Written by John Williams
Photography by Simon Devitt
His stunning architectural images can be seen in many of New Zealand’s premier design magazines, as well as some notable publications internationally. John Williams caught up with Simon, soon after he’d finished a mammoth, 20-day-straight string of shoots for this year’s architecture awards.
Three weeks without a break, Simon. What keeps you motivated and fresh?
“Every day is different, and every house is a challenge. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you get there. You may have seen some snaps, or heard something about the house, but you show up and there it is, fresh and new,” he says. “Take yesterday, I drove up to Kaiwaka, in the middle of the Kaipara, to shoot a house. The weather was a mixed bag, cloudy with brief glimpses of sun, but it ended up being the most stunning dusk – full moon and clear skies, with all the colour and richness in the landscape. Just beautiful.”
Have you always been a photographer?
“Yes I have. I didn’t go to university, I taught myself. I’m a bit stubborn like that,” he smiles. “I absorbed everything around me that was to do with photography – working in camera stores and printing film. The last job I did, as a bridge between being a part-time and full-time photographer, was a nightshift job, printing police forensics photographs. It was compelling stuff – an interesting way of storytelling, from the micro to the macro.”
Why were you so fascinated by photography?
“I blame dad,” says, Simon. “He was a great family photographer; of us, of how we all looked and where we all went. He always shot his images on slide film, so everything ended up projected on the wall, which was fascinating to me, as a kid. The foundation of myself as a photographer came from those slideshows."
"For me, the most important picture a camera can capture is a family photo, where in one picture, in one viewing, at one time, you get to see each other, next to each other."
It’s odd then, that you shoot inanimate objects, like buildings.
“I agree, but there is potential for a house not to be inanimate. I try to challenge that idea by taking pictures of how it feels to be there, rather than how it looks; as if something has just happened, or is about to happen.
But that’s not quite like capturing that split second of emotion – a tear, or a smile on a face.
“At a house shoot, I’ll be there all day, from morning to evening. Every second I’m there, that house is changing, especially in New Zealand where our landscape is as much about what is directly above us as what’s below us. We live on a thin strip of land, deep in the South Pacific, so everything is changing all of the time. There are moments to capture, like a face, absolutely.”
Why did you choose architecture?
It’s the closest thing to how I taught myself photography; walking the streets, looking at houses in the suburbs, and out in the country with rural backdrops. You can pick up the camera and walk, and that’s how I taught myself. Walking is the greatest way to think and engage with humanity on a human scale.
Have you always got a camera with you?
“Yes,” he smiles, picking up his iPhone. “The camera on the iPhone has improved out of sight, to the point where I have done actual shoots on it, in places like New York, and I am now selling the prints on my website. It makes photography so accessible.
“The iPhone is like the modern-day version of a Box Brownie”
“Everyone can take pictures, everyone is it photographer – it’s like exercise, you don’t have to be good at it, you just need to do it – that’s what I love about photography.”
You’ve been living in Titirangi for 10 years – what attracts you to the area?
“I like being far away from it all, but not too far away. I have a beautiful home on a really nice piece of land, and it feels good to be there… and that’s the first thing people say when they visit, ‘it feels good to be here’.
Describe your home?
“It’s 1969, architecturally designed house. I don’t know who the architect is, but it’s not atypical of that period of home in the area. It has a simple, single-level design that cantilevers off a breeze-block base. Everything is cantilevered in Titirangi.”
I believe you’re about to begin renovations. What will the new house look like?
“It will be my version of 1969 – how I wanted to be, but sympathetic to the period, like taking out the aluminium windows and bringing back the Cedar joinery, for instance.”
Where do you go to relax?
“Nature is a great place to lose yourself in, so I like to go walking. I have a young dog, and he loves it as much as I do. We live very close to the coast, and there are some very beautiful harbour and West Coast beaches to explore. My favourite is Kakamatua, between Cornwallis and Huia, because it’s dog friendly.”
Do you have a favourite café?
Yes, there’s a local one, called Humbug Café, where they do fantastic Millers coffee. The staff are excellent, and it’s not at all pretentious.
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