A defining moment of photographer Anthony Ong’s career was when he found himself hanging out of a helicopter in the top end of Australia, photographing crocodiles and wildlife in his work for National Geographic – a time he recalls as ‘living his ultimate boyhood dream!’
Ant’s photographic career has taken him on many journeys, from fashion cover shoots in Italy, to more restrained corporate advertising campaigns.
Intrigued by experimentation he was naturally drawn to his craft from the beginning, and after years in advertising Ant yearned to return to more creative and personal exploration in his work - leading to his latest series ‘Land in Abstraction.’
A limited edition and beautifully emotive series of abstract landscapes that sometimes get lost in the passing of the everyday. It stands as a humble reminder to reconnect with what you love - if you just so happen to find an opportunity to slow down and 'capture' it.
Your photographic series ‘Land in Abstraction’ is now exhibiting at Tigmi. What concepts did you set out to explore within this series?
As far as a concept - it wasn’t planned. In hindsight, it was a statement about how we experience things differently and independently from each other.
What is beautiful and inspiring to me, may not be to you and visa-versa. It’s a statement around individuality and freedom.
What initially drew you to photography as a medium?
I was drawn to photography at a young age. Experimenting with film canisters under my bed had triggered intrigue. Another time I was in London with my family, my dad had two cameras and I was holding one, I snapped an image and remembered the shot when it came back from being developed and I was hooked ever since. I’ve always loved being behind a camera.
When I was younger, I didn’t realise photography was something you could do as a job - I thought it was more a hobby. I had an opportunity to explore photography when I came into a bit of money from a job I and it had ended, giving me space to explore my interests. Someone asked me what I loved doing, and I said… well I love taking photos. I became an assistant photographer straight out of studying, and I got deep into this world where Pioneer Studios became my second home. I’d be there from early morning till midnight honing my craft. I travelled a lot with my work, shooting on film, working in fashion. Moving from fashion to advertising was a big transition. And now the transition from advertising to art is another big transition. In some ways I am finding myself again – at the end of my advertising life I didn’t even enjoy picking up a camera.
You were raised on a farm in the Southern Highlands and are now based in the beautiful Byron Hinterland. How do natural environments influence your work?
I’ve always been drawn to environments that are raw and at times extreme. Experiencing the light in these places are always special. One of my favourite homes I’ve lived at was in Pittwater (Sydney) where I could access my home by boat. I really felt part of the land, waters, and community while I was there - and part of the energy.
You have noted purity and abstraction as the essence of your work - can you elaborate on how they are represented in your art?
Purity as I see it in my work, is in the nature of it being unplanned, spontaneous and undirected. Where my only direction was intuition.
Abstraction is merely my rebellion against precision. The opportunity to play with colour, composition, and movement – where natural earthy tones can represent a landscape. A visual colour of composition.
"Purity as I see it in my work, is in the nature of it being unplanned, spontaneous and undirected. Where my only direction was intuition."
With a broad background in photography spanning portrait, landscape, fashion, and travel - what do you enjoy most about the shift into artistic photography?
Definitely the freedom of it, as opposed to commercial where I am guided by briefing restraints, timelines & plans – art photography is quite the opposite. I’ve enjoyed being in the moment and acting on my intuition with no expectations. Exploring my craft as I remember it – a craft!
What would be one of your most cherished moments in your career?
Living out my boyhood dream during my time working for National Geographic. There was a time I was shooting in the Northern Territory – hanging out of helicopters, photographing crocodiles, this part of my career was a real turning point for me, I really felt I had accomplished exactly what I was seeking to achieve. It was my most cherished moment without a doubt.
Tigmi is Berber for ‘My Home’, what is your favourite part of calling Byron Bay your home?
I’ve always been drawn to Byron Bay. My time here has been transformational, and I am so grateful for how welcomed I feel here. Byron Bay is my home for now, perhaps not forever. It is a beautiful place to work and be creative. My home will always be where my family are happiest.
What is next for you Ant?
Freedom! My next dream is to set up a fully equipped vehicle and take to the road. Packing the boat, bike, and van – the whole thing! Shooting along the way and enjoying the natural beauty of this country. I’d like to continue to exhibit and create art, with my loved ones along for the journey. That’s the new dream! Take off, explore and take photos! Whenever I speak to elders, they always tell me ‘Just don’t leave it too long.’ That is a good parting sentiment - live in the moment and don’t think too much about the end result. Just be.
Anthony Ong 'Land in Abstraction' is a limited edition series exhibiting from Oct 6 at our Byron Bay studio.