Aaron Chapman is an Australian artist, writer, and photographer. His work has been featured in publications such as The Local Project, Habitus Living, Dwell, Wallpaper, and Urth Magazine. He also runs a multidisciplinary creative agency called AC_Office. In this interview, Chapman discusses his approach to photography, the role of storytelling in his work, and his creative process. He also shares his advice for aspiring photographers and individuals looking to start their own creative agencies.
In this insightful interview, we delve deep into Chapman’s artistic journey and explore his unique approach to photography. He offers profound insights into the pivotal role of storytelling within his work and generously shares the inner workings of his creative process. Moreover, he imparts valuable advice to budding photographers and individuals aspiring to establish their own creative agencies, drawing from his rich experiences and successes in the industry.
RTF: Hi Aaron, we are so glad to have you as a guest on Future Talks. Thanks for joining us. How did you first become interested in photography, and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?
Aaron: Very glad to be here, thanks for the invitation. I first became interested in photography because I grew bored of writing. I was a creative writing and literature major at university and landed a job as a copywriter once I’d graduated. I went from writing short stories and poetry to writing very dry, business-to-consumer content for forty hours a week. I didn’t have the energy left to write for me, but I still needed a creative outlet so I picked up a camera, figured out how to use it and off I went. To me, photography quickly became just another medium for me to pursue my true passion – storytelling.
RTF: How would you describe your style and approach to photography? What subjects or themes do you find most compelling?
Aaron: My approach to photography, whether artistic or commercial, is generally quite slow. My main camera was manufactured in 1989. It’s an old medium format film camera that produces such perfect pictures. Due to the nature of working with film – the expense, the difficulty in obtaining materials – my approach is steady and my style is quite considered. For example, I had a full-day shoot recently where I took 80 pictures (or 10 pictures an hour).
The subjects and themes I’m most interested in are architecture, particularly the concept of ‘home’, and childhood. A significant life event several years ago fostered my thinking of the role home plays in developing the foundation for who we become. I love considering how the built environment influences our physical and emotional environments. This architectural interest has played out in an artistic sense, but also in a commercial sense as I both write about and photograph architecture for publications, and also develop brands for architects and builders through the creative lens of my agency, AC_Office.
RTF: What role does storytelling play in your photography work, and how do you convey narratives through your images?
Aaron: Photography is quite comparable to poetry, where ambiguity is a prominent literary device. I don’t think pictures tell a thousand words. I think they tell closer to a hundred words. A vignette of a story. A moment in time. It’s only when we sequence images within a series or greater body of work that we can see the whole story.
I’m never trying to tell the whole story in one picture. If it’s a personal project or a residential architecture shoot, I can only be drawn to what catches my eye. Photography is bound to the photographer’s vision, and my vision is rarely drawn to a wide-angle view of the open-plan kitchen but instead, will try to find moments that hint at the bigger picture.
RTF: What led you to start your creative agency AC_Office? Tell us about the work that you do.
Aaron: Working in the creative industry means you need to be creative in how you put your career together. Sure, I started as a writer, then picked up a camera. But I also built myself a website many years ago. Someone asked me if I could build a website for them and I said, “Yep, no worries.” In the course of teaching myself how to use Photoshop and other photo-editing software, I learned enough skills to apply to graphic design. So, in answer to the question, AC_Office started naturally as a commercial extension to Aaron Chapman (known predominantly for writing and photography). Every day I’m practising my passion for architecture and design through any number of storytelling mediums. AC_Office is a summation of all the little things I’ve done throughout my career. Our small team brings a refined aesthetic to storytelling, building narratives for the architecture, design and construction industries.
RTF: What challenges and opportunities do you face in running a creative agency, especially in the ever-evolving landscape of marketing and branding?
Aaron: The biggest challenge I find is doing work that we’re ultimately happy with. There’s a number of factors that contribute to this self-doubt. On every project there’s always a ‘what if’ moment. And it’s usually, ‘What if we had more time?” We also understand that we can’t make what we think is ‘exceptional’ every day of the week. We would love nothing more than to create sleek, minimalist designs on every job but that’s maybe not what our clients want, or need, to be successful. We put aside our ego and our desire to have a sexy portfolio. We aim to put each individual client in the best visual position to achieve business success.
There are so many great creative agencies out there and we see this as an enormous benefit, not a challenge. The creative industry, particularly here in Australia, is a great supportive network. We may not win every tender, but we know that we, along with every other agency, is out there building a great creative ecology.
RTF: Can you discuss the process of conceptualising and executing a creative campaign for a client, from the initial idea to the final deliverables?
Aaron: From the initial meeting with a prospective new client, right through to delivery, communication is the most important factor. We build brands and websites, but we also build relationships. This is the foundation of any good business. Our clients deliver a brief and our team will perform market research before conceptualising and executing whatever it may be. As mentioned above, our process is informed by the client’s needs, not by our wants.
RTF: Creativity can sometimes be elusive. How do you overcome creative blocks or challenges during the creative process?
Aaron: I’m not someone who can sit down for eight hours and work. It’s an hour here, a little bit of piano there. An hour here, some gardening there. Creativity is elusive. And I overcome creative blocks by keeping a very unrestrictive calendar. Some days are stacked and I will need to knuckle down and complete some projects or deliver photographs to a client. But most days it’s the piano or gardening that gives me the creative reset I need. Ideas rarely come to me on the computer. More often than not, I’ll be out shooting hoops at the local court when inspiration strikes.
Another important way to overcome the creative dry spell is to have an honest and collaborative relationship with peers and mentors. I ran AC_Office solo for a few years, surviving on word-of-mouth recommendations and delivering single-minded outcomes. Now I have a team, and they’re the first to tell me that my idea sucks and this, without a doubt, will always lead to a better brand or website design.
RTF: What advice do you have for aspiring photographers and individuals looking to start their own creative agencies?
Aaron: It took me years to develop my style, for people and clients to notice me amid the sea of other photographers. But those years were the best. There’s something so special about learning the craft, walking around a neighbourhood aimlessly looking for anything to photograph. I would tell any aspiring photographer to pick up a camera (any camera – my favourite pictures were taken on a toy camera), and go for a walk.
I would tell someone starting their own creative agency to be kind. At the end of the day, clients want to work with good, nice people.
RTF: The media landscape has changed significantly over the years. How has that impacted your work?
Aaron: I wouldn’t say the media landscape has impacted my work. I’m always creating work that resonates firstly with me, which in turn, resonates with my audience. The media landscape has changed and the challenge we face as creative people is putting our work in front of the right people. There’s an ever-increasing need to be online in order to do this. Social media is not where I want to be spending my time but have found it a necessary evil in order to promote my services to a wider audience. On that note, you can see my work @byaaronchapman or @ac__office ☺️