“I always loved art at school and always wanted to be an artist," he shares. "When I left school, because none of my family's really arty, I just got a normal job. I got an apprenticeship in electronics and hated it.”
Reflecting on his 20-year career, Rikki looks back at his beginnings and the moment when he decided to take the leap and chase his dreams—starting with a Kombi van and a job in electronics based in North Queensland.
“My partner and I bought a Kombi and did a trip around Australia. I got this awesome job that paid really well. We'd leave at like two o'clock in the morning and just drive for nine hours in the outback and then set up camp and dig a big hole and fix cables," he recalls. "I was spending a lot of time away from home and my wife said, 'If you're going to continue doing this job, I might go to university while we're up here.'"
“While she was having her interview at the university, I was in the waiting room and I picked up a pamphlet about photography. I've always loved photography. Three days later, I'm out in the outback in a big hole and the sun's coming up. I said to the guy next to me, 'I'd much rather have a camera than a shovel', and that was pretty much it. Two weeks later, I quit my job and enrolled in photography.”
What has your journey been like from then to now?
Like a rollercoaster, pretty much. I did really, really well at university. I graduated as one of the highest achieving students there. I got into a small studio as a re-toucher, not a photographer. And then really just did the best possible job that I could do no matter what the job was. Within three weeks, the photographer needed an assistant on a job, so I assisted him. Within another two weeks, I was his second shooter, and within six months I was shooting for the studio.
Whatever task you give me, I'm going to do the best I possibly can. I worked for that small studio for a little bit and then I had an opportunity to be the principal photographer and that's when I started in the advertising automotive. I worked for most of the major car brands in Australia. Hyundai, Holden, Honda—the three Hs for years. That was really good because when you're working with car brands, you're working with really big budgets, which opened up doors to other jobs.
Now that the commercial photography days are behind me, I use photography as a medium for my art practice, exploring how photography can communicate my thoughts and ideas. I have a slight obsession with abstract landscapes, which is very evident in my current work.
What inspires you most about photography?
Absolutely storytelling. Without a doubt, it still stuns me today how one single frame can tell such a strong story and have such an emotive reaction from an audience. It does it every single time. Those photographs throughout history that really sum up a whole situation or a time in just one single photograph, I think that's the chase of a photographer.
"PHOTOGRAPHY HAS ALWAYS BEEN, SINCE ITS BIRTH, ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL KINDS OF VISUAL COMMUNICATION TOOLS OUT THERE."
The power of a photograph is really underestimated because we're saturated with it. There are millions and millions of photographs being uploaded to the internet every single day, so we kind of take it for granted. But when you break it down, it's incredibly powerful. In one single photograph, it doesn't have to say anything, you just have to see it and you feel something.
I tell students to use that power to make people think. I'm a massive believer in the more creative information you can put inside my head, the better I am at life.
What are some of the most exciting things happening in the industry right now?
There are literally millions of photographs being uploaded every single day. Every single person has a high-quality camera in their pocket. That is the most exciting and most challenging thing for a photography course. Photography has always been since its birth, one of the most powerful kinds of visual communication tools out there. And now that we've been saturated by it, that's where I see, how can my students shine above that? I see it as a really exciting opportunity.
Technology is changing, cameras are evolving very quickly. Entry-level cameras are 30, 40, 50-megapixel cameras. The autofocus is getting incredible. The depth that an image can take, all these things and we're at the benefit. And they're just getting better and better and better. I see mobiles as incredible. They have programs like Photoshop built into the mobile now which creates so many creative opportunities.
How is this reflected in the Photography course?
We've got a whole subject dedicated to mobile photography which we deliberately put at stage three. At that stage, students have got all those foundational skills of photography and I'll go, 'Okay, remember when I told you to put this in your pocket and use a DSLR, now you've had two trimesters with us. Now, if you grab your phone, what are you capable of?'
The assignments are to push this beyond its limits. What can you do with it? Can you really push this technology? You've got things like LiDAR and augmented reality and virtual reality and all these things are exploding right now, so the future is really exciting.
With our online course, the fact that I can have a student in Alice Springs and Broome and Perth and Gold Coast and send them out a professional studio lighting kit where they can set up their own studio at home, that's really exciting. All my students currently have that kit to work with at home and some of the photographs coming through are really incredible. I can't wait to have a big cohort of students who start to challenge each other in terms of all the possibilities and what they can create.
How do you capture images that stand out?
Capture lots and lots and lots of images. You build your craft the more photographs you take—deliberate photographs and accidental ones as well—but you just carry that camera on your hip continuously. And refine your craft. Refine the way you tell stories. In the beginning, it's really hard, I'll give you all these rules to follow, the rule of thirds and colour associations, and you're thinking, 'There's no way I can take a photograph with all those things.' But the more you photograph, the more it just becomes second nature.
I tell all my students to saturate themselves with really, really good photography. Consume good art. No matter what it is, it'll make your life richer, it'll make your creativity explode. It'll inspire. All you need is inspiration. Inspiration and passion are infectious. And that's my kind of philosophy with the course is I'm extremely passionate and I hire extremely passionate people, and they will spread that passion.
What do you love about teaching photography?
I spent over a decade as a professional photographer in commercial advertising. I loved rocking up every day and being challenged every single day. But my first day in a classroom was like, I've absolutely now found my passion. It was the biggest challenge I've ever had in my life and it was so much fun.
We have a very wide range of students from school leavers to mature-age, but when I see their skills increase and their passion come alive, and when I see their images, I tear up, because they're so powerful. I'm absolutely fulfilled by watching other people fulfil their dreams and goals. That is why I do the job.