For those of you who don’t immediately recognize the name, Garth Badger is a New Zealand photographer. Specializing in the area of Fashion photography, Badger has taken the scene by storm since embarking on this career path four and a half years ago. His images are now featured in Remix Magazine and he has taken a shine to making short films for many of the major Fashion labels in Auckland, World and Kathryn Wilson among the most recent additions to his repertoire. Badger, however, was not always so artistically inclined. As he tells me, he originally trained as a bee keeper and it wasn’t until he was about 24 or 25 that he picked up his first camera.
Of late, you have been working with a number of different mediums – movies, film, 3D technology – why the variety?
I think the reason I enjoy what I do is the fact that I can mix it up. What I am finding is the more I shoot video, the better my stills become. Each different medium deepens your knowledge of the other, I think it means that you can draw on aspects of one and use them in another.
What do you like about each medium?
Obviously, I started out with still imagery and I think what about it is the creation side of it. I am far more interested in creating a scenario or a setup than capturing documentary style. I quite enjoy the fact that everything about a photograph that I take has been through my decision and my doing. Just that knowing that it is your baby almost. Then, moving into video I found everything I loved about film, it moves and something happens. Video is basically composition which is exactly the same as film but it’s an issue of moving movement into that equation which, creatively, is very exciting.
You have mentioned that you do not favour documentary so much, why is that?
It is not that I would never get into documentary photography, I do appreciate that. But what I am interested in at the moment is more creation based photography rather than the documentary.
The use of light in your photographs is stunning as you capture the sharp shards of winter light in many of your recent images, what are you trying to achieve?
What I found with light I go through phases where you develop a new technique or you find something a bit new that bring something different to your work, and you tend to use that for a certain amount of time. Not so much medium based, but more what you are feeling at the time. For me, it’s important to almost create work in batches where I don’t want anything to seem like a one-off. I might do, when I develop a new technique, I might like to use that for a couple of different magazine editorials, also you might like to use it for one or two clients as long as they don’t clash. Then, a couple of my own projects so that instead of seeing this one-off thing, they can see a theme going on. Then obviously, you can fall fashion to the next new and exciting technique and move on from there. I like things to be created in batches in that way.
By taking an idea and developing it through, does it allow you to fully explore the technique?
Yeah, it does. You find the more you use anything, the better it becomes. Everything is tested first in little projects for a start and a lot of those things never see the light of day. Often I’ll do tests with a model or a friend or just go out and do these little camera jests just to start perfecting it before you start showing everyone what you have done.
I think these days, we live in a generation where everybody is starting to upload onto the internet, onto Facebook or onto their blog, every last photograph they have ever taken. There is no refining of their work, there is no editing. It is almost like everyone wants to show everything they have ever done and I think it is really important that you show the cream of the crop, that only the very best of your work should be shown, not every last test you did of your mum’s friends and all that.
In light of that and as a fashion photographer based in New Zealand, how have you found working in the industry here?
I have had a surprisingly good run of working for the last four and a half years. I started working four and a half years ago and I have moved up the ranks relatively quickly in comparison to a number of other people. We have some amazing photographers here and there is definitely a good amount of competition, but then, it has been a nice place to move to because it has been great to develop what I do here.
What’s the process you go through to get contracts or editorial shoots?
That’s a good question. I don’t do any advertising or anything like that. I think in a visual medium like this, it is far more important that people see and like your work and what you have for their brand. I mean that is the ideal, that’s what any creative should be hoping for, that people are contacting them for their style rather than you contacting a whole lot of people trying to push your style on them. So for me, I don’t advertise and I don’t call around. What does become your advertising is your editorial work, the work you do for magazines which is often low paid or not paid at all, but that is the work the public is seeing and potential clients are looking at and making a decision about whether your style will fit with their brand.
That’s where social media comes into play as well, it seems?
Yeah, social media is almost like another form of that. It is almost like creating your own little magazine which people can read and be updated at any point. That’s quite amazing that in a matter of only four years, it has gone from a thing that almost no one was using to now when I can’t think of a person who is not, especially, a photographer who doesn’t have their own Facebook page let alone their own blog.
Which photographers do you love to look at again and again?
When I initially started out I worked with Jackie Meiring and Steve Chilli who were two photographers working at the highest level of Fashion in Auckland. It was amazing; I learnt a lot off both of them and met a lot of contacts, make-up artists and other industry type people.
As far as personal style, it is International photographers who I do keep an eye on. Magazine-wise, it is Italian Vogue, French Vogue, S Magazine, W Magazine and that’s all I can really think of off the top of my head. I hate listing photographers, I don’t think there is any one photographer I want to emulate or anything like that, for me it is important to take a little bit off people I see and admire rather than going too far down the road of emulating one person’s style. For example, you might appreciate some of the looseness of something Terry Richardson might do, but then you look at a Testino shoot and it might be completely different and you might want to piece it back to somewhere between Richardson and Testino and you get something else. It is almost like a recipe for creating a new work, but you take the essence of what each of them do.
You’ve spent a bit of time in Canada I understand, what did you do there?
I was a bee keeper. I hadn’t actually picked up a camera until I was about 24-25. I had trained and worked as a bee keeper until then. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I picked up a camera and started shooting.
So how did you get into it so late?
I was travelling and I wanted to have better photographic memories than the ones I was taking and I realised at that point that I had no idea, I was taking terrible photos. I thought I’d like to buy a proper camera and learn. So that’s exactly what I did. I had never considered it as a career; it was more of a hobby originally. But it wasn’t long before it developed into an obsession where I just thought I could take this better. I remember thinking other people are photographers, so there is absolutely no reason why I couldn’t do it as well. I just had this blind devotion to it.
Then you got in touch with Jackie Meiring and Steve Chilli and went from there?
Yeah, well I also did an internship in New York which was quite handy. I went to New York for a short internship for several months. I was in the East Village working with a guy called Nicholas Wagner, who is well received in the Fashion photographer over there. I learned a few of the industry ins and outs there, before realising it was time to come back to New Zealand purely because I am a New Zealander and I didn’t have to worry about visas or the culture and I could really just come back and concentrate. I decided that I didn’t want to study, I wanted to teach myself so my thought was the best way to do that was to come back to somewhere like New Zealand, to Auckland which is relatively small and easy to manage so I could put all my bits into learning who to be a digital photographer.
Now four and a half years into it, would you replicate that path again?
Would I go back and train? No, not at all. If there is anything I should have trained for its business. The photography side, I mean I use a lot of assistants for it who are studying and some that don’t, but really there is not a lot of difference to be honest. It’s the business side of the business that is difficult. As photographers, we want to work creatively and all the accounting and businessy things are not what you think of when you become a photographer.