Keizoku wa chikaranari – “There is strength through perseverance”. These are the words that Daniel Craig (yes, that is his real name) lives by and tries to channel into his art. Going by the moniker Matsu Photography, the Fremantle native has made a substantial mark on the Perth digital photography scene in the short few years he has been involved.
Cutting his teeth in the dark, dingy surrounds of Mojo’s Bar in North Fremantle shooting his friends’ bands over a period of around 2 years, he now tour manages WA hip-hop group Koi Child and has just released his first documentary series on a working Pilbara cattle station entitled Dust, amongst other commercial and music-based photographic projects.
Craig’s journey has not been an easy one, however, and photography was surprisingly not his first passion. For 8 years, 2 to 3 hours a day, he trained relentlessly in Capoeira until a string of knee and soft tissue injuries hindered his goals of making a life in martial arts. “My own mortality was in front of me” he says of the realisation that he would not be able to continue down such a path. Craig fell into a subsequent bout of depression in which he felt lost and directionless. It was only after a suggestion from a friend that Craig purchase a camera and start shooting live band gigs.
“My first camera was a 5D Mk II, with no lens!” he says, admitting at how little idea he had of photography at all at that time. After letting it sit on a shelf for a time, Craig finally began shooting gigs at Mojo’s. “All my photos were coming out dark” he says. Fortunately, another photographer was able to coach Craig on how to operate his camera and from here his steps into a wider world began.
Craig found that his art began to develop the more he practiced, although he says it was his own hunger to learn that spurred him on. “The same passion I had for martial arts I put into photography.” The following years of shooting gigs at Mojo’s began to hone Craig’s skills and develop his style into what it is now. “Only now I feel like I’m starting to settle” he says. “You learn to appreciate light. Light can reshape the world.” Craig’s photography has an essence of mystery to it; he does not shy away from harnessing darkness for effect.
“I never really had a mentor” Craig says, explaining that it has been a “maturing process”. He does, however, cite influences. “I look at thousands of photos. I look for colours that contrast with each other” he says. Some of those influences include renowned photographers such as Joe Lawrence, better known as Joey L. and Eric Almas. However, it isn’t just other photographers that he draws inspiration from. Painters and cinematographers also join the list. “I see it all as one thing, its all visual communication” Craig says of his appreciation for story telling through visuals. Albert Bierstadt, Andre Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick all have left an impression on Craig’s art. Looking through the work of Bierstadt particularly, one can see his paintings speaking through Matsu’s photos. A piece of advice that Craig received from Canadian photojournalist James Wiley has stuck with him throughout his career, and influenced him in his own journey: “Don’t feel like you have to travel to be a good photographer.”Shadow and low tones are what defines much of the composition of his photography, though when rays of colour and highlights appear in an image they bring the already full-of-character photo to life. Craig devotes great attention to his style and maintaining the personal element within each image. “I care about the artform. I’m a human, not a brand.” To him, the image has to be an extension of himself. “I’m lucky to do different types of photography but it still feels like something that’s me.” Through his development, Matsu Photography was born, a name he chose based on his wife’s maiden name of Matsumura which means ‘Village of the Pine Trees’.
It is this philosophy that has kept Craig humble, despite his short and dramatic rise to prominence, and his focus local. “The local music scene means more to me than anything… I want to represent the WA music scene. I love the idea of delivering really quality images [for them]” he says. Some of Craig’s photos appear as though they have been taken in some far-flung country’s jungle or in the mean streets of downtown LA, though in reality they are rarely a 10 minute drive outside the Perth CBD. “There’s some things that I connect with” he says of his home town.
Craig often treads the streets at the early hours of morning, hunting for locations and unique photo opportunities. He believes there is a lot to be said for our sleepy seaside city. Craig’s desire to capture his home state visually was partially what influenced his latest professional work, Dust, a visual exploration of mustering season on a Pilbara cattle station.
“I wanted to see other aspects of the word but I wanted to shoot something that is Australia and is WA” Craig says. “It’s a two day drive to the Pilbara, to DeGrey Station.” For 2 weeks Craig awoke at 4:00am and ended the day at 8:00pm to capture the lives of mustering stockmen. “It took about a week for them to realise I was dead serious” he says. His insistence and patience earned him a window into a phenomenon which at first he was not fully welcome to see. “The access that I was getting was rare and I got that towards the end of the two weeks.” He began to be asked over to the group of stockmen who gradually became active participants in Craig’s project. Craig admits that he is a city boy and that the trip opened his eyes. “Being up there really gave me a new perspective on farmers” he shares. He says that he hopes Dust allows those who cannot see a muster a glimpse into an often misunderstood industry. “I found it interesting that people can criticise an industry that WE set up! It creates this dividing line that’s between ‘them and us’” he muses.
“I am really into personal progression. I like to be involved in ideas and practices” Craig says. His accomplishments within the photographic profession seem to reflect this philosophy. Despite the jet-setting across the country and glimpses into worlds we might not see otherwise, Daniel Craig manages to keep an inflated ego at bay. “I keep that ego in check and keep that fire to keep developing” he says. He intends to return to Karijini National Park again and explore fresh food culture in Tasmania. “It’s something I hope to keep building on” he says of his passion. Until then you can often catch Matsu down at Jack Rabbit Slims persevering with what he loves, keeping it real and local.