Not many of us can say we’ve got our dream job by the age of 30. As I sat down with a coffee to chat to the brilliantly talented photographer, Garry Jones, I couldn’t help but wonder. How did he make it so far in such a short time? What kept him going? What’s next when you’re already living the dream? I asked Garry, who has his photographs on the cover of Native Issue 3, just a few of these burning questions.
Hey Garry. Firstly can you paint a picture for us of why you choose photography as a career and what made you first pick up a camera?
As far back as I can remember it was always something I wanted to do, but I don’t really know why, I just liked the idea of being a photographer. No one at a young age really inspired me to get into photography, not until my early teens when I started to absorb skateboarding and the culture surrounding it. The main turning point was during secondary school when I got exposed to a darkroom, that really set things off for me, processing, printing, everything about.
Moving on from that, which photographers originally inspired you and who do you continue to admire?
A photographer called Andrew Attah, because of his association with Hospital Records, he shot all their live stuff around ten years back. For me, his work set the standard. One of the first, if not the first, photobook I ever bought was Mike Blabac’s, whose work is just insane, his documentation of skateboarding through the decades with legendary pro-skaters, working with DC and shooting some of the most iconic photos in skateboard history for instance Danny Way, jumping the Great Wall Of China.
Main influence past to present is a photographer called Fred Mortagne, AKA French Fred, his skate photography documenting the European skate brand ‘Cliché’ was work that began to make my mind think differently about composition. Fred often used architecture to frame the action in a way I’d never seen before and he always shot on film so it just had a rawer look about it compared to the more glossy American skate photography.
In 2018 you contributed to our magazine by shooting some of Coventry’s largest events including the BBC Big Weekend and Godiva Festival. How do you go about capturing such raw, vibrant events with a camera?
Big Weekend and Godiva are interesting ones to photograph because honestly they aren’t like most modern festivals or big music events because primarily they just have two big stages. I try to let my camera focus more on the people at the festival normally. I think the social interaction between people getting involved in the spirit of the festival doing some activity or workshop is more interesting, which in turn captures more of the essence of most festivals. But to properly answer your question, because these two festivals (Big Weekend and Godiva) are just music led you have to know your angles when shooting a big stage and take your time with it. You don’t have to shoot a thousand shots, try get a variety or close up and my preference a good wide shot.
You spend a lot of time outside of Coventry shooting at festivals such as Boomtown and El-Dorado and have previously worked with brands like BMW and the O2 venues. How do these partnerships come about?
A lot of my partnerships come through having worked in the music or events industry whatever you want to class it as for so many years. Festivals are a interesting one because everyone seems to know each other or at least have an idea of who everyone is so you make connections quickly which helps, and when I say connections naturally you make friends with everyone. BMW I worked as a photographer in branch as a regular nine to five which I never thought could be a job but it is. That completely changed my attitude to workflow and getting stuff done, for the better. O2 came about I’d like to think because I had been shooting gigs for years all over the country and I’d reach the point that a big chain of venues and brand had enough trust in me to become one of their house photographers which is amazing as there’s a lot of talent shooting for them already.
We know you primarily as a photographer that loves nothing more than reflecting the energy of a gig or festival but we want to know if there’s anything else that you like to shoot privately or is what you shoot continually evolving as your personal tastes develop?
Six years ago I really wanted nothing else than to shoot gigs and festivals all the time, but as of today and the past twelve months I’ve really tried to swing people’s opinion of what type of photographer I am. My focus these days is more of portraiture which I thought id never say at one point because I really used to not like shooting portraits probably because I hadn’t experienced it enough or I was just a bit nervy of the genre and felt safer in what I knew such as festivals. So ye I’ve just enjoyed being in a studio more these days, working with musicians mainly in drum and bass creating a fun theme or concept for the shoot, having time with artists I listen to daily and working with them so they are comfortable enough to relax so we get the awesome photos that can go alongside their music.
We guess photography is really a reflection of the photographer. With that in mind, what are you personal hobbies and passions?
Never heard a statement so true in my case, I mean all the things I’ve been interested in when growing up in my teens and early twenties has reflected in my photography. As I mentioned early skate photographers really drove my early inspiration because I was a skater and still am, the culture of skateboarding has really affected my attitude towards shooting and my look stylistically. Wish I could get to skate more though these days but luckily enough the same crew of friends I’ve always skated with have like a yearly trip to a city in Europe so we can all skate and have some beers which is always a highlight of my year. Plus skateboarding culture now may hold a more of a major presence in my future with my work with Skateboard England, which have already given me the chance to shoot some really rad competitions and portraits which honestly I never thought I’d get to do.
One of the other things which has driven my photography was my taste in music, my brother DJ’s drum and bass and produces it to this day under the name My Selecta, but he got me into mixing, buying vinyl, raving so because of that naturally I wanted to shoot Drum and Bass. Now I’m honoured to say I shoot for Hospital Records whose vinyl I used to buy with my EMA money when I was at college. With respect to my hobbies and interests everything has gone full circle for me which is crazy, all the little ‘what ifs’ and dreams I had when I was younger have in a lot of situations come through. I got to photograph London Elektricity for his album release press shots which was a dream.
Skateboard culture is a personal favourite of yours so tell us more about the Skateboard England project... How did it come about, who instigated it and what is it trying to achieve?
To go back right to the start, I was out at X-Games in Norway shooting, photographing some of the biggest pros in skateboarding, sending the photos back to you at Native and literally fulfilling something that I never thought was achievable. After getting back maybe a few months later my friend Andy Scott asked me to record an episode of his podcast, and one of the questions he raised to me was “What’s the next big dream after something like X-Games” my answer was simple, the Olympics. This sort of set into motion my train of thought of how I could get to do this opportunity or just get involved in the journey somehow. I kept my eyes out on the Internet for news, looking for who would be the governing body to sort it all out basically. I sent emails and emails, did research until I hit the right note. I had emailed Skateboard England with no response for a month maybe two, then I got a phone call off Neil who works for Skateboard England asking me if I was free in less than a weeks time to go up to Manchester to photograph the skaters being put together to be funded to earn points to go to the Olympics in 2020. Obviously I was stoked and said yes of course whatever is needed I’m there. It did land on a day I was meant to be meeting my girlfriend in Cardiff for a late Valentines Days but she understood my level of excitement and was fine me showing up a little late. Basically, went up to Manchester did the shoot in a whirlwind and got on the train to Cardiff and edited the photos and on that train ride I realised that there’s a bigger project here. I thought, these skateboarders need to have their larger journey to the games documented, reflecting on who they are, their backgrounds and the culture of skateboarding they have grown up in. I wanted to start a project to show who these young people are that will be the first ever Olympic skateboarders and showcase it eventually in a gallery space to show the nation. Oh and if anyone’s got a gallery to lend me that would be great!
It must be incredible to be able to get so close and personal to a group of people that are on the brink of achieving life-changing things?
Its pretty crazy for sure, but its just the skateboarder attitude of how its all very in the moment and everyone is so chilled out and cool about things. Skateboarding is all about having fun anyway so these guys and girls just seem to be keeping that mentality going so you’re sort of on the same page as them to be honest. Maybe as time progress and it becomes more real with every passing week my opinion may change on this one.
What is the ultimate aim for the Skateboard England project? Will it be a public exhibition, maybe published as a photographic book?
Like anything just getting this project off the ground is a mission in itself. I’m still currently trying to get funding for the project and explore a few different paths of the end result. To break it down this will hopefully turn out to be an exhibition piece in a gallery space with a chance of a short film to go with it. The goal is it’ll open to the public come 2021 somewhere, I don’t know where yet but I’m trying my hardest to get in contact with the right person to make this happen for me, the skaters and community involved.
Looking towards the future. Where do you see yourself heading in the short and long-term future?
Coming towards the end of my Masters I’ve naturally been looking to the future, and I can’t say for certain what will happen in the coming months. One of those situations where I feel anything can be round the corner as I’ve had a couple of years with some career changing events and if that vibe carries on who really knows. But I guess I could try and say my future is in shooting the Skateboard England project, hopefully producing more album covers as that’s something I’ve also been doing but haven’t had time to speak about here. More gigs and festivals as I’ve always got an act or two to cross off my list of people I’m desperate to shoot. Be nice if I could start the next stage of my career, find a way of getting into teaching. Excited whatever happens, maybe a PHD at some stage.. brave that one.
For any aspiring photographers out there, what advice would you give them?
My ethos has always been shooting things you enjoy and get a true kick out of, it always naturally comes through in your work which in turn makes your work more exciting and dynamic. I don’t wanna sound too cliche really as there’s not much advice another photographer can give another without sounding it. Be humble, be honest and always stay as driven as you can!
Finally, looking across Coventry, what do you think it needs to do to build a solid, supportive creative scene that can rival any of those you’ve seen or been involved in nationally?
Coventry already has the foundations and you can see pockets of good things happening. From the Ghost Town crew putting on events, Live Loud supporting the bands and giving them platforms, Twisted Barrel producing amazing beers and looking after home brewers with their club. There’s a lot going on I feel, maybe it doesn’t suit everyone’s taste, but I’m content with chilling at Beer Gonzo, hitting up Digbeth dining club when its in Cov. If you want me to be critical it would be nice to see more art communities coming together in the city producing an event like a thing similar to ‘Nicer Tuesdays’, love to see places like the Herbert giving a bit more space to local artists.
Its a feeling I get Coventry isn’t missing anything that any other city has got. We have restaurants, bars, clubs, galleries, history, maybe sometimes the people in the city are just missing that little spark to go out on their own and embrace what others are doing in the city. To all those people from up at Fargo to the Cathedral and many more hats off to you as you are doing cool stuff that deserves to be praised and applauded, sorry if I’ve missed anyone. Cheers to Native also, as it’s been my introduction back to the cities culture and community since I returned from Southampton. Good things to come!
You can see Garry’s work on the cover of Native Magazine Issue 3 - Out end July 2019.
Written by Amy Turner of Writing Into The Ether