For the last five years, John Laurie has travelled around the globe taking pictures. Commissioned by travel magazines to visit locations including the USA, the UK, Chile, Scotland, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Dubai, Japan and Fiji, many of Laurie’s pictures have featured in publications such as Australian Gourmet Traveller and Travel + Leisure (US). Many of them, however, have remained unseen, including some of his best.
Laurie unveiled a collection of out-takes for his first solo exhibition, titled The Light of Day, earlier this month. 21 modern, pared-back prints have made it to the walls of JCP Studios in Cremorne.
Ahead of the opening, we chatted to the Melbourne-based photographer who’s been a finalist in both the Archibald Photographic Portraiture Prize (2006) and the Head On Photo Prize (2016).
Broadsheet: Explain the title, The Light of Day?
John Laurie: It refers to two things really. It’s about the images that are captured by so many photographers that often end up sitting on a hard drive and never seeing the light of day. Also, it refers to the process in which I like shooting – mostly in the middle of the day or during daylight hours. I’m very much a natural-light photographer and like the harshness of landscapes.
BS: The photographs are so diverse (one minute you're in the desert, the next you're staring into a kitchen). What was it about these different settings that made you pick up your camera?
JL: For me, it always comes down to taking photos built around composition and balance within the frame. I’m drawn to moments of observation that focus on a palette or a striking sense of real composition. It’s about the light and how it falls on the scene that’s unfolding in front of me. I like simple scenes and capture them often with a standard lens to replicate what the eye sees. I don’t usually have an agenda or a predisposed or premeditated idea – it just happens. I like a scene or a moment, and capture it.
For the landscapes, I try to wait for a car to drive through that meets a balanced point of composition, but the rest just is. I really don’t go looking for too many things. I just try to keep my eyes open to the natural harmony of life that exists and then invoke my sense of style upon that scene.
BS: You've described the photographs as having "a sense of silence". Can you elaborate on that?
JL: It’s something that I’ve always tried to evoke in my imagery. It’s about being there, but not being there. Not announcing myself on the moment, but merely recording it in as passive a way as possible.
I think so many of today’s photos are about the person behind the lens – modern social-media photos are a reflection of this. There is a lot of “self” in the images created. I guess I try to be the opposite and keep my personality out of the frame.
I guess from this lack of self I feel there does come a strong sense of silence and solitude, of a moment passing before our eyes. Nothing more. I’m uninterested in the clichés: the glorious landscapes at sunset and sunrise. I prefer those in between moments that drift by quietly.
BS: Was there a country or region that was the most intriguing? Why?
JL: Central Asia, from a very recent trip in October this year, really intrigued me. It’s far removed from anything I’d previously experienced. The influences of both Russia and Asia create a fascinating culture.
The people and places of Uzbekistan in particular had such a stoically strong air about them – they seem grounded and well rooted in who they are and what the future holds for them. It was refreshing to be in a country where people were kind and friendly and had no agenda for letting you take photos of them. They either said ‘yes’ or ‘no’, while maintaining such a strong intensity in their stance and gaze.
The palette of the desert landscape in Central Asia and Dubai is also something I really craved and enjoyed capturing. I also always love shooting in California. The light there has such a muted harshness especially towards the coast. The pollution mixes with the sea mist and creates this wonderful sense of diffusion that I just love.
BS: Do you have a favourite print? If so, why is it your favourite?
JF: For me, Haze really signifies where I want to be heading in terms of being an exhibiting photographic artist. I really like the washed-out tones and sense of scale in the imagery. But it’s fair to say I change my mind often, so this may not be the case next week. I guess I just like the vibe of the photo – it seems artsy and I dig it.
I also really love Cruise – it’s an image shot in the Tierra Atacama in Chile. It was just one of those moments where everything came together: the landscape, the light, the car. It has such a strong Easy Rider vibe to it. I love the brown hues and their timelessness.
BS: What do you hope people feel, or recognise, when they walk through the exhibition?
JL: A strong sense of timelessness, of a calm narrative and a strong quietness. I hope people are inspired to go to these places – to search for those quieter, more abstract and obscure locations. And to not always try to stamp their personality on the moment. Mostly, I guess I hope for people to be able to identify with the images and evoke a sense of wanderlust and desire. I look at the images and they excite me to embark on my next adventure – the images are not so much about an exact place but more about a feeling that you get when you travel.
BS: Your next project will be ...
JL: I recently saw Nocturnal Animals and was really struck by some of the locations and general aesthetic of the movie – I’m going out on a limb and saying it was the best movie I’ve ever seen. Anyway, without giving too much away, it’s kind of the opposite of this show. I’ll leave it as that for now because like all good ideas, it needs to germinate slowly, grow and evolve.
John Laurie’s The Light of Day opens at JCP Studios (51/57 Cubitt St, Cremorne) on Thursday 8 December from 6–9pm. It will run until December 21, 2016. Prints are available for purchase.
This article was updated on December 17, 2016.