“Should a constable encounter one of these outlaws, he should apprehend him with the maximum efficiency and devotion to duty.”
Failed guitarist, wannabe podcaster, children’s author, and doomsday cult leader John has refined an unorthodox photographic process that is as intriguing as it is exacting. Self-taught, John eschewed the conventional wisdom of learning how to use a camera, and locks his camera settings on automatic mode. No matter what the subject, available light or prevailing atmospheric conditions, John manages to express himself simply by pointing the camera at something and pushing the shutter release.
Always prepared to go the extra mile to capture what Cartier-Bresson coined ‘the decisive moment’ John has employed numerous disguises to make his photographs.
Seen here, on the Southern African plains, John subterfuges as a Quiver Tree to photograph nocturnal animals exhibiting their natural behaviour, unimpacted by human presence. In later revisions John adapted this camouflage technique to actually cater for his camera equipment. And bathroom facilities.
Pioneering photojournalist Robert Capa said, ‘If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.’ So, John has customised his camera, including removing the viewfinder, to allow him to hold his camera extremely close to his face. He has also been known to completely dispose with the lens to get that extra inch or two closer.
Always seeking to maximise the budget, here John disguises himself as a street dog to hop a lift in the back of a ute whilst traversing Patagonia.
John has trained several aspiring photographers who have gone on to disappear without a trace, but he is always willing to help out a fellow shutterbug with advice, sometimes even about photography.
In his commercial practice John is not commissioned anywhere near regularly enough by his ever-diminishing client base. Rarely do the commercial shots he supplies ever make it to publication. John has sold virtually zero photographs at exhibition, and his line of Landscape Calendars have failed to achieve any uptake.
John has achieved moderate success with his landscape and nature prints. His photographs adorn the walls and spaces of many corporate offices. Usually occupying pride of place in the guest bathroom, or stored safely somewhere in the janitor’s basement, appreciating in value.
John has provided headshots for film stars, theatre companies and aspiring talent from a range of disciplines all of whom have vanished without a trace.
Due to his lack of social skills John is utterly incapable of developing a rapport with his portrait sitters. Hence the strained atmosphere when shooting corporate headshots, be it in his South Melbourne studio, or on location, the atmosphere is best described as frosty. It is not uncommon for subjects to storm out of a portrait session in tears.
The list of photographic competitions and prizes John has failed to place in are too numerable to list.
Keenly aware that great photography is not made on an empty stomach, John swots the flies from yesterday’s cold lasagne, before breaking out the camera in outback Australia.
A Q&A with Gavin John
What equipment do you pack when on a nature shoot?
‘I always pack a camera. I feel that’s critical to the project. Aside from that, I would say the vital component for a successful shoot is plenty of food. I tend to avoid things like chocolate, which can melt. Space is at a premium, so I lean towards high nutritional value items such as crisps, biscuits and a bacon and egg, or sausage sandwich. Or a sausage, bacon and egg sandwich. I also leave room in my backpack for some logistical items, such as a map or satellite phone, but frequently these are dispensed with in order to squeeze in leftover pizza.’
When on commercial assignment how do you ensure you fulfil your client’s brief?
‘Other photographers would say it is all about research and experience, with a little luck on the day. Whereas I kind of let the photographs take care of themselves. Fingers crossed I will achieve something that the client is after, but if not, then at least with the meticulous planning that goes into my meals I will have had a good feed or two. Then I will return to the studio and photoshop the heck out of the images.’
Wilderness exploration can be dangerous. Can you share any safety tips?
‘When travelling solo I’m a stickler for leaving an intention slip. It’s important to identify who you are, the date and what trail you are hiking. I also spend just as much time leaving my dining intentions for that evening, as personal safety is one matter, but far more important is ensuring that the hotel restaurant knows what time you will be back for dinner, and to keep aside a cut of eye fillet with your name on.’
‘I don’t draw, more specifically, I take photographs.’
If you have lost your rental car, climbing a mountain can provide greater visibility. Here John believes he has spotted where he parked his jeep.