There’s a bunch of good photographers around at the moment, but one that is consistently nailing it is Chris Cooper from Melbourne. He’s got a great eye for not just the cars, but people as well. His work has been featured in magazines like Fuel, Street Machine, Cruzin, Gasoline, 2020BMX, Fly Wheels, FocalPointBMX. We caught up with him for a chat about what goes on behind the lens.
Chris thanks for your time. Your photos do a great job of capturing the atmosphere of our rod and custom culture. What inspired you to get into photography?
Thanks, man. During high school, I rode BMX almost everyday, and when photography came up as an elective, I jumped at it. After I burned my first roll of Illford, the bug latched on. It was another way to express myself off of my bike. A way to document my buddies riding. A creative outlet with no limitations.
Most Monday mornings my friends would be bugging me “have you printed the photos yet?” and at lunch, we’d sit around looking at a bunch of wet prints wrapped up in paper towel. Sharing the photographs with a bunch of close friends was always an amazing feeling. And today, that is stronger than ever.
I rode and photographed the scene I was a part of. It wasn’t until the first Fuel Magazine launch party at Rancho Deluxe in Collingwood and the 2010 Chopped that a new chapter of my life started.
My hobbies may have fluctuated over the years, but my belief in why I need to take photographs still remains. I am documenting my life and the people who are a part of it. A time in their lives and mine. I want to leave a legacy of photographs on this earth. Everyone is a photographer nowadays, however, these are my photographs, of my friends. I want them to be able to look back in 10-20 years from now and think, “fuck, we had some bitchin times”.
I really love your candid shots from the shows you attend. Lots of people can take good photos of cars, but only a few really excel with this kind of work. What interests you about this angle with your work?
Photojournalism has been a huge influence on my work for a very long time. Its truth, a part of history. An event isn’t just about the cars and bikes; it’s also about the people. Who attends these shows? What happens at these events? Who are the builders and owners? A photojournalist captures and creates a story from a certain event in a series of photographs. That’s my objective every time I head out with my camera.
Have you got any tips for the aspiring photographers out there?
Stop “branding” yourself and get out there and shoot. Don’t limit yourself, be open minded to what you find interesting. Email photographers you look up to. Never be satisfied or content with the knowledge you have. Shoot, shoot, shoot.
Don’t merchandise something you’re passionate about. Cups, calendars, clothing whatever other cheesy shit is out there…..Put all that time, energy and money into pushing your knowledge, skill and finding your style. The only way you’re going to improve and eventually be noticed as a photographer is to build a body of work. A body of GOOD work. Build a blog/website, don’t rely on Facebook. Update that sucker daily/weekly and only upload your best work. Be brutal with your editing.
Anyone can pick up a camera and claim to be a photographer. But not everyone has that certain eye for timing, great composition and has the passion.
Shoot for yourself. Stop pushing people to like your work. If you put out quality work, people will respond to it, and if they don’t, who cares? You’re taking photographs because there is a passion inside you. And lastly, print out your work for yourself. A photograph isn’t finished until it’s printed.
One for the photography nerds who’ll want to know, what do you usually shoot with?
My over the shoulder camera is a 5yr old Canon 5dMkii with an even older Canon 50mm1.4. When I need to, I’ll hire out the Canon 35mmf1.4 and the 50mmf1.2. These paired up to my own Canon 135mmf2 and it’s a pretty boss kit. Perfect for how I shoot. Film wise my Leica M2 with Voigtlander 35 F1.4 is the Holy Grail.
Recently you went to Japan and checked out the Mooneyes show over there, how was that?
I am still speechless about that show and I honestly can’t describe it in a few short words. It was mind blowing and such an eye opener. The amount of people that attend the one-day show was surreal. Having the hang over from hell didn’t really help but packed in like sardines is no word of a lie. The most memorable part of the show was the attention to detail the builders put into their creations and their displays just for the one day. I couldn’t fathom the amount of work they put in. It’s a show you truly have to see in person to really understand and respect.
So how does the Japanese scene compare to Australia?
They were extremely welcoming, but that is the natural nature of the Japanese. Very accommodating. Chris Thorogood and I did experience the owners of numerous cars dimming their headlights when they noticed we were taking photos. Both of us have never experienced that here. As two countries, they are two very different worlds. My advice is to check it out for yourself. Go without any pre-expectations and take it all in. It’ll make you look at our country and way of life in a whole new light.
On the home front, have you got any interesting rides on the road or in the build?
My on going project at the moment is a 53 Belair hardtop that I imported 3 yrs ago. It’s been through a rough patch, but insurance is a godsend. I’m currently repairing a bunch of rust with the help of Benny Mickle at Barebones Customs and eventually some subtle changes with the help of Ahron Jefferee at Rolling Art Body Works.
It will always be a driver, never a show car. I haven’t welded since high school and I wouldn’t know the first thing about panel work and mechanically, I can just get by. With that said, its so rad to be able to go out to the shed and start tinkering with bits and pieces after spending a few solid hours processing photographs.
Just like photography, it’s yet another way to express yourself creatively. A new avenue to gain knowledge and life experience. I am surrounded by some very amazing people with skills to match, that are more than willing to teach me a thing or two, and I am truly grateful for that.
One thing we’ve noticed is that you’re into BMX, as are a lot of the other younger guys getting into traditional rodding, bikes, and kustom kulture in general. What are your thoughts in terms of why this trend is happening?
When I was riding I could show up to a skate park by myself, and within minutes be exchanging life stories with a fellow rider. I think that camaraderie can be very strong within the traditional car and bike scene, which is a massive attraction to riders and skaters. You have something very specific in common.
Sure, there will always be a dick in the crowd, but for the most part, you quite often find people that you can still call your friend 10 years later.
We also understand you’ve got some cool art in your pad. What artists are you into?
Man this is hard…there are simply too many people to mention, but here are a select few off of the top of my head: Keith Weesner, Ryan Ford, Chris “coop” Cooper, Jacob Bannon, James Natchwey, Chris Thorogood, Scott Pommier, Craig Nye, Jacob Rapauch, Marc “lowech” Woltinger, Ricky Adam.
Speaking of art, where can people check out your work? And how can someone get a print from you?
I am more than happy to print any of my photographs that you see on my blog/website. Send me an email email@example.com for some prices.
Chris thanks again for your time!