Richard's Photographer Spotlight: Bayly & Moore
When Simon and Sophia of Bayly & Moore started shooting together in Auckland, New Zealand back in 2009, they had no idea what lay ahead. Fast forward a few years, and this hybrid photography duo is hellbent on making genuine images and personal connections as they travel the world photographing what they call "the brilliant madness of love".
Today in Richard Photo Lab's Photog Spotlight, Si and Soph are chatting about balancing digital and film photography workflows, turning digital files from fiction to fact, and the camera lens that is a "creamy, grainy miracle worker".
Richard: What first sparked your passion for photography?
Bayly & Moore: Si was in the music industry for years, touring and making records, digesting all of the travel and incessant waiting around that goes with it. The access he had to interesting stuff combined with traveling and the strong personalities of the music industry quickly had him addicted to documenting everything. Soph studied photography at design school before working as a freelance designer in a couple of ad agencies, and after a while she started shooting more and more for herself just to break that big agency monotony. We met backstage at a musice festival (Soph was photographing a band), and the rest is history.
R: Making the leap from photography as a personal passion to a paying gig is a big one... how did you decide to pursue it as a career?
B&M: Both of us were working in industries that were hugely creative (music and design), but that also required large teams of people to get anything decent done. Suddenly, photography showed up in our lives as a way for us to be able to "make stuff’’ using the skill sets we already had, and we could do it without needing to be part of a huge process. After you’ve been working on major ad agency jobs or a big tour, going out and shooting on your own & creating work is the most amazing feeling! So one day, we just looked at each other and were like, "Let’s just do this and ditch everything else"… and it was on.
R: When you aren't shooting for clients, what do you LOVE to photograph?
B&M: Loads of artist portraits (and always on film). We have a really strong music scene in New Zealand, and when we were starting out, I’d shoot a lot of album art. I became addicted to shooting strong, interesting people who would push back at you, who weren’t just eye-candy, and who had a host of complexities to try to represent. It’s made me seek out and want to shoot strong artists and make work in collaboration with people who have something to say, rather than just stealing documentary moments and "shooting pretty". We're forever chasing the desire to feel what someone feels rather than just looking at them like they’re an image collected in a catalogue.
R: How do you find a balance between being creatively fulfilled and being able to pay the bills?
B&M: The grand "art versus commerce" debate is relevant early on, but the one thing we learned quickly is that if you can ignore the noise and find your own distinct voice, then you stand out a mile—the commercial elements of what you do become self-sustaining.
We’re passionate about preaching the "build yourself, not your brand" mantra, and it’s really all about coming to grips with what makes you tick as a person and an artist. That eventually comes out in your work—basically "you are what you eat", and if you want to make better work, then build yourself into the kind of person who makes that work naturally. A fulfilled, well-put-together, process-driven artist makes distinctive work, and if there’s one thing the market likes, it’s distinctive work. You’ll collect genuine fans of what you’re doing along the way.
Wanna make money? Make fans. Wanna make fans? Make work that people can be fans of. And the sort of work that people can be fans of is tremendously fulfilling work to make. End of story.
R: What is your favorite camera and why?
B&M: For digital photography, we shoot on Canon 5d bodies with a bunch of L-series lenses, pretty standard and not really the kind of thing you can call a "favorite". Film-wise, our devoted favorites from the collection of stuff on the shelf would be an old Rolleicord III (for double exposing and creeping the film along, so the separate shutter and film transport mechanisms are like gold), and of course the classic Canon 1v for 35mm stuff.
The 1v lets us really get the most out of some of those Canon lenses. The 50mm 1.2 is really one of the great lenses of history — on Kodak Portra 400 and Portra 800, that thing is a creamy, grainy miracle worker!
R: When and why did you become a hybrid photographer? How do you balance your workflow to incorporate both?
B&M: Basically, we were shooting all of the stuff that was important to us on film because we loved the look, and we loved not having our personal images in the same workflow swamp as all of our wedding stuff. Deliberately separating them was a way for us to feel refreshed from shooting, not exhausted. Then, we wanted all of our wedding work to have the same feeling of joy, so shooting film weddings quickly became a no-brainer. Digital is also massively advantageous when documenting a day that can be a bit of a wild ride, so carefully combining the two is the challenge. We don’t really shout about the film stuff with our clients, as in, “Ooooh, look at us we’re shooting film now, so turn it on!”, it’s more just a zen thing that feels right in the moment. It also gives us a "true north" of a color style to chase.
When it comes to workflow, if you’re shooting in perfect light, both film and digital are always effortless to match (and they look kick ass). But it’s in the problem-solving portions of the day that film really shines—naturally in the highlights, but also generally seeing more like your eye does. To be honest, the more we "hybrid-ize" our workflow, the more we want to only shooting 35mm for entire weddings. It’s just so damn delicious and easy and zen-like.
R: Why is it important to print your work?
B&M: Because files aren’t facts. When you print something, you turn a captured moment into a fact.
We're always telling clients that things on a screen aren’t really alive... they’re in transition, they’re subordinate to key-strokes and mouse movements. But something hanging on your wall is almost an equal to you. You have to approach it and live with it as a powerful fact right there in your life.
R: Do you have any pre-shoot rituals?
B&M: We travel a lot all over New Zealand and the world, and we always carry coffee-making devices with us. Strange little grinders, weird Japanese kite things, bags of collected beans from strange roasters—really, just every way possible to introduce hot water to a fried coffee bean. It’s the ritual of the early morning coffee in a strange place that makes you feel like you’ve brought a piece of home along with you.
Also, we have some brilliant leather shoulder bags from Saddleback that we use for gear. There’s a certain satisfaction of packing the bag perfectly with bodies and lenses and everything you need in a perfect tetris-like fashion, then swinging it on your shoulder just before you roll out the door.
We also play a lot of The Japanese House when we’re driving to a wedding. On repeat. Loud. So on most shoots, we have that as a soundtrack in our heads all day long…
R: Let’s play a game of “Either/Or”! Savory or sweet?
R: Chocolate or vanilla?
R: Dogs or cats?
R: Urban or rural?
R: Modern or vintage?
R: Breakfast or Dinner?
R: Warm weather or cold weather?
B&M: Cold weather.
R: Biggie or Tupac?
R: Early bird or night owl?
B&M: Early bird.
R: Crossword or Sudoku?
R: Batman or Superman?
R: Historical Non-fiction or SciFi/Fantasy?
B&M: Historical Non-fiction.
R: Comedy or Drama?
R: Truth or dare?
R: If you weren't a photographer, what would you be?
B&M: We also own a furniture rental company with some of our friends, and it’s a total blast working with objects instead of images. It also means we can play 80’s hit really loudly.
R: What song/music do you listen to to get pumped up?
B&M: ALL OF IT. We have a huge vinyl collection that ranges from classic to brand-new obscure (and we do have tendency towards playing Bowie's 7 Inch Singles at half speed—try "Under Pressure" sometime…), but at the moment we’re nailing new records from The Japanese House, The 1975, Alt-J, Beach House, Gang of Youths, The Jezebels, Kevin Morby, Porches, and Soren Juul.
And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
R: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
B&M: Si would have a laser-finger to trim hedges with unnerving accuracy. Soph would have x-ray vision, the kind where you could look into the ocean and just see the fish floating without water. These are essential life skills.
R: What is your favorite word, and why?
B&M: "Brutal", as taught to us by Australian maestro Oli Sansom. It can be used for everything in every situation. Loved that burger you just got? BRUTAL. Just heard about someone having a fender-bender? BRUTAL. Got pulled over by a cop? BRUTAL. Shot in perfect light? BRUTAL. Late for a meeting because of traffic? BRUTAL. Just nailed the perfect scrambled eggs? BRUTAL.