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A CONVERSATION WITH JO DUCK

THE FINE PRINT: You just turned 30! How did you celebrate?

JO DUCK: Exorbitantly! 
I went on a cruise ship with my one true love! I’m a huge fan of ‘The Loveboat’, so thought it was a fitting celebration for both of our birthdays & our ten year anniversary.

TFP: How did you get started with photography? Was it an accident or more of a consistent passion?

JD: Initially it was a bit of an accident.

My lifelong friend was doing photography at his high school (something which my school didn’t offer), and he showed me a black and white image of a bathtub he’d taken and I just thought it was magical!
I started taking my own photos then became obsessed. After high school I went to Photography Studies College to learn the essentials of photography then started freelancing as soon as I finished.

TFP: You’ve been described as bringing “personality” to fashion photography. It’s easy to see humanity in your work that is often lacking in the cold-hard-fashion-world. How would you describe your style of work?

JD: Polished + clean, while still keeping things a bit raw on the edges. And there’s always a component of my work that is slightly taking the piss.

I have a lot of inspirations and get obsessed with something new every couple of months. My work is always an exploration of what I’ve been seeing / reading / crushing on at that moment in time.

TFP: How long did it take you to develop your style? Or is it still evolving?

JD: It’s definitely still evolving. I’m a naturally curious person and have a lot of influences, mainly outside the realm of photography, which keep me thinking of new ways of shooting. I’m also definitely inspired by other photographers and trends in photography, but I love the conceptual component more than the trend.

All my editorials have a main concept to grow from. These concepts can be as abstract as the wow signal, sleep paralysis or something as silly as wondering what would’ve happened if Kylie Minogue + Michael Hutchence had’ve had a baby. These are all starting points for shoot’s I’ve created in the last few years. I never expect people to be able to pick these concepts from the final pieces of work, but I just find it’s a great way to start a project. I also love briefing a team and watching them interpret the concept as we collaborate to make the shoot come together.

TFP: In a previous interview you describe yourself in three words as “constantly thirsty weirdo.” I think you’re my spirit animal. Can we hang out some time?

JD: Haha of course! Yes! We can meet up for coffee, sparkling water with a slice of lemon and lots of ice in a thin glass + a wine or aperol spritz. I’m often seen with all four at my table at once. Just can’t get enough!

TFP: But seriously. It’s clear you’re driven and ambitious, but at the same time you find a way to remain uber-silly and not take yourself too seriously. Where does this quality come from?

JD: I’m Australian and one stereotype about Australian’s which I actually agree with (well, maybe apart from how we’re all heavy drinkers, see above!) is that we don’t really take ourselves too seriously.

I also come from a really great family of funny weirdos. My parents in particular are delightfully odd.

Plus I’m ridiculously fortunate to do what I do for a living. Although it’s crazy most of the time and really stressful, I definitely have days which are a lot easier than a lot of other people. I get to travel the world and photograph wonderful people, it’s not like I’m a paramedic or have to deal with life threatening situations daily. When your main concern is making a beautiful person look and feel more beautiful while a soundtrack of your choice is playing in a climate controlled studio, you’ve got to realize you’ve got nothing to complain about.

TFP: When casting models, would you say a personality is just as important as looks? Why or why not?

JD: Definitely! Being a model is a tough job. There’s a lot of waiting around, judgement, expectation, being pushed and pulled, being asked to do ridiculous things and always in the wrong climate..! (Think swimwear shoots on location in the height of winter, or acting cosy in sweaters and tights during a heatwave)

You’re expected to be all things to everybody. Every single person in the team on the shoot day, then leaving yourself open to the opinions of everyone who see’s the images. Every internet bully and judgemental fool.

With all those things considered, you would assume a model would come to a photo shoot shaking, anxious and with a look of terror in their eyes. I’m constantly surprised by how strong, delightful and enthusiastic the models I meet are.

I want to get the best out of a model to make the images the greatest they can be. If I have someone on set who has no energy and obviously doesn’t want to be there, I’m not inspired to create something wonderful with them. However if I communicate the concept to an enthusiastic model, it truly does become a collaboration. The best models bring an extra element to the story, as vital as the right styling, lighting, hair and make up.

Plus, when it comes down to it, nobody wants to spend a day with a dickhead.

TFP: Talk us through your process – How do you go from idea to image?

JD: When working on the editorial fashion work that most people know me for, I love conceptualising the idea. Sometimes magazines will give me some parameters to work within. Sometimes they’ll let me pitch a concept.

I get most of my ideas from films, exhibitions, books, podcasts, music, odd things that happen everyday or weird facts about space. I once saw an installation of a UFO in the middle of a public space in Melbourne, then saw a bus load of monks get off said bus and get their photo taken under the UFO. Then they re-loaded onto the bus and drove away. That was the beginning of an idea for a fashion story for me.

I’ll have an initial idea, get some visual references together, do a bunch of doodles then get a talented team together.

I love collaborating with people and I’m lucky to work with some truly talented stylists, hair and make up artists, models and assistants who all put their own spin on the initial concept to take the shoot to the next level.

An editorial shoot can be pretty loose. It’s good to allow people to collaborate and experiment to make the pictures the best they can be. We storyboard the shoot as we go so we can see how it is coming together, then afterwards (inc. post shoot drinks), I do basic editing on the images and BAM they’re good to go to the magazine.

TFP: What inspires you and keeps you driven – movies, friends, mentors?

JD: All of the above.

I have great creative friends who’s talents make me simultaneously proud and envious. I’m a naturally competitive person so seeing other people succeed makes me want to work harder.

I also meet some other hard working ladies a few times a year for our BLC (Business Ladies Club) where we talk about boss lady biz.

Whenever I’m stuck for ideas, movies are the first place I look. I love film stills and often use them as points of reference for my shoots. MUBI is the best thing that ever happened to me! And I can screen shot while I watch..! Brilliant.

I’ve always said if I wasn’t a photographer, I’d like to be the person who puts the music in the movies (music editor / director). I constantly read about cinematography, costume, film score + directing. I often make playlists/soundtracks for my editorial shoots while I’m in working on the ideas, I feel like it helps develop the feeling of the story and it just makes me ridiculously happy when I nail it.

TFP: Would you be so kind as to share with us some plans for your upcoming work?

JD: Sure!

I’m working on some editorial fashion stories for Oyster Magazine, heading back to London in August for some work with the wonderful LNDR label and also some more collaborations and editorial fashion work. It’s all a bit hush hush right now but I’ll be braggin’ about it on social media soon enough no doubt.

I’m also slowly trying to turn my living room into a jungle.