A Walk on the Wild Side

July 2016 marked the beginnings of a joint project with Marcus Koppen. The seeds of our collaboration have been in the ground since my first few weeks in Amsterdam. We met via the intro of fellow Americano photog, John Lewis Marshall. Marcus and I quickly discovered a shared passion for booze, coffee, and all things photography.

Among the topics of conversation that came up as Marcus played the part of tour guide across a curated selection of Amsterdam's pubs and clubs was how photography opens so many doors. When we step through them, we’re presented with the best of the best and the worst of the worst. This insight has led us to embark on a journey to photograph the craziest people in the world, in order to capture the atmosphere and the lives of the festivals and events they inhabit.

Enter: Milkshake Festival 2016.

Of all the festivals in Amsterdam, this is the most outrageous and diverse. Think of it as the flying champagne cork to Amsterdam’s Gay Pride month. Djs and performers fill out multiple stages across Westerparkt and pump electronica for two days straight.

Our mission was to showcase the many performers, the crème da la crème of Europe’s festival scene, that have converged into one place in one breathe-taking weekend.

Marcus incorporates the drama, the subject's movements, and style, whereas I focus on aspects that I see that are beautiful and soulful about their faces and personality. Our work has developed a unique style of its own as our collaboration progresses. It’s bold, colourful, and iconic.

What’s important to remember is that these are location shots and it isn’t a photo booth. We arrived at the festival grounds with a shopping cart filled with equipment to build our portable studio: a backdrop, laptop, privacy screens, studio lights, and stands, with two eager assistants in tow.

To say setting up a studio at a crowded festival is a challenge is a bit of an understatement. Our studio was positioned to work the advantage of the unique conditions by setting up a daylight studio, where the changing conditions could become a part of the work. 

Along with the technical challenge, comes the human element. As we photograph, there are a constant stream of people that wander into the set: drunks, speed freaks, pill poppers, and then just the occasional couple that want a nice picture for Facebook. Through some of these encounters, we can produce timeless photos. Looking through them, I sometimes pause and wonder was that person a performer or just a face we found in the crowd?

I saw this guy walking around in gold faceprint... he reminded me of a Nazi scientist who spends his weekends at rave parties.

I saw this guy walking around in gold faceprint... he reminded me of a Nazi scientist who spends his weekends at rave parties.

Ambiguous as to how this Drag Queen arrived in front of the camera. The S t-shirt stands for superstar?

Ambiguous as to how this Drag Queen arrived in front of the camera. The S t-shirt stands for superstar?

Everywhere you turn at Milkshake.. it's a celebration of gender, sexuality, male and female forms. He is a he, then he becomes a she. Just like the song says...

Take a walk on the wild side."
And the colored girls say,
"Doo do doo do doo do do doo..."

Images: Marcus Koppen + Darren Smith


I Heart Hong Kong

Just before landing in Amsterdam, I hopped over on a quick flight to Hong Kong for one last look of Asia for the near future. For Australians, any flight under 15 hours is quick. 

When I go on holidays, I leave the Canon professional kit at home and I carry with me a Diana, a little toy camera. You can find them everywhere these days, but they were originally manufactured in Hong Kong in the 1960s.

I love the visual density of this city. A pedestrian in Hong Kong has a visual feast. You can look at a four-story Gucci advertisement on a 20-story concrete block of flats that has been painted pink, with a street food vendor at ground floor, and just beyond that is a 50-story glass office tower where people are silently pouring out of an MTR subway station, just as double decker trams (with even more advertising) and red taxis that zoom past very narrow, winding streets.

There's something slightly poetic to me about the idea of using a Hong Kong camera in Hong Kong. Although, what I enjoy most though is the constant source of delight from the lack of controls. You get three choices for your exposures - cloudy, partly cloudy, and sunny. It's as easy to operate as an iPhone camera, but without the instant gratification.

The edges of the exposures always bleed together and I've come to embrace the idea of taking a considered approach to the toy camera. To me, it's about the montage of images to tell the experience of wandering through the eyes of the traveler. 

No idea what I'll ever do with these pictures, but I think these pics would make for a really cool wallpaper.