Q&A: John Feely


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I used to work in youth detention and special education. A few times a week I’d be locked in a room with a student exhibiting ‘at risk’ behaviours to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves or the facilities. By resisting the impulse to assert my opinion and expectations in this room and instead simply sitting through the students experience with them, a different result eventuated. The normal fear, judgement, shame and story were not created. It became clear that their ‘at risk behaviours’ were far more of a burden on them than on anybody else. Since then my approach, both photographically and not, has tried to adhere to a philosophy based on observation and connection, instead of story and imposition. I’m not interested in being dominant with the camera, I try to let things be and see what comes. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? We live in a an era where representation is based on self-created mythologies more so than reality. This is a pretty dangerous game, presenting life as beneficial fiction. I struggle with this because, like in the classrooms I worked in, focusing on what is real and observable leads to a very different result. Are you aware of any conspiracy theories? No, not first hand. What is it that interests you about photography? It forges connections, is immediate and intimate. It has the capacity to show what is normally invisible through a different perspective. Just like what happened in the classroom could change the view of not only the student and myself, but also the adults waiting outside. When the camera is not dominant the potential to share something universal arises, allowing the audience to also consider how it is seen. In the body of work I’m currently making the images where people and animals look back at the camera are made in this way, they are not set portraits, but random and brief encounters where both the subject and I are seen simultaneously. I’m really interested in this type of meeting, where both the photographer and subject are witnessed and seen. It attempts to avoid the normal hierarchy between who is photographed and the photographer (and audience), and traditionally in photography between the Westerner and the ‘foreigner’. I want to make the encounter itself become two-way and predominant.

What is the worst thing about city life? Talking for the sake of talking. What part of the planet would you like to explore? Anywhere spacious. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? In the West the supernatural is defined as any force beyond scientific understanding or the (manmade)’laws’ of nature. But our understanding of nature is changing all the time and is incredibly limited. Here ‘plausibility’ says more about what is acceptable and what is not within Western society than it does about what is real and possible. The aforementioned definition would not be shared by many people around the world. For centuries Western society has had a modernised attitude toward what is acceptable and what is not, in the process suppressing all but the completely concrete. This has rendered alternative perspectives invisible. The modern habit is to continue to discard everything but the literal and logical. It’s very hard to view things that have been removed from your societies consciousness for a very long time. The project I am working on at the moment presents a personal view of society in Mongolia – a place that has existed outside of these values up until the 1990’s. On a societal level it continues to be informed by the richness of values informed by a close relationship with nature. Because of this it has a very different relationship with nature itself, embracing the uncontrollability of life, fate, the different stages of life, sensory information, perspective, impermanence, connection, politics, conservatism, self-importance, competition, security, cooperation, birth, death, technology, ambiguity, history, progress, spirituality, intuition, … the list goes on. In Mongolia what is ‘plausible’ includes what is beyond our control and understanding. This approach, informed by a sense of relinquishment, connection and non-dominance is what I am attempting to learn from being there and try to embrace in my photographic process. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Photography often functions in a sociological way. My work in Mongolia has this dimension to it. Where sociology objectifies the results of its research to develop a theory, photography subjectively expresses its results, presenting a personalised view. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? When I was born. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Anything outdoors and manual. I spend too much time on a computer. How often do you take other people’s advice? Far too often. Describe a personal hell. Choice. Which living person do you most admire? Lawrence Graziose. He is a dear friend that has devoted his life to seeing incredibly clearly without attachment. He has transformed his own life so completely in his lifetime, something that I feel somewhat incapable of doing so I am very inspired by him. What was the last crime you witnessed? A police officer took some fresh fish from a friend and myself after pulling us over on the side of the road.

What is the best way to educate yourself? I try to educate myself through curiosity and letting things unfold – then attempting to identify and understand. I also try to devote myself to something and let the outcome take care of itself. Devotion creates far more possibilities than commitment does. Ultimate camera? Small, manual, simple, non-threatening, intimate. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? A very basic replication of the connectivity present in nature. This is where the idea first came from. Modern biology recognises that intimate and intricate connections exist within nature and that we actually understand very few of them. There’s an ongoing perception that humanity is separate and superior to nature, but personally I love being a part of her reality – recognising that both life and nature are to be lived not controlled. There was a worldwide web millions of years before our worldwide web. Of course, it exists in jungles and rainforests, but it also exists within us and is therefore hard to deny; in the way parents relate to their children, the way we operate socially, what we see in each other, in what motivates us and our actions as individuals and as a society. Environmental destruction makes the need to work with nature important now, recognising that we’re not separate or above her in our everyday lives. It seems like there is an underlying belief that living apart from nature provides us with some sort of comfort or individual freedom that we cannot otherwise afford, but I don’t think that’s true. This misconception is part of this patriarchal overtone that I refer to, resulting in a denial and dominance of what societies all over the world refer to as the great mother. Societies that live where weather events are severe and beyond the control of humanity often recognise this relationship with nature. Values gleaned from mother nature have allowed these societies to live close to the realities of life – stopping them from destroying what sustains them. They tend to be present (instead of future) orientated, recognise that everything is finite and connected, they consider their entire community in their political and economic systems, they recognise that progress is not linear, they are humble and harness both logical and intuitive perspectives of the world. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? No. Describe a cheap thrill. Posting and liking. Are impulses more important than consequences? If they come from the heart, they are. Intuition is always important, consequences not always. Which talent would you most like to have? To be an incredible freeform dancer. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Finish this interview. Surf.

John Feely is an Australian based photographer, his work has been exhibited widely, including solo shows at Zagreb Museum of Contemporary Art, Organ Vida Festival and Gaffa Gallery, Sydney, Aus. He is the recipient of the 2017 Canon SUWP grant, and was awarded the  Lens Culture Top Emerging  Talent award,  the Emerging Australian photographer of the year (2016), as well as the Emerging Australian Documentary Photographer of the year (2016). To see more of John Feely’s work visit — Website / Instagram.