artistic utopias and flattering lighting: james robinson is creating work you want to live in
The artist, filmmaker and founder of creative agency AEVOE has built a career out of art, expression and making sure his mates get paid.
Much has been written about isolation as a catalyst for innovation. From Katherine Mansfield to the Triffids, feeling removed from the larger world has given antipodean artists ideas for centuries. In many ways, James Robinson belongs to this school. By the time the Melbourne based photographer and filmmaker turned 18 he was aware of feeling very far away from the art and heroes that occupied his mind during adolescence. With the end of high school approaching, this growing sense of disconnection was compounded by the reality he would also soon be competing for jobs in a comparative limited creative marketplace. But rather than feeling discouraged, he recognised the need for young artists like him to take responsibility for each other.
This lead to the establishment of AEVOE, an entanglement of ideas that is probably best called an agency. They work with young artists, photographers, and filmmakers to not only find work, but also make sure they're treated fairly.
We caught up with James to talk about making it big in a small place, and how these feel-good themes make their way into his own work.
Let's start by chatting about AEVOE. Why did you start it?
I started it in high school with one of my best friends Cristina. I noticed there were so many amazing photographers my age that lacked the connections to get well-paying jobs. She was 17 and I was 18, we initially wanted to start an event photography team to shoot people's 18th "birthday bashes" but it evolved into this agency where we took young photographers under our wing and connected them with our clients so they could skip that period of working for free to network.
Beyond helping people find work, it's also a way to offer another level of support right?
Absolutely, I often get members asking me things like how much they should charge and what to do when clients don't pay. We have a Facebook group where we offer help to each other on jobs, trade equipment and give advice on working with certain clients. Because a lot of the members we take on board tend to be inexperienced in the industry we know how to look out for them.
You're based in Melbourne, what do think you makes the scene here unique?
Melbourne is so isolated from the rest of the world, which is its best trait but its worst. There's definitely a lack of jobs for creatives compared to other cities around the world, but because of that everyone's looking for an outlet so we all collaborate. Melbourne just keeps improving because every person from every creative field is helping one another in some way.
Within AEVOE there is a definite feeling of social responsibility; not just in protecting each other, but also in the work you create and take on. Can we talk about that a little in relation to your own personal photography?
I think being a queer person of colour myself, being inclusive of minorities is a recurring theme of my work. When I'm involved with casting I always make spaces for people of colour and people that don't just sit on either end of the gender spectrum. Every film I make centres on someone who is oppressed by the patriarchy in some way, and since I connect with it in such a deep way I think my work will continue to focus on this in the future.
You work primarily in film and VHS, it's interesting your personal work is so linked to the past when AEVOE is clearly focused on the future. Do you ever worry nostalgia could prevent you moving forward creatively?
Definitely, I think it's a hole that you can easily get stuck in. I'm really inspired by Asian cinema, and when I first started making films everything I did was "homage" to my favourite Japanese and Korean directors. After a long time I realised I was doing nothing new, I was just trying to replicate the tone and pacing of something that had already been made. I think the best work is made when it's informed by what you love about the past but merging it with your own style.
Absolutely. Personally what makes you so interested in these mediums?
I think everyone is really nostalgic in their own way - it's nice to be reminded of the past. Listening to songs and watching films you used to when you were younger is so bittersweet because it reminds you of everything that's changed. My friends and nearly all of my peers are all going through an early 00s phase because it was what we were overexposed to when we were younger. I remember accompanying my Dad to get film developed at the chemist and rewinding VHS tapes, and I think my use of these mediums is definitely inspired by thinking how "adult" these things were.
What is your first memory of being really drawn to photography?
My dad has this photo of a sunset that he took when he was doing a short photography course. I used to love it when I was younger but now I kind of hate it, it's such a bad photo. It's literally just a sun setting and bouncing off some cool clouds. I'd never seen anything like it when I was a kid, but now I do still find it inspiring to know someone like my Dad, a balding accountant, is capable of engaging with the medium.
So you really were about inclusivity in art from day one. Before we go, what do you dream about?
My main goal is to be working making feature films. I'm always writing feature film scripts when I'm feeling inspired, but there's nothing to do with any of them in Australia where it's such a stressful process to even be considered for funding. Basically I just can't wait to be able to make a feature film and have J-Lo as my lead actress, I'm on my third draft for a Maid in Manhattan 2 script.
Text Wendy Syfret
Photography James Robinson