Artist Profile: Hayden Charles

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After doing a year of writing about local artists – sculptors, painters, graphic artists and even comedians – I thought it fitting that for our anniversary I cover an artist close to all of us at the SKN team. Hayden Charles is the photographic editor of this newspaper, but there’s a lot more to him than making sure that photos look great in our humble publication.

I meet Hayden at the Vineyard, where he is seated at his customary position at the end of the bar, working on photos that he’s recently taken for a client. Not that there is anything unusual in this. Whenever I meet Hayden, he’s seated at his customary position at the end of the bar, working on photos that he’s recently taken for a client. It sometimes seems to me that over the last five years he’s kept the same habitual locations, but has gradually replaced the type of company he keeps. Instead of spending his time with other locals, he spends his time either attached to a camera or buried deep in the screen of his laptop, editing photos.

Ahh, but they suffer for their art, don’t they?

Hayden grew up in the inner east suburbs and received his education at Melbourne Grammar. Photography seems a little removed from the clichéd professional trajectory that ‘those’ types usually take. I ask him about this. Cautiously.

He smiles. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I didn’t start in photography straight out of school or anything. I spent quite a few years in a suit, first.” I ask for specifics, and he informs me that he was a real estate agent, working in commercial leasing and residential sales. Then he became a recruiter, specialising in civil construction. When he tells me this, I find myself, and not for the first time, looking at him blankly. He pauses for a few seconds, and then adds: “I found people jobs at companies that built roads.” Ah. Obviously. I should have known that.

“So where’d the interest in photography come from?” I ask.

“When I was getting a property ready for sale, back in the day, I found myself more interested in getting the photos taken than anything else. It’s not that I wasn’t good at selling them, cos I was, but, whereas other agents got a kick out of the sale, I got kicks out of getting a property looking its absolute best in our magazine. I think I may have irritated a few ad agency photographers along the way, asking for unusual angles and lighting.”

There is also the fact that his father is a semi-professional photographer. When I uncover this little nugget, I tell him that that takes some of the thunder out of my previous “rich-boy-bucks-expectations-to-follow-his-dream” angle. “Not exactly” he replies. “He’s a lawyer who moonlights.” Ah.

Remembering that someone clever once said that discretion is the better part of valour, I decide that this line of questioning probably requires a retreat.

So I adopt this strategy: “What sort of work did you start with? What sort of work are you doing now? How’d you pay the bills when you were starting out? Oops, scratch that one.” Awkward.

Hayden just laughs. “I started with whatever I could get; leant on friends and family for leads, worked facebook and flickr, did a heap of case study shots in different fields, so I had something to show prospective clients, etc.” And what did he get? “Horseracing, funnily enough. Dad had been doing the Melbourne Cup for the VRC for a while, and they asked him if he knew anyone else they could get to cover a bit more ground on the day.”

Wahey, I gots me another angle! Daddy-spoon-fed-him-a-career! I tease him about it and get promptly put in my place. “Yes, Dad got me in there, but based on the shots I produced, the VRC contracted me for the whole of the next Spring Racing Carnival, not just Cup Day. They’ve subsequently had me do a heap of their off track, non-racing events, too.”

So what did he do for scratch the rest of the year? “St Kilda provides a lot of people needing shoots to a photographer. I’d done quite a bit of work with a motorcycle stunt rider mate of mine, Luke, and that work, combined with the VRC work, helped me secure quite a bit from Red Bull.” Wow. That must be shutter-jockey’s dream work, I say. “Yeah”, he smiles, “It’s pretty cool.”

He also does the other pro-photography staple: weddings.  I ask him if they get a bit same-same after a while. “You’d think so, but they never seem to for me. A lot of other photographers I know grumble that that’s all they’re doing, but I love them. There’s so many ways you can capture the feeling of a day like that, and I haven’t stopped being surprised by the emotive nature of the shots I get. When I deliver a portfolio book to the newly married couple and they’re in tears while looking through it, I take great satisfaction, because I know I’ve done it right. I guess I’m a bit of a softy like that.”

So what about his pure artistic interests? “Again, being in St Kilda is awesome for this. Collaboration on a shoot just seems to occur organically. You can be sitting around a table of people and when asked what they do you’ll get a body artist, a model, a stylist, a fashion designer, a fire-twirler, two musos and a lawyer. By the end of the next round of drinks, there’s a project already scoped and we’ve shot it a week later.”

Example? “Last year a few of us got together and put together a show that we exhibited at the Vineyard (funny, that…) called ‘In Memory Of…’ We had our model body-painted in a zombie-esque style, and then threw red paint at him while I took high-speed shots. It looked amazing.” So are all his art shots constructed so ‘carefully’? “No, not at all. I get some incredible pieces taking sneaky shots of the fire-twirlers in O’Donnell gardens. They mostly don’t even know I’m there. I’ve also been experimenting with HDR (High Dynamic Range) styles on landscape, portrait, and still lifes.”

So has he got any tips for the rest of us? “Obviously, you’ve got to get the basics right, but you can find out how to do that anywhere. The best advice I can give is to try to capture the intangible elements, not just the light – if your shot can convey the feeling and vibe of the moment, then you’ve succeeded.” And how do we do that? “The best way with people is to take shots when they don’t know they’re being shot. If they know a shot’s being taken they pose – everyone does it. This falsifies the reality of the moment. If you get the shot when your subject’s in the middle of a belly laugh, or crying their eyes out, you’re actually truly capturing their emotion.”

For a closer look at his work, visit and if you like what you see and want to contact him, you can get him at:

By Aaron Webb

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