JONNY WILSON PHOTOGRAPHY: An edgy lifestyle

Motorcycles are currently big business and are being used to sell a whole lifestyle. How to keep this authentic without those deeply involved feeling like their image and lifestyle is being sold out, is a fine line to tread.

 

JONNY WILLSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Where did it all start?

 It’s been an interesting journey so far; born and bred in the Lake District is where my interest in adventure, freedom and photography began.  Later at Uni, I become engrossed in snowboarding and skating.

Whilst teaching photography in Devon and then Brighton, I really got into the classic, chopper and hot rod scenes and started photographing the bikes, cars, events and people involved in the scene.

I’m now pursuing photography full time and have been producing work for Dice Magazine, Greasy Kulture, Classic American and Buster + Punch amongst others. I continue to document the European and UK traditional chopper and hot rod scenes, as well as other subcultural lifestyles alongside commercial work.

 

"I try to immerse myself with the subject matter and become a participant within the subcultures and scenes. "

 

What makes your practice and style disruptive?

The focus and subject matter of my main work is disruptive in the sense that it deals with old custom vehicles that are loud and noisy by nature. The people involved in these scenes, can sometimes be perceived by those not involved, as being disruptive and antisocial.

In terms of my practice and the way I work, it’s less so.  I try to immerse myself with the subject matter and become a participant within the subcultures and scenes.  This allows the people within to accept and become accustomed to my presence to the extent that they forget I’m taking photos.  

I like to get in on the action, especially when it comes to riding shots. I’ve been getting more and more confident at shooting whilst riding, exploring angles and pushing the boundaries of how close I can get to other riders.  

This has allowed me to develop a very gritty style that captures moments that are not posed, creating a sense of realism.  I believe this makes my work much more authentic compared to a photographer who’s just there as a voyeur or tourist.

 

"Music has always played a part in my life and creative process; it helps fuel the imagination and has always gone hand in hand with imagery." 

 

Describe your most consistent sources of disruptive inspiration

Wow, too many to probably list here. My passion for old choppers and custom bikes - I never get bored of photographing every aspect of that lifestyle. I’m always striving to take better photos and capture things from new angles.

I’m always looking at what else is happening in terms of photography in general, especially within lifestyle photography.  Who’s doing what, how have they changed people’s perceptions and views. What’s the latest trend and how to make sure my work breaks away or disrupts.  

Music has always played a part in my life and creative process; it helps fuel the imagination and has always gone hand in hand with imagery.  Depending on what I’m listening to, it can help to paint a picture in my head, of how I want an image or shot to look like.  

I have quite an eclectic taste ranging from classic and hard rock, rockabilly, metal and blues to funk, soul and classic rap.  With the chopper stuff, it’s always usually some 60’s/70’s rock or Southern California rock such as Fu Manchu, Kyuss. That kind of thing, going through my head to fuel creative ideas.

Jonny Wilson

What industry pioneers paved the way for your practice?

People like Robert Capa and Robert Frank always stood out to me in terms of their documentary style, composition and use of black and white.  

In-regards to the American motorcycle subcultures of the 60’s and 70’s Danny Lyon and Bill Ray were true pioneers, immersing themselves with bike clubs capturing their true spirit and lifestyle. 

Their images continue to influence riders, bike builders and photographers to this day.  In more recent times Adam Wright really got the ball rolling with contemporary bike photography.

 

How do you think your work connects with people and communities?

Shooting specific subcultures and lifestyles it’s important the people involved see my work as authentic and portrays them in the best possible light.   

This is something I’m aiming to maintain whilst pursuing more commercial work. Making a connection between a product or brand and the target audience, telling a story through imagery that enables onlookers to feel that they are part of a community.

 

"Motorcycles are currently big business and are being used to sell a whole lifestyle."

 

What works are you most proud of?

Last year I was lucky enough to have work displayed at the Bike Shed Tobacco Dock and London’s Assembly Chopper show at the House of Vans. I also took a batch of images at the ‘Hook Up’ Chopper show in Wales. 

At the end of 2017 I took over the walls of the Buster + Punch showroom, where I showcased a selection of my best work.  It was in a very hard curation process, as I had to go through nine years’ worth of material. 

In terms of specific photography, there’s an image of a friend of mine standing on top of his Harley Shovelhead Chopper, whilst riding it with the sun breaking through behind him. I shot is for Dice Magazine a few years ago and it’s always a go to favourite for exhibitions.  

Jonny Wilson

 How do you balance being commercial with authenticity?

That’s a tough one, especially as I’m now basically working full time with my photography and taking on more commercial based work.  

I suppose it really depends on what the brief or subject matter is. Motorcycles are currently big business and are being used to sell a whole lifestyle. How to keep this authentic without those deeply involved feeling like their image and lifestyle is being sold out is a fine line to tread.  

I try to keep things authentic in terms of using people who are really involved. If it’s commercial work and a set up shoot is required, I like to try and get things to evolve naturally, rather than give too much direction.

 

"...there is a big difference between someone who takes photos and a photographer who has years of training and experience." 

 

Since you started your career, what has been the biggest change to your industry and what changes do you see happening?

With the development of digital photography and the quality of camera phones improving vastly over the last few years, everyone has instant access to a camera.  This along with social media sites that are purely visual like Instagram, has led to a lot of people thinking they are a photographer.  

This has led to the appreciation and value of photography dropping drastically. A lot of people now want work for free or those seeking to get there are happy to give their work away, the whole will work for exposure is starting to reach breaking point.  I used to say to my students, there is a big difference between someone who takes photos and a photographer who has years of training and experience. 

On the plus side, people are starting to see this trend developing and are starting to see the true value and quality of someone’s work. Especially those who truly put their heart and soul into creating beautifully crafted images. Hopefully this will continue and the work for free, culture, will fade away in preference for paying for quality. 

 

"There’s a fine line between being inspired by someone else and thinking you can never produce something of the same calibre." 

 

What’s the hardest personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?

For me it was taking the leap to quit teaching and go out by myself.  Having never been self-employed before or run my own business, it’s been a real steep learning curve, which I am still on.  

Some days you doubt yourself and your work. There’s a fine line between being inspired by someone else and thinking you can never produce something of the same calibre.  

However, you need to give yourself a kick and just get on with it, use that uncertainty to fuel the fire in the belly and keep pushing forward.

How has your experience helped your career and your work?

Now when it comes down to editing, I try to keep my work simple and effective. Early on I would get carried away with the editing process, exploring more of the creative process of Photoshop. 

Looking back, it’s obvious to see the over-editing on show in those early images. I still use the creative possibilities of Photoshop and Lightroom, but now I use them in a more traditional manner, almost like a digital darkroom.  Some images still require more technical editing than others, but the key is to be more subtle, so those processes aren’t visible to the viewer.

I’m also probably a lot more patient when it comes shooting. I’ll see a situation developing and will have an idea of how I want it to develop, to create an effective image. So I will wait it to happen.  

 

What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a few bike shoots lined up for magazines, as well as trying to organise a few more exhibitions of my work.  Mainly I’m working on building up my commercial portfolio and taking on new clients.

 

All interviews are directly penned by the disrupters

Edited by Maria Micu

 

CONTACT JONNY
Website: jonnywilsonphotography.com
Social:  Instagram @jonnywilsonphotography

              Facebook: @jonnywilsonphotography

              Twitter:  @JWilsonPhoto1

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