Complex is a photo-zine created by Melbourne based Michael Dearnley and Jack Levitt. Having worked together for the last 4 years in television, video and cinema production, Complex is an independent project, currently approaching its 3rd Issue, that is giving them the freedom to explore the intersections between their individual photographic styles and thematic interests.
Upasana: Could you describe your zine for our readers?
Michael: Complex is a collaborative photographic zine. Each issue focuses on a new series by each artist, which share a connected and underlying theme.
Jack: Complex was born from the creative frustration of not wanting to create a digital photo collection, such as a blog. Michael and I decided that we would create a printed zine instead. We had photos that we were pleased with and felt that our two series of images combined well together. And thus, Complex was born. In a nutshell, it’s a photo zine that features two separated but inter-related series of images, presented in a minimal and simplistic format.
U: How and where did you meet each other?
J&M: We both started our creative careers at different universities in Melbourne. We met about 4 years ago, while we were working together at Channel 10, working on live television shows.
U: I’m really interested in the idea of creative projects that are pursued as communal ventures, without the usual creative isolation that many artists prefer or choose by default. What prompted the decision to create ‘Complex’ as a two-man show?
J: We’re on the same creative wavelength. Since we met, we have enjoyed working on creative projects together. Complex came about through a spur of the moment idea, when we realised that we each had a photo series that we were proud of that we wanted to publish and share with as many other creative people as possible. For us it made sense to share our two projects together, which is how Complex: Issue One came about. It was always a two-man show right from the start. It just made sense to combine our ideas in one zine.
M: Coming from a film and television background it makes sense to us to be working in unison on a communal project. In those industries it is common practice to create on a collaborative level in order to achieve your goal of creating a piece of work.
U: Could you tell me a little about how you do work together? Particularly given that the theme of ‘Complex’ is its inter-connected or interwoven images. Is the collaboration made in person or mostly via internet? Is there a great deal of caffeine, chatting and philosophising behind each edition?
J: Michael doesn’t like coffee. I love coffee. I would say that 75% of the ideas and work that goes into Complex we do together, in person. There are a lot of emails back and forth, sharing of first drafts of our edited images etc, but majority of the discussion for how we want to put together Complex comes from time together. Usually eating at the same time. We offer feedback and creative criticism to each other’s photos and really make sure that each of us is happy with our series as a whole. Our photos for the forthcoming Issue Three were even shot together in Japan.
M: It all started when I shot the series of bikes in NYC and came back and showed it to Jack, who wanted to shoot his series on discarded televisions, we discovered that we both had a series that had the interconnected theme and decided to tap into that. We are constantly talking about potential ideas we have for themes that we are both interested in exploring. Coffee sucks, not one discussion about Complex has been had over coffee.
U: What was the underlying aim, hope or vision behind the creation of this zine?
J: The main aim from the very start was to share our photos with as many like-minded people as possible – in a tangible format. What’s been great, is that we’ve sparked interest in a much broader audience than just people in creative fields. We’ve been able to get Complex stocked in a number of stores in Australia and abroad.
M: The idea to do a zine first came up when we were both sick of online distribution and connection. We felt that every second person was starting a photography blog or Facebook page and we wanted to do something different, something that made us stand out from the instantaneous and nature
U: Could you both tell me a little about the trajectory that your education, creativity, careers and aspirations have taken since you first began to think about what you wanted to ‘do’?
J: I studied an Advanced Diploma of Screen & Media at NMIT. My pathway from high school was to get a job in the television industry. I’m a freelance camera operator, editor and creative director, working across a variety of different projects. I’ve always loved working with cameras and made short films from a young age. In the late years of high school I realized, that was what I wanted to ‘do’. Photography has always been a passion as well and I love taking photos – art for art’s sake. I also love creating documentary films and I am currently working on a project that should be completed early in 2016 – Michael is working on this project as well.
M: I studied film at university and went into working in television and have progressed to working in film. Cinematography is where I want to be heading, but there are other creative projects on the side that I’m interested in pursuing.
U: How is each edition of ‘Complex’ conceived and edited? Are the photos taken with the zine in mind?
J&M: Issue One really came about from a spur of the moment idea. I told Michael that I had been noticing all of the analog TVs being abandoned and he encouraged me to photograph them. He told me about the bicycle photos he had taken in New York the year before and simply said, “let’s combine them together and print a zine”. So, Issue One was kind of accidental but incredibly deliberate at the same time. As soon as we printed Issue One, we knew there had to be an Issue Two. So the photos for Issue Two were definitely taken with the zine in mind. We have recently visited Japan, where we took a heap of photos with the zine in mind. The ideas for the photo series really just come about naturally. We both enjoy photographing with an overall and underlying theme; photographing for a series.
U: What does this project allow you to do that none of your other creative and/or professional projects allow?
J: This project has allowed us to produce something that is 100% ours. Our photos, laid out the way we want them to be and presented the way we intended. That’s really the crux of it. It’s ours. And it’s a real thing: you can touch it.
M: The different medium is the main thing. Since we both have the background in motion pictures, it’s refreshing to capture images a single frame at a time, which can give you the opportunity to present images or themes in a totally different perspective. As a cinematographer you are usually working in collaboration with a director to help them achieve their vision, whereas being a photographer allows you more creative freedom to drive the project in any way you like.
U: Who or what are the influences behind ‘Complex’? Do you have any zines that have particularly inspired you? Or does inspirationcome from other sources?
J&M: Inspiration comes from all over. Travel is a big inspiration for Complex. In terms of photographers that have inspired the serial nature of our work we could throw out names such as Mr. Toledano; Bernd and Hilla Becher; Ed Ruscha; Jeff Wall and (William) Eggleston, always Eggleston.
U: Do you think the Australian zine scene is a healthy one? Is it a scene you were following before the idea of ‘Complex’ came along?
J&M: There is definitely activity in the Australian zine-scene. And also, the photo-book scene. It’s great to see that there are lots of other people creating their own books and publications. It’s definitely not a financial venture – it’s an artistic and creative venture. Art for art’s sake. To be honest, we only really started to discover the scene once we decided to create Complex. We often go along to zine swap meets, photo-book fairs and exhibitions. It’s great to check out what others are doing.
U How do you set about promoting ‘Complex’ in Australia and overseas?
J: Instagram has been a great tool for promoting Complex and our photography in general. We’ve managed to connect with a lot of different publishers and bookstores in Australia and abroad. We’ve managed to get Complex placed in stores in Melbourne, Brisbane, Tokyo, Brussels and San Francisco.
U: What do you see as the next step in the development of ‘Complex’?
M: We are going to publish Issue Three, possibly towards the end of this year or early in 2016. We are also currently working on a documentary film together. We are interested in doing a gallery exhibition of prints from the images of Issue 2 but are yet to find the opportunity.