I edit, I print. You want to have your hands on for all of it. I am a control freak. Also known as… An artist. When it comes to my artwork I am really personal. The only thing I don’t do is cut my own mats but I won’t let my framer put the prints in the mats. I will be to the mm because I’ve judged so many images and when I say that, I’ve been exposed to so many images as a judge… Maybe you could share your role when you talk about judging so many images. Well as you know, I’ve been chairing some judging rooms here for quite a few years now. I’ve judged here on and off for over twelve years. I’m the current Australian Awards Chair. I did basically what Jerry does for WPPI. Jerry Ghionis for WPPI, yeah. So I do that for AIPP. AIPP has a ton of international recognition. It’s not just like “that Australia thing.” It’s a huge competition. I think our country punches above its weight for photographers. It’s because you get the light, that’s why. Is that what it is? You haven’t heard that before? It’s only because of their light. I thought it was the talent and the water. I’ve judged all over the place. So plenty of exposure to looking at pictures as a judge. I’d a lot of online competitions and things like that. The other thing is that, as a speaker, because you have to actually consciously go through what it is you do, it reinforces what you know and what you don’t know. It reinforces what you should do and what you shouldn’t. It’s all teaching, sharing, mentoring, all of that. So when I’m looking at taking my pictures I want that camera coming back to that in my hand. The camera has got to be… We talk about getting to the point where your camera is an extension of you. To me if I go through a drone, I’ve got all this technology between me and what it’s seeing. I can kind of see how I could one day use a drone maybe but I still feel like I want the brush in my hand. I can understand that completely. Thank you so much Tony I really appreciate that, I’m looking forward to our next episode where we dig even deeper into these mind-blowing images. Check us out here next time on AdoramaTV and do not forget you can subscribe to learn and experience more than you ever thought possible here on AdoramaTV.

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5 thoughts on “Tony Hewitt: Finding Your True Self in Fine Art Photography: The reDefine Show with Tamara Lackey

  1. Good interview Tony, nice to hear you say that we are punching well above our weight photographically here in Australia. Prophets can still come from the deserts mate.

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