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Billy Reeves (b.1990) is a photographer and visual artist raised in Perth, Western Australia.
His fluid interest for photography began at the age of 17 when he attended a photography class as an extra-curriculum activity in high school. Since then it has been an explorative journey that has propelled a passion for understanding and discovering aspects of his surroundings through the charms of the medium.
Transient due to travels for the past decade, Billy now lives and concentrates on projects in his hometown in Western Australia.
Where are you from, where are you based now and can you tell us a little about both?
I was born and raised in Perth, Western Australia but spent a good portion of the past 10 years going walkabout abroad, though I’m back in Perth now, based here for the foreseeable future.
When you started photography what were you initially drawn to take images of and why?
The first time I picked up a camera, though blindly, would’ve been when I was around 13. It was a little Ricoh point and shoot 35mm I bought from a pharmacy for a trip to Sydney with my Mum and brother. It had a panoramic crop function, so I naturally took to imitating the works of widely published Australian landscape photographer Ken Duncan, as it’s what I had seen in coffee table books.
The photos were all terribly kitschy and were mostly cheesy panos of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but it was interesting to me at the time and a stark contrast to the grim reapers and flaming skulls I was sketching in my notepads.
Circa late 2005 I acquired a digital point and shoot camera to take on a trip to see my grandparents in Victoria, where my choice of subject matter expanded and I began to take pictures of people and animals, trees and abandoned buildings and anything antiquated. Although I had a camera and was taking pictures it didn’t feel like I had started photography yet, and was nothing more than a pacification of boredom until I had my first photography class in late high school, and met the inimitable Cliff Woodroofe.
He was a teacher, mentor, a friend and a beautiful enigma of a human. He helped me through high school by giving me freedom to express myself and by proximity introduced me to “Street Photography” in different magazines and publications. That’s where photography started for me, out on the streets garnering confidence by taking pictures of people and entering life by way of the human zoo. As a notable transition, it was also when I first began to have access to the internet.
How does your environment and living in Western Australia affect your work and the subject matter you choose to shoot?
It’s been a long and continuous road of metamorphosis to get to the point I feel I’m at now, in actually recognising my hometown and country in all its nuances. I feel fortunate to still be learning about the wonderfully diverse nature here and how politics are changing it, so this environment affects me greatly both physically and psychologically and is a driving force behind a project I’m currently working on titled The Salinity Line, which is an oblique and ongoing geographical study of South-West Australia in a climate crisis. It took moving to Germany and then back after the pandemic gained momentum to realise what was important for me to photograph right now and this is it.
Is there a specific feeling, thought or something in your work you specifically try to draw attention to?
I don’t strive for a feeling in particular, but in ways I do see the tensions of existence as a sort of blood-sport ballet, and in my recent work, each scene is by its colour, form or sequence a depiction of violence, a battle in an impending anthropocene.
There is a definite vibrancy and boldness to your photographs, is this something you set out to do or came naturally over time?
For me it’s a 50/50 split of choice in subject matter and the natural process of developing and finding balance in aesthetics that get the neuro transmitters pumping. It’s mainly for myself at the end of the day so if I can find dopamine in the process it’s easy to move forward and create more and learn more.
Whom were your original influences and who’s work are you drawn to currently?
It sounds a bit cliche these days but Henri Cartier-Bressons and Trent Parke blew my mind to begin with, then all the photographers at In-public, Max Pam, and when I discovered the website deviantArt in 2007 it was Lasse Damgaard Elholm and Severin Koller whose work I admired and who I became friends with when I travelled Europe for the first time.
I have a heaving bookshelf these days so my influences are very much fluid on a daily basis but I’m very much enjoying the works of Lars Tunbjork, Carolyn Drake, Alexander Gronsky and Michael Northrup at the moment.
Can you tell us a little about your travels over the last decade, what made you want to get back to your hometown and focus on shooting there?
I left Australia for the first time in 2010 after saving enough money to go on an extensive trip. I bought a one-way ticket to Belarus as I had a fascination with alienation, and a morbidly romantic idea of being a photo-journalist visiting areas in southern Belarus affected by the fall-out of nuclear winds caused by the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. I never pursued that idea but I did make some great friends and adjust my palate for Beer and Vodka.
After Belarus I spent three summer months couch surfing in Ukraine. It was wild, and I left on such a high and with such a deep impression from the people I met there that when I crossed in to Slovakia and slowed my pace, the emotional come-down was severe.
I was wobbled and lost but drunk and hungry to keep finding my feet. I made my way across Western Europe and eventually met and began seeing a German girl, and without divulging convoluted details, I spent the next ten years restlessly moving back and forth between Perth and Europe, until it became apparent due to the pandemic, that this lifestyle was no longer sustainable.
I was living in Berlin at the time and I remember such a visceral feeling of hopelessness watching all the news roll in from the late 2019 bushfires in the eastern states of Australia. I incessantly refreshed my news feed reading the gargantuan statistics of its impact and wondered whether it was going to be complete eco-collapse.
It just got worse and worse and made me miss home a lot and the landscape that sculpted my early adolescence, so when the pandemic became a real thing and Europe started shutting down before my German working visa was granted, the only realistic direction was south to home.
What’s next for you this year?
More underwater adventures, more creativity, finally getting my driver’s license and maybe a project in print.
Where can we find you online?
As of now @hillbillyreeves is my only online presence.