In the pause
Updated: May 19, 2020
–with photographer Ben Clement
I met Ben for about 20 minutes in a client meeting earlier this year. He’d flown into Amsterdam the day before, from Melbourne, Australia, to join the team I was working with on a project shooting in Barcelona the following week.
We were grateful that as time unravelled, he was able to make it there and photograph for the project with the production team – just before lockdown was imposed in Spain, soon followed by The Netherlands. He was meant to stay on in Amsterdam for a few more weeks after this, with some more jobs lined up, and people to catch up with canal side – Ben moved to Amsterdam in 2018, and has been living between here and Melbourne since. But things changed fast as the world began to recline from the pandemic, and he headed back to Australia instead.
So we caught up via screen (like so many of us lately) – me, coffee in hand at 8am, and he relaxed in the afternoon light at home. And honestly, I’d love to start more mornings like this one. It’s always refreshing to connect over stories and experiences, big or small, and I felt like there was an easy energy from the get go. Ben is a natural conversationalist. His ponderings and comments felt thoughtful and composed, as we hopped from the by-now-very-natural “‘how are you doing in isolation?” starter to what he’s been delving into creatively, to working at a distance, and the special nature of side projects.
We fall first into discussing time and place, from our respective corners of the globe. The connection to Amsterdam means the weather comes up (inevitably) and well, winter still kind of sucks. Though I’ve had some personal revelations on the season recently, and I think maybe Ben gets it as he recounts nights in Amsterdam “when the sun is just dipping down after 11pm.”
“It really changes the way you live because you can spend so much time out and about. There’s something very special about it.”
We definitely agree that living in Europe has many perks. But in Amsterdam, nature just isn’t on your doorstep the way it is in Australia, or New Zealand, where Ben is from.
“When I first got back to Melbourne after being in Amsterdam for two years, I remember just hearing birds everywhere. And I went for a run through Melbourne, and the smell of nature was so intense. I couldn’t believe how much I’d missed it. It was incredible.”
I’m stoked that we have this shared experience, recalling my own time back on home soil, literally stopping in my tracks to smell the bushland – and intrigued as to how deeply scent and sound stay with, and impact us. Often when we don’t even realise, I think we carry these memories with us far and wide, and back again.
Amidst the conversation, I did actually ask some questions.
How is isolation impacting your productivity and creativity?
“It’s interesting. I’ve been talking to another friend who is a photographer, and we were saying this is kind of the time we all wish for...to redo our portfolios and websites, and plan projects, right? So I’ve been doing a bit of that.”
“And work. A lot has been postponed, cancelled, or just up in the air. “
Ben also has Good Sport – a magazine he started in 2014 with friend and co-founder James Whiting. Born out of a love of “print matter” to “put something together that represents the intersection where sport meets other parts of life – food, art, architecture, social justice and politics”.
“I feel I’ve had a lot more time and freedom to keep the momentum going with the magazine. But it is also informed by my photographic work, they talk to each other.”
And I’m just trying to come up with ideas – whether or not I do them– as long as I write them down. Because I might execute one as a personal project or have it ready to speak to a friend about or whatever it may be.
We both feel that this time actually feels just as busy as usual, or even busier for some. It’s definitely a sentiment I’ve felt and heard since going into isolation. But this experience is affecting people in different ways.
I think isolation, for some, might be a flattener of productivity and inspiration, while for others it is that time for throwing ideas at the wall.
“Yeah, I think it kind of comes down to experience. At the moment I think a lot back to the first while I lived abroad in Amsterdam, which was really tough. I arrived going into winter, when a lot of work just wasn’t happening.”
“And I was like, ‘I’m here, I’m going to show my portfolio around and it’s going to be great.’ And I didn’t get any work...basically until the sun came out. In April. Those months really tested me. I had a 10 to 12 year career as a photographer and suddenly I was asking myself, ‘what have I done?’ ‘am I not good enough?’”
“I was frustrated, but then it sort of forced me to innovate. I’d been into running photography back in Australia, but knew Europe was the best place to do that – with major marathon circuits and races at your doorstep.
“So I started to focus my energy into building up this folio of work, of what I envision running to look and feel like. I went on this journey to all these different races and met up with different people and wrote about it. But it was stressful too, as I needed to get some work as well.
“And I’d been working for so long in a certain way and knew what I was doing... this experience sort of took me back to those early days when I first went freelance. I realised I had to start again in a way, because my work was brand new in Amsterdam.
“The time helped me to make a shift out of my comfort zone, pushed me into defining my work in a new way. A rapid education in my own thinking.”
This period of isolation definitely draws some parallels with a time of uncertainty living abroad, and the lessons learned ring true.
“I learnt from that experience, and have new habits and strategies for myself to kind of keep going and keep productive.”
“I think having time to pause and rest is so vital for your own development. You can’t really have constant growth or constant doing or making.”
Are you reaching out to others to collaborate on any of your ideas?
“Definitely. I have my running crew here in Melbourne, and we try to explore our creative curiosities together. We are looking to create a solo running crew site to tell some stories. As well as a sort of messenger service where people can add in art, recipes, or thoughts, and run it to the next home in the crew.”
This idea feels like genius to me.
“Photography wise, most of that is self initiated. I am looking at ways to include people within the physical distancing rules though, and am working on a new running film, which is a new thing for me. I’m excited to see where the journey to create it takes me.
“And with Good Sport we are collaborating with photographers and writers. James and I have been in the same headspace, throwing ideas at the page, asking what is it we’re really interested in, what makes sense, what can we pull off?”
It’s great that your project is also a potential opportunity for others that may have down time now.
“Yeah definitely. I don’t think people are bored. But I do think they’re itching to do something – to be creatively stimulated. Whether it be paid or not. I think they’re just excited to pursue some ideas.”
Perceptions in sport
You’re a runner and a photographer. Where did the concept for Good Sport come from?
“Initially it was a personal journal and also what my peer group of friends were going through. I was in my mid-20s, trying to find a way, interested in getting back into sport. I’d always played basketball with friends, but then I’d left sport alone for a long time and didn’t engage with it at all.”
“I didn’t know where to go, it felt pretty jock-y, pretty racist and sexist.”
Ben was also a photo editor at another magazine at the time, and had always been interested in making his own.
“So I started looking fairly far and wide and couldn’t find much out there that was talking about sport in a different way.”
“There was nothing out there challenging how sport can be perceived, and really championing untold stories of people who didn't necessarily have the platform to do so.”
“I was also experimenting with my photographic practice. Challenging the commercial, heavily edited style stuff. We wanted to use Good Sport as a platform to allow a lot of freedom of expression. And soon found out that a lot of people were interested in that. Whether they wanted to read it or be involved in creating it.”
We talk about a shared love for print. I am unabashedly that person who smells magazines and inspects the paper stock in a newsagent. The magazine is now printed in Amsterdam and is available from one of Ben’s favourite book stores here, the Athenaeum Boekandel, among other locations.
I’m in the process of getting my hands on a copy of the magazine, and looking forward to reading some stories out of left field.
We wrap up, discussing the value and intrigue of such stories – and the often-equal-parts passion, inspiration, fear and procrastination involved in creating a platform to share them.
- all photos by Ben Clement.