{ }
1/14 — Newsha is one of the sexiest women I have met here in Sydney. She goes to bush raves and dances

Art

6.2.2015

Byron Spencer On The Art of Shooting Porn Stars & Club Kids

You would be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t instantly intoxicated by the visual ecstasy created by Aussie photographer Byron Spencer. Hailing all the way from Sydney, Australia, the daring and eccentric photographer has just closed his latest show, a solo project titled ‘You’. Unlike many of his other projects, which involve shooting for style giants like ASOS, Zara and Topshop, this latest venture is entirely his vision, allowing him complete creative freedom to engineer his psychedelic compositions. It’s no surprise that Spencer, who is known for his vibrant color palette, finds a way to mirror his radiant and, as seen in the interview, rather hilarious personality into his eye-popping images.

The exhibition, showcased at the Leonard Mattis Studio in Surry Hills, Sydney, featured a collection of single subject portraits of both his personal friends and other frequent collaborators ranging from pornstar Colby Keller to model Rachel Rutt and designer Jenny Kee. But don’t let the word ‘portrait’ steer you into thinking that this exhibit is filled with monotonous close-ups of faces. In this endeavor, Spencer hones in on the individual and intimately captures their raw emotion and energy, not only through their spirits and livelihoods, but also by stylizing his subjects through props like bubble gum and live insects. Milk Made’s Natasha Frid got the chance to talk to the self-taught photographer and talented flute-player himself to fill us in on the juicy deets of shooting pornstars, accidentally lighting his set on fire and the changing role of iPhones in photography. We also got Spencer to individually caption what went down behind-the-scences while shooting each of his portraits.

You just had your own solo exhibition ‘You’. Can you tell us about that? Where did you draw inspiration for the exhibit?

‘You’ was a pretty simple concept. I took it back to the basics of portraiture. The inspiration came from each of the people I shot. Some of it was quite conceptual and stylized, while others were simple and quite raw.

How do you come up with the abstract concepts in your work? Are they spontaneous or do they take a lot of planning?

It depends really! Some of them take a lot of planning, especially if I am collaborating with hair, makeup and styling teams. It is nice to have those elements of the groundwork sorted, but there is always a sense of spontaneity on the day we shoot. Things always change, but it is nice to have a little bit of it planned before we go into the shoot! Then there are some which aren’t planned at all. Some of the shots from the show were shot in my studio spur of the moment.

What is something that you look to capture when you take a portrait?

I like to capture the character’s energy, I like to emphasize elements that inspired me from my subjects. I love humor. I love honesty and vulnerability too. I like things to be a bit confronting sometimes. I think it just needs to be engaging!

You seem to love using vibrant colors in your photography. Why did you choose to make a lot of the ‘You’ exhibit black and white? Is there something that black and white photography can express that color photography can’t?

I was always drawn to black and white portraiture from a young age. I think there is something so timeless about it. I am super inspired by it at the moment and I think such transitions and changes are normal. I especially like the idea of shooting colourful characters in black and white. I think the mood changes and you see them in a different way. One of my favorite shots is of Matt Format who is an amazing Sydney based performance artist who is always covered in color– he literally always has glitter all over his beard. Shooting his portrait super cropped in on his face, in black and white, really engaged me more into his personality.

How does taking photos for yourself differ from taking photos for fashion ad campaigns?

That’s something I struggle with! It is hard to separate the two. The work I hold most dear to me is the personal work I do. I love to experiment and play around and that’s what I get to do with my own work. For the fashion ad campaigns, it is important to stick within the branding and identity of the brand, but of course you still want it to have some stylistic elements of your own work. I guess I am used to being versatile now. Sometimes I do campaigns that I absolutely love and feel very me. Sometimes not so much, but work is work!

How do you think smart camera phones have changed the world of photography, if at all?

I shoot so much on my smart phone. I have only just started realizing that this is an artistic medium in itself. I have a library of iPhone work that I am about to start uploading on my tumblr. I think technology and the internet is hugely changing the world of photography. I think in many ways, it’s pretty shit and can make you lose hope in having a steady and successful career, but in other ways I find it to be an exciting time. It’s super unpredictable and manic!

If you weren’t taking pictures, what do you think you’d be doing?

Music. Playing my flute, singing in a band probably.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what are 3 things you would bring?

Am I presuming there is food and maybe a water hole? I would bring an entertaining friend (maybe a woman, even though I am gay I think it would be wise to procreate), a weed plant maybe?, and fishing/hunting gear. Oh god I don’t know, that’s such a hard question. My favorite show is ‘Survivor’– I dream of being on it.

Who was one of your most favorite people to photograph and why?

So many, but I did have a lovely experience recently shooting my old mate Isabella Manfredi who has become quite successful in her band ‘The Preatures’. She is so beautiful. It was so inspiring to shoot a woman who moved with no inhibition. She was dancing around the set wearing amazing fashion, shaking her hair around and singing. She did this walk that reminded me of Cruella De Vil. It was just awesome seeing someone move like that so naturally. I was a bit manic and shaky from excitement!

I heard you once shot a gay pornstar on his roof top. What was that like?

Well that was great. [laughs] I was actually a bit nervous, but Colby is awesome and very relaxed. I, on the other hand, was maybe not so relaxed that day. Once I first started shooting, I dreamt of the romance of being a photographer. I wanted to seem effortless and natural, like a photographer in a movie or something.

Can you tell us about any other crazy things that have happened on set?

I was shooting a series of black and white nude portraits of girls. It was also my first time dealing with modeling agencies. I had this girl come to my studio, I had nice soothing music playing so she felt comfortable, I also had a scented candle lit to set a nice mood. Anyway a few minutes into it, she is topless and pantless in my little studio and I am directing her “chin down, look here to the right” etc. She started sniffing and goes “do you smell that?…..oh my god, my pants!” She had thrown her jeans onto the table and they had caught on fire from my scented candle! It was a disaster. Definitely not cool.

You collaborate a lot with your sister Alex Spencer. What’s it like working with your family? How did that come about?

I think it has just been a natural progression. We have both had very separate careers and are both quite different stylistically. However we both get on so well so it is always fun and hilarious to work with each other. I look forward to our future projects!

Who is 1 figure, dead or alive, that you’d love to photograph?

Can I choose 5? The divas from the 1998 ‘Diva’s One Night Only’ because collectively they came as one. So, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain!

Visit Byron Spencer’s website and tumblr

Photos and captions courtesy of Byron Spencer

Related Stories

New Stories

Load More

K

Like Us On Facebook

X