Meet Travel Category Winner, John Laurie

Photos by John Laurie

You probably remember the winning Travel shot from our 2018 MC Photo Comp.

It was hard to forget—an old car in the middle of a Turkmenistan road, packed to the to the brim with a smiling, waving local family. The man behind the lens was Australian photographer John Laurie, a travel and lifestyle photographer who’s been to every far-flung location you can name. He’s worked for travel magazines (long live print) and commercial clients across the globe, been named as a finalist in a number of prestigious Australian photographer prizes, and now he’s added the biggest feather of all to his cap: MC Photo Comp winner. We chatted with John about the photo that made him famous, and also barbequing stuff.

Can you tell us the story behind your winning photo?

I was on assignment in Turkmenistan. This was in Merv, a really historic place and home to some of the world’s most ancient relics. I was just cruising around taking landscapes and portraits of the Turkmenis when this jolly lady (wedged in the back-left corner of the car) came up to me and offered a watermelon. I was right into it, but couldn’t really carry around a watermelon all day while shooting. We laughed and chatted via a translator, and then this car pulled up and all these people started piling in. It was hilarious. The car was tiny and they just jammed in like sardines! It was such a great moment, and really summed up the serendipity of travel photography for me—real and authentic. I guess that’s why I was so drawn to the photo and the moment. It wasn’t staged or composed, it just happened. There’s too much stuff out there right now that feels way too staged and perfect. I’m always drawn to the cracks in life, the moments either side of moments. But I guess that’s a debate for another time.

How do you plan to spend the prize money?

I’ll probably waste it on new boards and boardshorts! Kidding. I’m pretty committed to printing and framing a whole lot of my travel and personal work for a gallery space I’m creating here in Brighton, Melbourne. Be good to get them off the hard drive and up on the walls so people can come and check them out and hopefully buy them. I also just bought a new Takayama surfboard so it can go towards that too, I reckon.

What are you shooting at the moment?

I’m obsessed with the remote, the isolated, the uninhabited, the obsolete and the run-down. I spend a lot of my time on Atlas Obscura researching remote and far-flung places, dreaming about going there and planning shoots. There’s a lot of trial and error, and most of them require a fair bit of planning, fixers and cash.

I’m also really drawn to shooting twilight in 2019; those last few moments and slivers of soft light as day turns to night. I’ve already started doing a few, but I’m eager to push it further. I’ve been really inspired by the palette, tones and cinematography in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, and this is something I really want to bring to my work this year.

I also want to shoot and direct a bit more motion stuff on artists, skaters, surfers, and other interesting cats doing their own thing. I shot one on Jeff Raglus (ex Mambo artist) last year, which was a really great learning experience. So, anyone who might fit the bill and is keen, get in touch!

A moment you regret not having your camera on you? 

I’m never really too upset about not having my camera on me. I often have it on me and quite like it when I don’t, to be honest. I figure that sometimes it’s really good to just look and be present where you are. It gives you a real feel for the place.

Which of your photos would you save from a burning building? 

I should say a photo of my wife and kids, I guess; that goes without saying. But I’d have to say one of the first portraits I took when I was starting to realise I wanted to be a photographer. I shot it on my Pentax 67ii on KodakPortraa film when I was in Tuscany, Italy, in early 2007. It’s a photo of an Italian gardener in a green work romper suit and a small bucket hat on. I asked him to stand there, not smile and just look down the lens. It’s just such a real, simple pose. There’s almost no emotion to it but it brims with personality, and that’s what I love about it. Oh, and his romper suit. His romper suit is rad. This photo kind of set the style for me as a direction to take into my professional work—just quietly observing and trying not to put my personality into the image too much.

If you could steal talent from a photographer you admire, who and what would it be?

Wow, another tough question. The photographers I really admire most are probably William Eggleston, Joel Sternfeld, Stephen Shore, and Alec Soth. They all have such a strong sense of observation and style. I really love that sense of constructed observation and it’s a space I really want to work in more this year, and in the coming years. More large scale observations, working slower and in a more considered manner.

Recently, I’ve really been admiring the works of Jon Tonks and Catherine Hyland; more of that constructed observation with strong back stories and depth to their explorations. The research and planning that they engage in from concept to execution is something I’d love to steal! I have too many ideas in notebooks that never go anywhere.

What do you like to do when you’re not shooting?

Mow the lawn, annoy the kids, play tennis and golf, go surfing, read books, collect fridge magnets, barbecue stuff, go swimming in the ocean, collect masks and learn about tribal and ethnographic art, be constantly stoked on folk and outsider art, watch movies and listen to classical music. Wow, I sound really old!

Plans for 2019?

I’m heading to Europe, so I’ll be keen to explore some spots over there. I really want to do some more portraits and landscape combos, and interesting, authentic people in unusual locations, so if anyone reading this wants their portrait taken, hit me up! West Texas interests me, so does Nunavut, Newfoundland, the Chatham Islands, Jan Mayen and those sorts of frontier lands. If I can get to one of them this year that’ll be great.

See more from John on his website or Instagram @johnlauriephoto

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