Get to know the Byron Bay photographer, Justin Thomas, in our relaxed interview with him below...
Hi Justin, so nice to meet you.
I hear an accent, where are you from and how did you find your way to Australia?
So nice to meet you too! So, The accent is definitely there and probably will never go. I’m originally from the United States. Born and raised in the north east but since I was 16 I’ve been travelling all over the country. I actually purchased my first car which was a lovely old transam, grabbed my guitar and slept out of it for 8 months busking when I could and that was when I decided travelling was something I wouldn’t ever be able to stop doing and I haven’t since. So, although from the north east basically been all over since.
And for how I found my self here there’s actually two very defining moments that had led me to make my way to Australia and move here permanently. I have this very vivid memory back in ‘My space’ days. Yeah, those days. Of discovering this little hippy Australian musician (Who I actually got to meet and fan girl over) I remember looking through her pictures and something about the scenery completely resinated with me. I didn’t know anything about Australia like most Americans but as weird as it sounds something about it connected. Years later I made a friend from Australia, we travelled America for a while and he invited me to come out to Melbourne with him while he went out to uni and I jumped at the opportunity. Not only for the chance to go to Australia, but also because he was my bestie.
Funny enough as soon as I landed I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. It’s a really strange feeling having that. I was supposed to stay for only 6 months but 6 became 7, 7 became 8, until I stayed the whole working holiday year. I knew at that point my time in Australia wasn’t near over. Ended up going back and 4 years later I’m still here.
What started your photography career?
I actually started by working for the person who hosted Chicago Fashion Week when I was 19. First helping him with retouching other photographs then eventually realised this was an art I definitely wanted to pursue for myself. I loved the idea of creating and seeing the huge projects come together. Seeing a whole bunch of people working together to make something made me so excited and I knew I wanted to be that person who did that.
What camera do you use? And why?
I use two cameras! A Sony alpha camera and my old beauty a Pentax Spotomatic. I was a Canon boy for most of my career, but as the mirrorless systems got better and better the size alone was enough to make the switch. Keeping everything in your life as small as possible while you travel is totally essential. Beyond that even just photographing real life events and moments is far easier with the smaller system. Deep down I believe the true beauty of photography comes from those real life moments, the ones you don’t construct but they just come naturally and its far easier to get that with something that doesn’t weigh as much as a brick and is incredibly intimidating to look at. It’s best to not get wrapped up in how good something is how cool you look and spend more time with yourself and why you’re shooting in the first place.
And for the spotomatic I’m sure it’s probably obvious. Nothing beats film and having a very limited amount of shots you can take. Makes each that much more valuable and makes you think that much more.
You’ve just moved up to Byron Bay from Melbourne, it’s quite a lifestyle change. What’s your favourite thing about Byron?
The people! The people make everything. Byron and the surrounding areas are amazing. I’ve had an amazing journey up here and help from some of the most incredible people. Probably all a little bit cliche but none the less wild. I’ve been living on a farm about 45 minutes north of Byron and making these new connections and experiences and it’s been amazing. It’s really an incredible start to a life I’ve always wanted to live.
The switch was pretty hectic though, completely necessary and to be honest I lost interest in cities pretty quickly. I had a feeling deep down I was always meant to come here at some point, and as soon as I could I did. Sometimes you just kinda know you’re in the right place at the right time.
What’s your preferred subject matter?
Definitely my own life! It’s what personally most valuable to me. That can be a whole lot of things though. I love people, characters, their energy. I love creating and putting things together. I suppose what makes a picture good to myself is the fact that it was actually lived. So as long as I’m living my life authentically I can find joy in almost anything I take a picture of. But yeah, people, expressing themselves for who they are. Unapologetically typically. It’s so great to be around.
Are there any fashion photography trends we should be on top of for 2020?
I’m so bad at this! I never really know what’s going to happen. I hope and wish to advocate though that we keep on moving towards more sustainable methods for creating clothing. I hope we continue to move away from some weird unrealistic construct of beauty and keep on pursuing real authentic beauty within photography. Hopefully narcissism finds less hold in our imagery and we keep on creating for a deeper connection of self empowerment and using it for self expression and community.
If you could shoot with any high profile model, who would that be?
To be honest it isn’t so much like that for me. What I really hope to do is continue to work with incredibly talented models and people of all sorts who are uniquely themselves and who wear it with confidence and authenticity. There’s something really amazing about creating with another individual. Its a bit sappy but It’s bigger than just something you can make alone, and when you can both work with each others creativity only amazing things can come from it. It’s a group art and that’s what makes it so great!