Photographer Scott Williams captures photos that are at once familiar and entirely alien. Thick with neon reflections and warped perspective, his works appear—at first glance—like stills from some trippy film. And through Williams's lens, Melbourne is transformed from an Australian city to the backdrop of a David Lynch movie. It's no longer clear where reality ends and the surreal begins. Familiar landmarks go unrecognized. Side streets hold mysteries that will never be solved.
VICE sat down to chat with Scott about how he discovered his unique shooting style, the eternal film versus digital debate, and how directors—including Lynch—have influenced his photography.
VICE: These photos feel almost like stills from some surreal film. Is that a deliberate choice?
Scott Williams: I love cinema a lot, and the works of David Lynch, Michael Mann, and Martin Scorsese—the way they shoot, the way they light the scene—that's where a good amount of my inspiration comes from. So I try to use that to translate into photography, using straight panning shots and just freezing a scene. It's really beautiful, almost like a photo in some ways.
Your work on split perspectives, too, which is really interesting. Almost like a shot from Inception.
That's a bit of an older series, a little experiment that I enjoyed. Having two things overlapping—with one thing up and the other upside down—it's tricky because there's a lot that's going on in those photos. The way it works is that the dark areas of the photos, on the second exposure, will come in a lot more. So it's hard to lighten them up in some ways. And also for them to come in perfectly, it's really hard. But I dabble in it a little bit.
How long have you been shooting?
I only started to take photography seriously last year, when I started using Instagram as a social media platform to find and interact with people. It really allowed me to meet so many interesting people—a ridiculous amount—who also shoot film and digital, and they all have amazing work. I actually feel kinda proud just to meet people, and just getting my work out there. I don't talk a lot, so this has been great for me.
A lot of your portraits seem pretty intimate. When you're casting, is the person in the photo important?
Yes, definitely. I usually go out with my friends, friends of friends, photographers themselves who want to learn how to shoot, or just people who want to shoot. So you take a photo, go for a walk, talk, and just take more photos. It's really great. I'd like to do as many of such series as I can. It's a great experience just talking to people and stuff, getting to know them.
What's your favorite image that you've captured?
There's one photo I have of my friend. It was one night when we went out to take photos of the neon Skipping Girl Vinegar sign. But that night the sign wasn't turned on, so I was really annoyed... we headed back into the city, went past Chinatown, and as we were going past, there was one alleyway that had a neon sign in the reflection of a puddle. It instantly caught my attention. I just had to take a photo of it. It was a ClubX sign, like a peep-show sign all the way down of the alleyway. Then I took another shot with my friend. I don't know how I managed to do it, but the puddle somehow aligned with the eye of the subject, so it looks like she's crying with the puddle... it was a complete accident. A lot of exposures can be accidents in some ways because you never know clearly what's going to happen. I was completely blown away with that photo.
Where do you fall in the film versus digital debate: Are you 35mm or nothing?
Not really. For me, film is just pretty much shooting digital. Except with the cost of film, developing, and scanning—it all adds up. But film does have a different discipline for me because I'll take a photo and make sure everything is well composed and well lit. As opposed to when I take 100 digital photos and decide which one is good. With film, I make sure the one photo I take is perfect. If not, I'll just move on to the next subject. I can't justify doing multiple shots of the same thing [on film]; it's too much money.
What do you think the next big thing is in photography, after digital.
It's getting pretty extreme, maybe 3D photography in some ways, all very future stuff. It's intense, most digital cameras can shoot pretty high ISOs and have no grain. It's insane to think that about ten to 20 years ago, people were still shooting film, and now there's digital, which is so fast and easy. I can't wait to see what's coming next. But I'm also not just biased to one medium. I don't really shoot digital for my work, unless if it's for a uni assignment or something, though I think all mediums are great in their own ways.
You've said film directors are a big inspiration. Are there any photographers you look up to?
I love the work of Savannah van der Niet; she did multiple exposures with music photography and that really blew me away. In some ways, it also led me to shooting film, because it was kinda just like, "I want to get photos like that. I want to use multiple exposures!"
What are you working on right now?
I've started dabbling with medium format; it's just a higher quality than 35mm. It's super sharp when you get it to focus. So I've just been doing that and still continuing my series on night photos. In general, I just experiment with different formats, because you never know when you'll get nice photos from these formats.
Do you intend for photography to be your main job?
If I could survive off photography to make money, that'll be more than amazing. I'm still figuring it out; it's hard to get into photography in some ways because I don't have a lot of content yet. It's also really competitive, so maybe I would see it working out as getting a job in a studio or something. But it would be my dream job to do photography every day, that'll be insane.
Words by Desiree Leong. Follow her on Twitter.