This month we are proud to introduce Justin Ridler, photographer, artist and creative director. His ethereal images of dancers, models and personalities say so much and yet shrouds them in mystery. He is a regular contributor to Vogue Australia and collaborates with The Australian Ballet to create beautiful images that seem to move with the dancers themselves. We are very excited to have him give us a little insight into his world and accomplishments.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m 36. I grew up in Eltham, Melbourne. My backyard was a forest. I’d collect prisms and refracting objects. I’m pretty obsessed with anything to do with physics. I play guitar, piano, and produce electronic music. I’d like to dance more. I have been working as an image maker in fashion, advertising and the performing arts for around 15 years. I’ve only just recently started exhibiting. I lecture in photography at university. I like passionate people who think about things complexly. I dislike impoliteness and ignorance. I’m thinking of building a completely automated robot-assisted vegetable garden. I’m also thinking about doing a course in welding and I just finished a course in pottery. I still live in Melbourne and I work all over the place.
You have your work published in a variety of established magazines including Vogue, in your opinion how does the experience of your images change when comparing online to printed works? Do you have a preference?
There’s something I crave about the intimacy of a printed image that, while they’re an essential part of my workflow, images on a computer screen fall short in their ability to deliver. I’d hazard a guess that this is related to the scale of the image we view online which really lacks the capacity to envelop our senses the way a large image can. Probably the ultimate in terms of experiential influence for me is Mark Rothko who often painted enormous canvases which elicited a very humbling intimate experience. Mark once said “To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience… However you paint the larger picture, you are in it.” I resonate with this statement and I absolutely love to make work that is powerful enough to envelop the viewer in its message.
You recently had an exhibition for the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival called Entropy. How does creating an installation differ from creating a shoot?
So the Installation with Zambesi came together quite quickly and I saw it as an opportunity to present some concept-driven work to a fashion audience and try out some ideas. I collaborated with two dancers to create 8 images and a short performance piece. It was important to me that the work was not stereotypically beautiful. I created intentionally erratic, grotesquely composed images. It differed from creating a shoot in that a shoot is often constructed around a single viewpoint and its outcome doesn’t completely emerge until sometimes weeks later, it’s a process that involves lots of pre-planning and production and often is a direct step on from something I have done previously. The installation was trying something new, parts of it were created live, in the moment which was exhilarating and a little terrifying.
Having been a stills photographer behind the scenes on The Great Gatsby is quite an amazing stepping stone, how did that prepare you for moving forward in your work?
I learned so much about what is possible in image making from working with Baz and CM, it was one of my most pivotal roles so far as it really challenged me to work autonomously and trust my own instincts. At the same time though I was making work in Baz ‘universe’ and while that was incredible and very inspiring it got me thinking about working to create my own. Following on from Gatsby I started working with dancers and developing my work to what it is now….I still have dreams about being on the Gatsby set. It was a really magic time. Also a little weird.
Your work with The Australian Ballet is very serene, what drew you to the ballet and how would you describe your relationship with it?
I’m quite a kinaesthetic person. So being drawn to movement is harmonic to my view of existence. Dance, I feel is one of the ultimate ways we express our aliveness. When I create work with someone who is dancing I feel as though I’m sitting forward, leaning into life a little more, it’s exhilarating and challenging and highly addictive. I feel that this is why I’ve worked with quite a few dance companies in that our work is influenced and inspired by the same sorts of things. I feel my work is both a reflection on choreographic works that others have created and also my own choreophotographic ideas that stem from themes that are impossible to photograph directly without dancers. It’s about love, connection, fear, desire. It’s about our spirit, our textured humanness, but also philosophy, physics, nature, wonder. I think dancers fundamentally understand how to translate these things into a physical statement which is why they’re perfect to work with.
Do you think still photography is the best medium for your work with the ballet or would you rather be working in film?
I think our collaboration is centred around still photography because they see that as my strong point and personally most of my work is focused on creating still images. Recently I have made a few films, so it is an area that I will continue to explore it as opportunities arise but I’m not in any rush to change over and become a cinematographer. I’m still very much in love with still images. I’m actually far more interested in object design and 3d imaging and its likely that I’ll start releasing work using these technologies in the not so distant future.
You must collaborate with a lot of different stylists, art directors, and talent. How much of yourself and your vision do you compromise for a team and is this a struggle or a pleasure for you?
Increasingly, the briefs I see now have a lot in common with my personal work and are extensions or iterations of it. So it’s not like I’m often shooting work that is completely out of context for me. The artists I collaborate with, most of them I’ve been working with for years so we understand each other’s vision and as for new collaborations, I’m naturally drawn to work with artists who’s work I align with somehow. One of my ultimate goals photographically is to create a complete body of work both from a commercial and fine arts perspective that are unified through both their aesthetics and their sentiment.
When it comes to working, is travel important to you as a photographer or are you comfortable staying in one city?
I love to travel! I can’t wait to go on another trip!
Do you have any words of wisdom for emerging photographers getting into your field?
Read Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. It’s one of the most clarifying books about the reasons we make and engage with art that I’ve come across
Every success I’ve ever had has always started with something personal I’ve been trying to explore. A fantastic agent once gave me the advice, to create work from a place of vulnerability, To make work which was authentically ‘me’ (rather than the work I was making at the time which, frankly, was glossy mediocre shite) So my advice would be to look at your own life, your interests, your fears, your desires, see those areas as a wellspring of influence and translate them into the aesthetics of your work.
Where is the future of Justin Ridler heading?
I’d love to exhibit much more. I’d like to expand my visual vocabulary to new subjects, genres, and mediums. I’d love to continue to meet and work with brilliant, lovely people. I’d like to read a bunch more books. I’d like to take a holiday too – it’s been a while!
Written and edited by Georgia Quinn
Portraits of Justin by Oliver Rose