Born and raised in Australia, Dean West is a hyper-realistic photographer who creates intrinsic images capturing both the imagination and an artistic eye. Studying photography at school in the dark-room, his images have evolved into stunning and complex arrangements of models, objects, backgrounds and lighting styles. In the modern-era of art and photography, artists and photographers continuously stretch the boundaries of their creative abilities, allowing them to express the surreal, the impossible and the subjects of our dreams; Dean West certainly comes under that description.
Hyper-realism is a certain aspect of photography that incorporates various elements throughout our world, and composing them into an image. Hyper-realistic images often explore various themes, quotes, objects, places and people’s lives, and in Dean West’s case it is his love for mythology. Below is our interview with Dean West, talking all things creating, planning and experimenting with photography.
How is living overseas treating you and do you miss Australia?
The rest of the world has been treating me well! Of course I miss Australia!!! I do my best to get back for work or leisure as much as possible.- the summer, the lifestyle… how could I not miss home?!
Getting straight into your photography, what has been your favourite piece to work on in terms of production and why?
That’s a tough question to answer as each image comes with it’s own quirks & perks. I’ve spent weeks looking for the perfect octopus tentacles, hung out with ostrich farmers & travelled many miles to work with award winning taxidermist’s. If I had to choose my favourite in terms of production, I would say “Tree’ from my series “In Pieces”. The series is a collaboration with famed NY Lego Sculptor, Nathan Sawaya. We took a huge road trip across the US looking for inspiration to match the American aesthetic. In the image you can see the Salt Flats from Utah, a military house from Nevada, a fence from Canada, a Lego tree that was shot in LA, the talent is from Toronto and even a White Cockatoo from Australia.
Some of your photographs almost resemble an oil painting, they are so beautifully crafted together. How did you develop that style of imagery?
I believe that my aesthetic has evolved along with my commercial work. When you carefully choreograph an image from top to bottom, the image naturally takes on an illustrative effect. I’m quite particular about the details within the image so if something has been added to a concept, it’s there because there is a reason. We search far and wide to find the best elements for each concept and as a side effect of this selection process, the image feels more painterly as opposed to a ‘straight’ photograph for example.
How has photography helped you develop as a person either in your career/personality or other?
I used to be much quieter & more introverted than I am now. It’s important you can communicate your ideas effectively in this business and this has been a natural progression. My confidence in my own abilities has grown over time, each concept you finish or conquer, helps you grow as an individual.
Your work is very stylised and seems to incorporate a lot of narrative into the image. How important is narrative to you when creating an image?
If I’m going to spend months working on a single image, I need to know WHY I’m embarking on that process and WHAT is the message I am trying to convey. Photography is a very powerful medium of expression.
It has been said by many photographers that creativity is simply a form of breaking down problems and finding your own solutions. Do you agree with that statement and where do you like to find inspiration from?
Creativity is about creation and yes- this involves problem solving so I can agree with that statement. For me it’s more about experimentation. Mostly my inspiration revolves around history, painting & cinema. intimate moments of observation that speak universal truths.
What state of mind are you in when you photograph or plan your photographs?
By the time I get to shooting, a lot of the hard work has been done in regards to concept development, scouting etc. This is a time for me to focus in on the talent and draw out as much emotion as possible.
Tell us a little about the process behind “Trampoline”.
I usually begin with an inspiration or a basic, nebulous concept and then fine-tune it throughout the creative process. ‘Trampoline’ was my first attempt at producing a photograph for non-commercial reasons after university. I wanted to develop my style and implement the new skills I had learned from working in advertising. After a little research, I decided I was going to begin a series called “Fabricate” a series which appropriates Greek & Roman mythology. Mythology was the perfect theme for me to appropriate with its infinite creativity and limitless imagination.
“Queen of Thebes” has so many elements to the photograph, how did the idea behind that develop and were any changes made from planning to the final image?
‘Queen of Thebes’ appropriates the tragic story of Queen Jocasta, Oedipus’s mother. Queen Jocasta, upon realizing that she had married her own son and Laius’s murderer, hanged herself. Several versions of that story discuss the beauty of her bedroom and I decided to focus on this moment. I had worked with Canadian actress Lisa Ray before and knew she was going to be perfect for this role. The background itself is a dining room from one of my collectors. After digesting the concept over time, I knew I had all the elements in place to create this scene. The location was so exceptional that I crafted the scene around that room.
The Imagination Distilled for GQ looks like that would have been quite challenging to combine all the elements together. What was the most prominently challenging element of that photograph?
With over 45 people in a single photograph, everything needs to be planned before hand. We need to know exactly where each talent is going to be placed to match the lighting & perspective. (See sketch example)
Any news on some upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
I’m almost finished the concept development of a new project which will be shot in November 2014. Stay tuned.
Lastly, if you could photograph anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Anywhere that I could wake up and go for a morning surf before the shoot.