Jason Reposar Interview - 18seconds magazine.

22 Oct 2010 0 Share

Excerpt from 18seconds Magazine.

Interview by | Andy Morris
Photography by | Jason Reposar

Dusty Payne, flying fins-free.

Dusty Payne, flying fins-free.

Jason Reposar was working as a graphic designer for a software company when a chance opportunity saw him shoot an ad for Californian-based, Proctor Surfboards. He nailed the shot and was offered more work. Countless high-end fashion sessions, Metallica shoots and surf missions later, he’s been propelled into the ranks of influential photographers, been deported from America and now lives happily in Bali. Meet the man who really has lived…

FINDING HOME
I was born in Liverpool, United Kingdom. By the age of fourteen I was living in Los Angeles, California. I began in Simi Valley and then moved to Malibu. I had a few stints in Venice and Hollywood ‘till I was 36. I’ve been living in Bali full-time since May 2008. There was an attempt to live back in Liverpool, but I couldn’t find a foothold with work and the cost of living is outrageous. And then there’s the terrible weather. I couldn’t do it. Bali work and lifestyle made it an easy decision.

DISCOVERING PHOTOGRAPHY
It was a bit of a fluke really. I was a Graphic Designer designing software and had a chance to do an ad for a friend (Proctor Surfboards) who was throwing down some cash to get into Surfer magazine. The shot he gave me to use was soft, so I convinced him to rent me a 600mm lens and Canon 1V body so I could get a better image for him. I went down to the beach to shoot his rider and ended up shooting him along with Donavon Frankenreiter, Patrick O’Connell, Dino Andino and Taylor Knox. That’s all it took. I was hooked!

FIRST THOUGHTS AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
I thought to myself, fuck this is easy and way better than sitting in an office ten hours a day.

TRYING TO MAKE A LIVING OUT OF PHOTOGRAPHY
I didn’t really think like that when I began. I just went for it. My hunger for photos brought in the cash and connected all the dots I needed connecting. I had to make cash or would’ve been forced to go back to Graphic Design, so I threw myself into it completely. No safety net. I shot almost every day for the first few years and hounded all the surfers in my local area to go shoot.

THE “BIG BREAK”
It was after I had the photos back from the first ever shoot I did. I knew I had good images so I took them to Surfer, Surfing and Transworld. Steve Sherman was the Photo Editor at Transworld and he gave me my first break. He offered me free film and developing in exchange for loyalty. A few months later he gave me a retainer and a small travel budget.

THE REALISATION YOU WERE GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL
It happened straight away. That first submission to Transworld got a half page of Taylor Knox. The following issue I had a few spreads and full pages, and it went on and on. By the first month of shooting, I had Dane Reynolds, The Currans, Malloys and Bobby Martinez to practise on. Timing was perfect as it was coming into the winter months in Ventura, California, which are the best days to shoot over there. I think Sherman quickly realised my value that winter, with the crew I was shooting.

Jamie OBrien locks in on Sumbawa.

Jamie OBrien locks in on Sumbawa.

WEIRD SHIT THAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR
Nothing crazy weird other than some of the surf photographers I’ve met over the years. In general, they tend to be strange characters. The whole journey in surf photography has been pretty surreal for me. I never would have thought my life would turn out like this. I was gearing up for the nine-to-five, two week vacation a year, mortgage, family deal. Now I feel completely outside of all that, living a life that I’m designing as I go.

MOST MEMORABLE SHOOT
My first day of shooting will go to the grave with me. I remember the smell of the morning, the songs I was listening to on the Sony Walkman, the feeling I had on the drive home. It was probably the most defining moment in my life.

YOUR STYLE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
When I first began shooting photos, I’d say my style was punk rock. I didn’t know the craft well but I got out there and did it anyway. I had that DIY attitude and a huge motivation to prove myself. These days I’m a lot more thoughtful in my approach and technique. I’d say my style is still raw but the images I show to the world must have a soul to them. So I guess I like to think my style is raw soul.

Parko.

Parko.

FASHION SHOOTS
With digital cameras and the explosion of surf photography, it’s become harder and harder to make a living from just surf photography. You’ve got all these kids now whose parents bought them a camera and they’re swapping their shots for clothes and empty promises. The magazines and clothing companies are taking full advantage of this. It’s really killed a lot of careers because some of the older guys who have been doing this for years and have families, are suddenly taking huge cuts in salary. They're having to work harder for a lot less money. It’s impossible to keep a healthy family this way. Guys have to choose between a family or a life of non-stop travelling with very little financial rewards, and a lot of young resourceful competition. So, what I’m saying, from experience, is that I shoot fashion to make good money. And shoot surfing when the waves are perfect and there's a few good crew around. It means I shoot a lot less surfing but produce better quality images. It also means I get to surf a lot more now than when I picked up a camera in 1999.

PREFERENCES: SHOOTING SURFING OR FASHION
Hmmm... hard question. Both for different reasons I guess. I love shooting fashion because I’m in control of what the image is going to look like. I can control the light, the model, the ideas. I love shooting surf because you really don’t control anything but the exposure. You have to deal with the elements as they happen and make your adjustments on the fly. And I just love being on the beach or in the ocean. If I had to choose surf or fashion I couldn’t. Previously, I’d choose surf photography because of the lifestyle and the love I have for it. But these days, fashion brings in the money which allows me to continue being a surf photographer.

SURF & FASHION. COMPLIMENTARY PHOTOG SKILLS
They both make you a better photographer in each field. They both teach you different disciplines that expand your range as a photographer.

EXPLOSION IN SURF PHOTOGRAPHY
I think that some of these new guys are killing off careers and sending really talented surf photographers to other areas of photography to make a living. Most importantly, they’re killing any chance of a career they might have by underselling images and poaching other photographers. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few really talented young guys out there that are pushing the boundaries and thinking outside the box. I love looking at the work these guys produce and wish them the best of luck. I just like to see the magazines and clothing companies being a bit more responsible and respectful of the professional photographers out there.

BRINGING DOWN THE PAY FOR PHOTOGS
Why would a company pay $3,500 for a great photo when they can get a good one for a few t-shirts and a pair of boardies? I think the magazines are more respectful in this way. When they get a guy who comes on the scene for a few months and disappears he will have his few pages of editorial and make the same cash as everyone else. It doesn’t effect the professional shooters in a bad way. It just keeps the competition healthy. It’s the companies that I would hold responsible for controlling the pay rates. You can’t really blame an uneducated 18-year-old with a 600mm for trading shots for product. Maybe after they're brought up to speed on this game you could, but what kid wouldn’t be stoked to get a shot in print?

REAL TALENT
The good will always have their place in this game. What I’m concerned about is that they also get there due financially. Look at guys like Scott Aichner who is now trading stocks for a living. The guy would risk his life to get amazing imagery and wouldn’t be rewarded accordingly. It breaks my heart to see him. Sure there are others out there doing what Aichner did, but ask them if they’re buyinga house or raising a healthy family.

The spoils of a life on the road.

The spoils of a life on the road.

SACRIFICES
Like I said, I once had a healthy family. I was married with a beautiful daughter, had a lovely house, made great money and was home at nights and weekends. I didn’t think I was trading that in for a career in surf photography but in hindsight, that’s exactly what I did. I lost the family a few years back now. But, it’s a great job to have and I love what I do!

STATE OF THE INDUSTRY AT THE MOMENT
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and it’s all fuelled by corporate greed. This is no surprise to me and I don’t think it should be any different. What should change is us... the photographers. We need to unify and create a union to provide security for ourselves. Make some guidelines for pricing, maybe some health insurance for the dangerous situations we have to put ourselves in. We should have some security for our families and most of all have some consequences which companies take up the arse when they get caught breaking the rules of the union.

PHOTOGRAPHERS BEGINNING TO FILM
All good. I’d rather be a photographer than a filmer because I’m concerned with my own growth and the quality that I put out as a photographer. I feel doing both is spreading yourself too thin and as a result, one or both would suffer. Until we’re pulling high quality still photographs from filming, I think stick to one thing and try to be the best at it.

UNDER THE HOOD
Hassleblad HD4, 80mm, Canon 1D Mark3, Canon 5D Mark2, Canon 7D, 15mm, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm, 600mm and Tokina 11-16mm.

COSTS OF UPGRADING
Someone once told me… “I used to spend hundreds of dollars on equipment, to make thousands of dollars. Now I spend thousands of dollars on equipment to make hundreds of dollars.”

Click here to read the full article, or for a free e-subscription, head to 18seconds.com.au.

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