GAVIN JOWITT SPENT MUCH OF HIS FORMATIVE YEARS IN A MAKESHIFT DARK ROOM NEXT TO WHERE HE SLEPT. NOW HE EARNS A LIVING SHOOTING PEOPLE AND MACHINERY AT SOME OF THE MOST DESOLATE SITES IN THE COUNTRY.
Had industrial photographer Gavin Jowitt known he could earn money from his favourite hobby he may not have waited until his teens to begin developing his own images.
Inspired by the innovative photojournalism the Sussex-born snapper had witnessed in publications such as The Observer and The Sunday Times, Gavin was just three years into his budding career when he began seriously fine tuning his craft.
“My Dad bought me [my first] camera when I was about 11, by the time I was 14 I had set up a dark room in the cupboard next to my bedroom.” Initially unaware he could make a career out of taking photos, he headed to art college straight out of school where he studied graphic design, largely because it included photography as a subject.
It took the 48-year-old, who by that stage was living in Sydney operating his own design agency, until his late 30s to begin shooting professionally.
“At that stage I was still doing agency work and commissioning a lot of corporate photography. I knew there were big annual report budgets out there – we were sending photographers off around the world on month-long shoots. I learnt how photographers worked by being the client and seeing how things were done.”
Today as an AIPP certified photographer who is also a qualified Associate with the British Institute of Professional Photography, Gavin earns a living as a corporate and commercial photographer specialising in industrial photography – most notably across the natural resources, construction and manufacturing sectors.
While conceding there’s little that is glamorous about shooting at industrial sites, Gavin says he is one of the rare breed that genuinely loves this type of work. “I get a real buzz out of photographing large machinery, dozers, trucks, factories, construction sites, mines and quarries. As a commercial and industrial photographer you get to shoot in some interesting places. Last week I was in the control tower at Sydney Airport. I’ve shot in operating theatres and remote mine sites. Every week it’s always somewhere different.
“Industrial work can be pretty unglamorous… what’s important to me is delivering great images that showcase my clients’ business. I’m just happy to see my work getting used across websites and annual reports. It’s commercial work, it has a job to do.”
Inspired by great photographers and Nikon fans such as British photojournalist Don McCullin, Gavin purchased his first much-coveted Nikon, an F-601 model (commonly referred to as the Nikon N6006), when en route to Australia in 1992. Since then he has slowly built an arsenal of Nikon gear with the range including Nikon D5, Nikon D4 and Nikon D800 camera bodies together with a comprehensive range of lenses ranging from the NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED to the NIKKOR AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED.
He describes his Nikon D5 as his workhorse and always ensures he has on him at all times a second camera body, with his never fail lenses being his NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, his NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and his NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II zoom lens.
“The choice of lens I carry is usually determined by the location. If I’m going to be carrying my kit on my back then I usually just take my three zooms and a NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G. My preference is to shoot with a primes however, a lot of the time the convenience of the zooms wins over,” Gavin says.
Gavin says while he manages to snaffle time for the odd passion project, the majority of what he shoots is determined by the brief issued by clients. This usually involves corporate communications-type work where he is required to demonstrate scale or asked to tell a story about a new piece of equipment.
While conveying emotion in shooting static subjects can be challenging, Gavin says often the size and scale of his subjects, together with the surrounding skylines, adds an element of theatre.
Great light can make anything look beautiful, he says. “Emotion is tricky, I guess its more about drama [and] giving a unique perspective can achieve that. Scale is achieved by adding people to the mix. Most industrial sites have a fair amount of movement so slowing down the shutter helps to convey that.”
In common with most other commercial photographers, Gavin says the biggest challenges in his work are time (or lack thereof) and an inability to access a “decent” vantage point. No one is going to shut down a plant just so photographs can be taken, he says.
Safety is and always should be the number one priority and all sites require some form of induction before Gavin is allowed to even access his equipment. At a Rio Tinto alumina refinery in Gladestone recently the induction alone took two hours to complete. “You then have to complete a job safety analysis and have to have all the right Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
“The most important thing is getting whoever is in charge of the site onboard with what you are trying to achieve. Sometimes you get lucky and have an escort who will jump through hoops to get you to the best locations… on other occasions you’re given five minutes to get the job done.” Key to overcoming these sorts of issues is meticulous planning, he says.
To this end he tries to find out as much as he can about the site and what it does. In addition he always attempts to talk with his on site contact beforehand “so I can understand what some of the issues will be”.
“When on a industrial site you usually have to carry all you own gear and often there’s a lot of walking or climbing to do. The last thing you want is to carry 10kg of gear you don’t need – particularly when climbing a tower crane.”
To see more of Gavin’s work see: www.gavinjowitt.com
In Gavin’s bag
- Nikon D5
- Nikon D4
- Nikon D800
- NIKKOR AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED
- NIKKOR AF-S 35mm f/1.4G
- NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.4G
- NIKKOR AF-S 85mm f/1.4G
- NIKKOR AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
- NIKKOR PC-E 24mm f/3.5D ED
- NIKKOR AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
- NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
- NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
- NIKKOR AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
- NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR
Gavin’s top tips:
– The best way to build a portfolio is to start shooting industrial locations that you can view from public places. Building a portfolio without getting access to sites can be tricky and you can’t get access to sites without a client making it happen.
– If you are shooting industrial landscapes, time of day can make all the difference. If you find a great location, keep revisiting it at different times.
– Understand workplace safety and have your own PPE. You need to keep yourself safe and most importantly, if you’re photographing workers onsite your need to make sure that they are compliant otherwise the shots will be unusable.
– If you are using people in the shots make sure what they are doing something that genuinely happens and not standing next to a machine that is operating holding a spanner.
– Join the AIPP and become an Accredited Professional Photographer. It is fast becoming the benchmark clients are looking for.
Words: Tracey Porter