Simon Devitt Speaks the Secrets Behind Photographing HOME Magazine’s Home of the Year

Simon Devitt Speaks the Secrets Behind Photographing HOME Magazine’s Home of the Year

Project of the Week

Simon Devitt makes it hard not to be romantic about architecture…and art…and really, the world.

He speaks less like someone telling his process, and more like a man speaking poetry — divulging a riddle that is the secret to life itself.

In a way, it is.

There is no talk of camera kits or CaptureOne vs Lightroom or setting up compositions, but instead, how to be. How to teleport you to a place. How to show what it feels like to be there. And isn’t that the whole point?

Simon’s work is no stranger to Project of the Week, and it’s easy to see why. This time around, we’ll get a good look at Bergendy Cooke’s Black Quail house in Bannockburn, Central Otago, NZ. Black Quail is HOME Magaznine New Zealand’s 2021 Home of the year.

Simon does a marvelous job of showing what it feels like to be at a place. I ask him about this magic he makes, and he responds with an answer that slowly turns into a poem — one that says more about this place than I ever could.

He starts “Without fail, it is always about arriving early and leaving late. And when this is a location deep into Central Otago there’s always a bit of preparation. And then you have to find the location, in the dark. 

Black Quail house is located within a vineyard on the side of the Kawarau River in Bannockburn.  The black rock tailings from the old gold mining prospect trail out of site toward the river. Its a location you’d dream about. Mountains, river, vineyard, and incredible architecture. What else do you need to make it an amazing shoot day?A great publishing client and two genuinely wonderful homeowners made it pretty special.

A sunset is already beautiful so there in lies the trap. How do you honour this beauty without merely describing it with your camera? So, what do I think about when I turn up to this place for the first time?”

“I think about calm and quiet

I like that we know what music is because of the silence between each note. And how important it is to listen… And wait.

I think about being present

And think about things like how we only see something because of its ability to absorb or reflect light.

And then I try not to think

And be present

I think about lunch. What am I going to eat? It’s so exciting.

I think about how school was really about eating my lunch and playing with girls.

And how I had an enormous crush on my teacher.

I think about engaging my other senses. I think we trust our eyes too much. The other senses are profoundly important in how we view a scene.”

“My brief to myself always, is what does it feel like to be here.

I always spend time sitting still in the environment I’m charged with photographing. 

I listen as much as I watch. 

This is how I find what is really in the space.

I listen

I wait

I watch”

“My work is as much about the landscape as it is the people that inhabit the structures.

Nature is a container for these things.

It moves around it, underneath it and through it in unpredictable and curious ways.”

“I think about the concept that time adds a layer of depth that cannot be faked. Photographs are, by nature, made of time.

Started by the photographer and then exposed to the alchemy of time, to become charged with meaning.

I think about what I do is a lot like fishing or a treasure hunt. It can’t be about ticking off a list of shots. Photography for me is a lot about exploration and building a narrative.”

“I think about walking, and in a sense, getting lost. And how the pace of walking is in sync with the rhythm of our heartbeat. I walk on average 10km during a shoot day. I’d like to say carrying lots of heavy gear. But my assistant does that. Good on you Hamish.”

“I think about how I make it up as I go. We don’t know what we don’t know. Discovering knowledge through naivety. For me its always about learning by necessity, that naïve energy is really important. Learning, applying and absorbing what you need when you need it.”

“I think about storytelling. And about how important it is to make pictures that aren’t too ambiguous or too descriptive. Too ambiguous and you risk confusing someone. Too descriptive and the viewer has nothing to engage with.”

“I think about sense of place.

And how where we have all come from and where we have been informs the sense of place we feel when we encounter somewhere for the very first time.”

“I think about beauty and how the last hard earned layer of beauty is decay. When people move, buildings remain, they stand and gain the mark of time. They decay and show age, they become embedded with signs of life.”

Simon makes me laugh. He wraps up his rolling verse with a shameless plug, saying “I think about the photography workshop I have coming up at the Auckland Art Gallery.

And how there are still spaces available via the AAG website* and that it’s on Sunday the 31st October from 11am – 3.30pm” (*The AAG doesn’t have the workshop tickets live on its site yet. Stay tuned.)

Endless thank you’s to Simon for this. Head over to his website to see more of his jaw-dropping work. I, for one, love following him on Instagram. You’ll go for the architecture photography, and stay for the memes.

If you have a project you’d like to be considered for Project of the Week, you can submit it here.

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