5 MINUTES WITH SIMON DEVITT
This week I transcribed a chat I had with renowned photographer, Simon Devitt a few weeks back. If you're not familiar with Simons work take notice of the magazine racks next time you're in a supermarket or bookstore and in particular HOME magazine - which usually has his images on the cover. Not confined to just the one publication, however, Simon has had his work published in numerous national and international magazines including Elle Decor (Italia) and Dwell (USA) to name just a couple. Furthermore, Simon has had his images published in multiple books and in 2013, he launched his first self published book on the Athfield residence in Wellington Portrait of a House. Since then Simon has continued his day to day work as a photographer of architecture as well as lecturing on the subject at Auckland University - and last year his 2nd self published book Rannoch won New Zealand's Photo-book of the year award. As you can see the man is a legend and I was super nervous prior to calling him, but, once we delved into the interview that angst faded into intrigue and an admiration of Simons passion for his craft.
Who is Simon Devitt?
He's been lots of things and continues to do quite a few of them, although every day seems to be incredibly different from one another. I'm usually in a different place most day's with someone new when I'm not at home, and theres a great privilege in that. I often get to see the result of people's hard fought dreams come true, so I feel a real responsibility when I show up at these places to photograph them. I'm there to tell a story and I tell that story through pictures. I'm like a fisherman or treasure hunter trying to find this tableau, this way of feeling what that place is like, the spirit of that place, the spirit of the people. I start collecting traces or fragments of what makes up that story, and then what I (hopefully) get at the end is a really rich suite of images to choose from and to make picture stories from. So outside of being a photographer I see myself first and foremost as a storyteller.
How did you learn your craft?
How I taught myself was walking suburban cal-de-sacs, rural back blocks and city avenues and really looking and learning about how we interacted with the environment - also paying attention to the way things reflect light. That in itself is at least a lifetime of learning so I continued to learn that same way, except now I'm asked to go places and do that. I didn't have any urge or inkling to go to university and I've always been a bit stubborn and thought I'd do things my way - and as it turns out for me, thats been pretty good.
What is photography to you?
Its a way to communicate first and foremost, and it's the way that I'm best able to communicate. I probably talk alright and listen ok, but, I photograph better. I'm learning a-lot very quickly about my ability to do that and about the best ways I enjoy doing that. Most recently its through photographic narratives that I teach at university to architecture students, and I make and publish my own photo books.
Photography, teaching or publishing books? Whats your favourite thing to do?
Like the silences in between the notes of your favourite song, the song is not just a note, it's the silences that make the song. So, my favourite thing would be how all of those things connect. If it was my choice, I would choose to keep those things together for as long as I can because they all inform each other so beautifully.
What keeps you inspired?
The most compelling feature of inspiration comes from the people that I meet day to day through the homes that I shoot and the buildings that I visit and photograph. A great portion of inspiration is turned into so much of what I love doing now - including the stories I've told already (through a couple of the books I've made) and those yet to tell through the series of publications I'm working with at the moment. Its an ongoing richness because I'm meeting so many people all the time - it's people that inspire me.
Any tips for budding photographer's?
The best advice I could give anyone wanting to improve their picture making is to not only make a lot of pictures you're passionate about, but, to also print them at the end. Make physical proofs to live with, to watch and look at to see how time changes them because the greatest alchemy in photography is time. All the chemicals are gone now, but, the greatest alchemy thats always been is time. So, you don't make a picture, you start a picture.
I have to say a lot of Simon's words really resonate with me, especially the part about university and learning things your own way. I also love Simons take on becoming a better photographer and shooting subjects you're passionate about. That really strikes a chord for me because once I started shooting the ocean, I couldn't help myself from shooting it - and it reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, "shoot what you can't help, but shoot." I genuinely believe this is the defining feature of an exceptional photographer because that passion is ultimately encapsulated and reflected in their work.
Thank you Simon 🙏
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Ma te wa,