As an Italian born in Canada and now living in Berlin, you would perhaps expect photographer Oz John to possess a pretty unique, international style. But he insists that he doesn’t have a style. From what we’ve seen of his work though, while he might not have a style his photos certainly have bags of it to spare.
He is an eloquent and philosophical artist that’s worked for brands as diverse as Coca-Cola, Nokia and Peugeot and sees himself more as an art director than a conventional photographer. His motto is “It's not about you, it's about the final product” and he hopes to achieve this by creating images that communicate emotions and strong creative themes.
We caught up with Oz for this week’s #MemberSpotlight to discuss his unconventional career path, his influences and how his secret might just be that he has no secret.
How did you get into the industry?
I studied graphic design at the university and worked in the advertising industry as an art director for 14 years. I was the guy looking over the shoulder of the photographer to make sure that everything is as I wanted. When I decided to go independent and to be my own boss, photography seemed like one of the best alternatives. Because what I studied and what I know means I have more to offer than a standard photographer.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I am originally from Toronto, Canada but I moved to Berlin, Germany about a year ago. I am still in a state of establishing myself in a new place, which is extremely challenging with all the restrictions, obstacles, and uncertainties caused by the pandemic.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
All I know is design, art … and teaching. I cannot imagine myself doing something else. I am so not good at other things. I am a big city person that’s very dependent on a certain lifestyle and energy level …as well as people to collaborate with. What I do is a part of show business; not a one-man show.
Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?
I do not have a formula. To me, every assignment or project has its own needs, dynamics, and conditions. I am therefore adaptable. I pay attention not to repeat myself. There are persons in me. So, I am not a person who creates a typical style and lives in the puddle of it. Yet, what people tell me that they can still see consistency or a sort of style in my work. Maybe, this is something like what Picasso called “assonance”; not a noticeable rhyme, but something still subtly noticeable when one pays attention.
In the end, I am not after being noticeably unique. However, if the final result is unique to its requirements and needs, I am happy and satisfied. That is to say, what is important is the uniqueness of the work, not my uniqueness.
How would you describe your style?
As I mentioned, I do not have a distinctive or noticeable style. However, there are a few things that might distinguish my work. For instance: I am a conceptual photographer, not a visual effect shooter. I do not follow trends, instead, I do what is necessary, correct, and makes sense with regard to the problem.
In addition to that, I am a technical shooter (for instance, I rarely shoot with sunlight—which is not reliable and consistent and I always create the exact lighting that would be correct for its narrative), and am also very detail-oriented. There are very fine things and details that are not seen or noticed by many.
I sometimes spend hours looking for the things that are not noticed, not seen at all. I come from an Italian family (De Carlo) that has been known for the artists since Renaissance time, whose works are in museums and galleries today. There must be something passed down.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I find inspiration everywhere. I am an open-minded and inquisitive person, as well. I never did have heroes, however, there are people I enjoy for different reasons; and from different disciplines or eras. Nonetheless, if your question is related to photographers I might drop a few names, such as Tim Walker, Eugenio Recuenco, Steven Meisel, Albert Watson (whom I met years ago) … just a few names popped up in my mind without scanning my mind.
What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?
Be honest (foremost to yourself). Don’t seek popularity; seek what bothers your heart. Popularity is given to you by others and thus can be taken from you at anytime. If you find your own monologue, it may not be that unique, that popular… but you have the chance to face yourself once in a lifetime. Nowadays is everyone in a contest of being unique and original—which is ironically the opposite.
Seeking original solutions and formulas—that are cognitive pursuits—are what put you apart from your origin. Your origin is already there. You don’t need to seek anything. All you need is to stop seeking with your mind. The secret of uniqueness is hidden in honesty and the courage of accepting yourself.
Can you accept yourself if you are originally not so interesting when you are burning for wealth, popularity and acceptance? If you are really original and genuinely interesting it will reveal itself anyway.
What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?
Business is all about networking. It is not about who you are and what you do, but who you know. That’s a number one blunt fact. If I succeed in Berlin, then, I’ll share the second part of the answer with you afterwards.
What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?
I don’t have such a dependence, I guess. I am coming from the analogue era. I can work with any camera, lens, tool, software, hardware, etc
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
I have a wide range of interests from philosophy, theology, mythology, poetry… I am an amateur musician… have poems and short stories that I never published… I do painting, as well. My secret might be that I do not have a recipe or formula… I just flow as I feel—like the Buddhist monk answers the question of zen: “Zen is that you eat when you are hungry, you sleep when you are sleepy.” I do not have a non-stop, continuous inspiration or motivation.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
I have some awards, etc. However, I don’t know if I would call it an achievement, but, it was a surprise when Vanity Fair found my work online and hired me for an editorial project a couple of years ago.
What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?
Decisions driven by popularity, numbers, and survey results.
Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
My all-time favourite book: The Little Prince by de Saint-Exupéry and Flatland by Edwin Abbott. Resources: Exterior: Museums, galleries, and backstreets in cities (no tourist areas). Interior: Dreams. Websites: not anything specific.