At just 22 years old, Owen Jones – the man behind Digital Beard Photography – is fast building his reputation as one of Australia’s best go-to concert photographers, boasting a portfolio of work consisting some of alternative music’s biggest names.
Having established a repertoire as a go-to figure within the industry, Jones consistently demonstrates his natural talent for the craft; specifically catching those intimate moments of connection between artists and their fans. With a rising brand branching out into the Australian pro-wrestling circuit, D*Scribe spoke with Jones about his time within the industry, the lessons learnt and where he is heading next.
Hey Owen! How are we going?
Very well man! Just currently on break from doing some video work with the AFL for tonight’s game!
What a pressure cooker of a game we’ve got going on! Anyway, let’s start things off shall we? Everybody has an origin story, so tell us – how did you initially get drawn into the world of photography?
I really got into photography by chance actually. This was back in late 2013 when I was editor of a little known online publication called Pilar; I was just writing album reviews in the beginning before we began to branch out into live performance reviews for various shows around the Melbourne area. For these reviews, I’d usually utilise the services of other local photographers to capture images at the shows that I’d review, but I found many of the photographers around at the time to be generally unreliable in producing the work that I needed in time. So it was then I really considered the idea of taking some initiative and begin producing the work myself instead of relying on other people, because I’m just really impatient (laughs). Then one day some mates of mine got in contact with me asking whether I could get some photos of them for their band’s upcoming performance. I figured that I might as well give it a go, so they loaned me a camera and it just felt right. The next day I went out and bought my first camera, and then that was it. That’s how Digital Beard was born, so to speak.
That really falls into my next question actually. You’ve made the decision to move into photography, but how did you make the move into the industries you primarily work within? First music and now wrestling. How does one work themselves within these industries?
Well I’ve been around the music scene since I was around 12 or 13 – my brother was in a band and he really introduced me into the smaller alternative scene which began to cultivate me throughout my teenage years. That was my first inroad into the music industry really, following my brother around who was pretty well-known within my local scene at the time. Eventually my brother moved interstate and I took off where he left off; working at gigs doing audio engineering and working on lighting, just focusing on everything behind the scenes. Over the years I continued to network and establish relationships with some of the big players in Australian music, until I made the move into photography where I was able to develop my style, which seemed to resonate with a lot of other artists and I started to get my brand out there a bit more.
Wrestling is a very recent move for me, which I made in order to kind of change my scenery and branch out. At that point, I had spent a lot of time touring with a lot of bands that were doing regional tours up and down the East Coast, and I was getting a bit exhausted. Touring in a van with a bunch of sweaty grown men does really start to take it out of you! I’ve been a fan of pro-wrestling since I was a child, so the idea of moving into that industry piqued my interest. So on a whim, I emailed Melbourne City Wrestling and asked if I could do some work for them at one of their big shows back in November 2015. Thankfully they said yes, and I’ve been working with their talent ever since!
So in your three years of experience, you’ve really built quite a substantial portfolio. Do any artists really stand out?
Oh man, so I’ve shot for some relatively big names over the last few months which has been incredibly exciting. I initially started shooting some bigger domestic acts like In Hearts Wake, but more recently I’ve started shooting some huge international acts like The Used, A Day To Remember, Bullet For My Valentine, Motion City Soundtrack, Alexisonfire and City & Colour. I’ve begun working with the online publication Killyourstereo who have been so kind in allowing me to shoot some huge names. On the pro-wrestling circuit, I’ve done some work with the British wrestler Marty Scurll, who is a favourite to be getting drafted into the WWE, which was a really fun experience.
Those are definitely some names to be proud of there. Now that we’ve gotten to know you a little better, I would just love to pick your photographic brains. Are there any other photographers you generally look to for inspiration in your work – whether it be portraiture or live photography?
I’m really not one of those photographers that obsesses over the work of other photographers, and I’m not sure why. But there are a few guys out there who I look to in order to better my craft personally. I’m lucky enough to say that I’m actually good friends with a lot of the guys I look up to. So guys like Neal Waters, who has become such a juggernaut in the photography scene in Australia, who has recently branched out into videography and begun directing music videos for acts like The Smith Street Band. He’s given me a lot of help and a lot of work which has been amazing, so I’m lucky enough that he’s really taken me under his wing.
I’ve seen his work actually, his videography and portfolio of work is huge. That’s definitely something to be proud of. Anyone else at all?
Oh absolutely, the guy is a real visionary so to speak. Outside of music too, I’m really captivated by the work of Michael Wilson, who is the official photographer for the AFL. I’m a big footy fan, so I’ve often found myself just admiring his stuff. His work is just amazing. Now that I’m working with the AFL too, I’m hoping to meet him very soon just so I can pick his brain. Wrestling wise, there’s a UK based photographer called Ollie Sandler who is just incredible. He mostly does a lot of work in England and in Germany and has just brought these uniquely exciting techniques and styles to the table.
This is a fun one. Are there any standout moments from shows in the past that you’ve shot at all?
Best artist experience off the top of my head had to have been when I shot A Day To Remember last year, who are just such a huge act and one of my favourite groups growing up. It was such a treat because they’ve really always been known to interact with the photographer, which gave me the chance to get one of my all-time favourite pieces of work in my portfolio. For some of the bigger acts, you’re only ever given about three songs to shoot them before you have to move along, so it can be difficult to get the best quality work you can in such a small space of time.
Another standout moment was when Triple J asked me to assist in capturing video for some of their interviews in January at the Unify Gathering, where I was able to interact with and shoot Alexisonfire, who have been one of my favourite groups for probably ten years. It was through that shoot that I was actually invited to shoot their headlining performance in Melbourne at Festival Hall just a few days later, which was a huge deal for me personally. It was always my dream to shoot a performance in that venue, so to have been invited by one of your favourite groups was just a huge deal.
Well segueing from that, what exactly is the dream shoot?
My dream always changes whenever I reach a personal goal. Like I said before, my initial dream starting out was to shoot something at Festival Hall and I’ve now been fortunate enough to do that twice now. So my big dream now is to work some of the big festivals around the world, like the Vans Warped Tour, which for me isn’t actually out of the question, as I’ve started doing some work for Vans Shoes who sponsors the whole thing. I feel like if I play my cards right, that could be my next reachable goal. It might take some time, but I feel like it’s something I could do.
Not going to lie, that’s a demanding goal but definitely something to work towards. Now in your time behind the camera and your fast rise, are there any key learnings that you’ve undertaken?
Well I think it’s because I’ve been self-taught, it’s been self-driven, but with the help of a lot of my peers along the way. The best advice and most obvious thing to do really is not treat anyone badly or take advantage of anyone for your own personal gain, whether it be a client or a fellow photographer; the industry is close-knit and word really travels fast. You’ve also really got to put in the hard work and produce the best content that you could produce. Lastly you’ve really got to network and build relationships with the right people to get anywhere, so put yourself out there. In my time I’ve developed relationships with so many artists and that can just catapult you.
In three years you have forayed into live music and pro-wrestling. Is there any industry you would like to move into at all? You mentioned AFL just before, could that be your next step?
I’d love to make the move into shooting sport photography, especially football, because I feel like that will push me even further than everything else already has. But I also do a lot of portrait photography, so that’s something I’d love to continue once again. Portraiture is an incredibly important aspect to continually work within, because there’s always work in that field; particularly in wrestling.
Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone aspiring to make it professionally in their chosen field, specifically live photography?
A lot has changed even since I’ve started because this industry is everchanging. If you’re looking into live photography, just start small. Find the local shows in your area, talk to a promoter and you should be able to get a jump-start there. Start networking, and work with your peers, whether they be artists or other photographers. Bands will always want to get along with photographers because they benefit in the imagery that you produce to put their own name out there, which in turn promotes your own work. Don’t upload anything that you’re not happy with because chances are if you think it’s not your best work, other people will think the same. Really the mantra here is to focus on quality, networking and just be as personable and approachable as you can.