A few years ago, publicly, Ben was working as a commercial and news photographer. Privately, he was yearning for a deeper exploration of his trade.
Morphing from photojournalism to commercial work cemented Ben’s adversity to advertising. “I realised how much I despised the industry,” he says. “And I thought I could put my critical and conceptual thinking to better use.
“I’d been toying with going back to study for years and the reason I was reluctant was because I thought I was too old and past it. I had a lot of advice and support from others who suggested that I just do it.”
Ben enrolled to study a Bachelor of Creative Arts, majoring in photography at the Bendigo campus – just a 20-minute train trip and brisk bike ride from his home town of Castlemaine.
“Returning to study was actually really positive,” he says. “It’s been really valuable. Studying encourages you to be productive because you’ve got obligations to fulfil. It forces you to be creative and not as conservative as you might be if you were just left to your own thoughts and ideas.
“My lecturers and class mates really encouraged me to push my ideas further. If I wasn’t studying and was just left to my own devices, a lot of those ideas just wouldn’t have come to fruition.”
Take, for example, Ben’s place in this exhibition. When lecturer Dr Kristian Häggblom and academic co-ordinator Dr Vincent Alessi put the call out for student submissions, Ben took up the challenge, having recently taken some fitting shots.
The exhibition, titled In God’s Eye, explores themes such as surveillance, geo-mapping, the digital genome and social media platforms. Of being watched.
“But rather than us being watched, we’re almost doing the work for the powers that be with these devices we carry around all the time,” Ben says. “My take on that is as we become more consumed by the digital realm, by social media and the likes, we may feel more connected than ever, but we’re actually disconnecting and disengaging from our physical surroundings.
“To me, it’s most concerning when we’re in the midst of an environmental catastrophe. At a time when we need to be paying the utmost attention to what’s happening to the planet, our attention is being diverted.”
The two lightbox images Ben has contributed to the exhibition show two individuals, caught between worlds. Were the images staged, or were they snapped in passing, in the ‘real’ world?
“I want to remain ambiguous about that. If the viewer is unsure whether the image is staged or candid, I’ve been successful I guess,” Ben says.
Ben has got just four weeks to go to finish his degree, and once again, perhaps ironically, he finds himself also wavering between worlds. Although he hopes to pursue his Masters next year.
“Part of the reason I’m studying is I not only want to develop as a practising artist, but I want to one day teach at a tertiary level. So I’m going to keep going as far as I need to in order to reach that goal.”
Ben’s images features alongside the work of fellow Bendigo creative arts students Mici Boxell, Alanah Brand, Pamela Isaacs, Chelsea Josephs, Bianca Maher, Daniel Marks, Benita Murray and Catherine Shields as part of In God’s Eye. It will be launched at the Visual Arts Centre in View Street from 2pm this Saturday, October 8.
The gallery will also launch a concurrent exhibition, A Language of the Vanishing, that same afternoon. All welcome.