Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Intro Kane Horspool Photos Matt Lee
Matt Lee is a Wollongong staple. Stepping lightly through life and never catching any toes under his heels. He is well loved by all of the regions skateboarders and he’s given his in return.
Matt is an amazing skateboarder and photographer and he has added to the gong skate almanac by documenting some of the areas finest in his past zines, Wizard. He has turned his camera lense in recent times to shooting landscapes and stills of nature in black and white. Whilst some monochromatic photography of this nature can fill the viewer with a sense of gloom, Matts photography has a soothing effect like meditation in the rainforest. I’d go so far as to say his photographs could calm you down after reading a United Nations climate change report.
1. When did you get into photography? And how old were you when you got your hands on a camera?
- I think I was about 15, so around 2005. My sister had a digital point and shoot which i took out skating one day. I enjoyed taking photos of my mates so kept borrowing it for a while until I'd saved up enough to get my own. I used my mums film SLR for a bit as well and when I was maybe 17 I picked up a Nikon SLR from Rodney Ip, another skater who was taking photos and that's where my interest in photography really took off.
2. Tell us about your day job?
- I'm an arborist by trade, or more colloquially a tree surgeon. I work for Bohmer's Tree Care, a local tree care company as a climber and leading hand. We do mainly residential work, tree removals and pruning, so most days I'm up a tree.
3. Do you think your work influences your photography?
- I think it does. Nature, and particularly trees, are my most preferred subject to shoot so working so closely with tree gives me exposure to species and perspectives that I might not otherwise see. I think my work helps deepen my appreciation of nature which certainly keeps me inspired to want to continue capturing the beauty it has to offer.
4. When you go out to shoot, do you have an idea of what you want to get or do you just let the wind take you and see what comes?
- Generally I'll go out with a subject in mind and a set idea of the image I want to make. These days I mainly shoot my landscapes in medium format so I'm pretty selective and methodical about what photos I take. But quite often I'll get to the location and see much more than just the one photo I came out to get.
Sometimes those are the photos that turn out the best because I haven't preconceived an idea in my head of what it should be, probably because the creative process comes from the moment rather than a set plan. Other times though, the planned photo is all I'll take from the location. I usually take a 35mm or digital SLR with me as well and kind of shoot from the hip with those so to speak.
5. Did you recently put together a darkroom? How's it going?
- Yeah, myself and 2 friends Brett Randall and Charlie Conlan recently finished putting together a darkroom in Fairy Meadow, just north of Wollongong. I've done plenty of developing at home but have wanted a space to be able to make prints. An opportunity came up at the end of 2018 so the 3 of us got together and fitted out the space to suit. It's been operational since about June, we've mainly been doing our own and friends film. It's been pretty loose so far but the plan is to offer black & white processing, maybe eventually colour too, but also to provide a place for those who want to get in the darkroom but don't have the space our mean to set up their own. We've got a few other ideas in the works so we'll see what comes of it.
6. How hard was it finding equipment for the darkroom in this digital age?
- I was pretty fortunate in that I had some gear that I bought a few years ago and Brett had some gear he'd acquired a while ago as well. We were really lucky that a friend, Ryan Grant, had a treasure trove of equipment - pretty much everything, enlargers, film, paper, chemicals, trays - and was willing for us to make use of it. So we negotiated and arrangement with him and that got us fully kitted out. It can be found though, the internet makes it a lot easier to come across. Equipment can be found on Gumtree, Ebay, Facebook market with a bit of searching and there's a handful of suppliers in Australia for getting chemicals, film and paper.
7. You shoot a lot in black and white, what's your attraction to the grey scale?
- Artists such as Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Clyde Butcher, all predominantly black and white photographers, have been the primary influences on how I approach making photos, both technically and creatively.
But I think there's a few factors that draw me to black and white. It's more accessible, I can go from capture to development to print with relative ease compared to colour. Processing and printing black and white is less complicated and cheaper than colour.
It has more latitude for controlling the image as well, I can push or pull the film or adjust development to help create the image that I'm trying to make. I can be as scientific or abstract as I like with it, I suppose counterintuitively it offers creative freedom. Working with just tones, rather than colours, allows more focus on the texture and contrast of tones and my response to the subject as opposed to the subject itself.
It puts more emphasis on the connection both I and the viewer have with the image, maybe it's like a filter taking away what we see but leaving how we see it. I don't mean to say this can't be found with colour photography, it can be just as powerful a tool in expressing one self, but i guess black and white resonates with me more from an artistic perspective.