PHOTOGRAPHER

 

I met Justin in college where we both studied photography. Though most often found hiding behind his Hassleblad, I quickly became enamoured with his grounded style of portraiture and visually moving body of work, and have been creating excuses to hang around his set ever since.


 
 

Describe what brought you to what you're doing now.
Photography was always in the household - my dad was a photographer when we were living in Dubai and for a little while when we moved to Canada. Everyone that knows my family thinks that's what got me into it. It was actually a high school photography class that sparked the interest. I thought "My dad's a photographer, I'll ask him for help and this'll be an easy credit". Through experimentation in high school and college I knew I didn't want to shoot something if it didn't involve people. I discovered the creativity that could come with shooting fashion but didn't like the super glossy side of it. I liked it most when the character and body language was real and relatable, but framed by these beautiful clothes. I've only recently come to a point where I think I'm close to doing exactly that.

Being a photographer is not an easy career to pursue. What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is that I know I'm onto something. I don't know what it is but it's bubbling under the surface and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't explore it to its fullest degree. Money will come and go and I'm currently at a low point in terms of income but I've never felt more driven to create things. My focus has shifted away from fashion a little bit and in the upcoming work and projects I'm taking on - 
my photography will look more like my own than it ever has.

 
 

Describe your ideal work environment.
My ideal work environment would be one of two things. A large plot of land in Northern Ontario with a small shack to live in and a large barn for a studio. Or a large, primarily window-lit space in Manhattan. I'd love to have a full apprentice/assistant to grow, work and expand with. Everyone needs support like that.

You seem to convey beauty through imperfections and don't make exceptions when working with fashion models (which is quite rare given the nature of the fashion industry). What inspired this aesthetic?

When I was in college I was still in cadets, which for the most part is a very blue-collar type thing. We would go on trips and I would bring a camera and just take pictures of the kids and what we were doing. They were photos I was really proud of and I didn't want to let go of that earnestness. So when shooting fashion I'll wait until the girl looks comfortable and natural like she is just living in the environment. Sometimes, however you can't pull that out of someone and that's when I go for more graphic, ambiguous poses. Time and place for everything, I suppose.

 
 "Kiera" by Justin Aranha, 2015

"Kiera" by Justin Aranha, 2015

 "Nadyia" by Justin Aranha, 2014

"Nadyia" by Justin Aranha, 2014

 
 

I know cadets has had a really big impact on your life, and now work. Talk about that.
The tie I have to cadets has always kept me grounded. It's always been a huge factor in the way I conduct myself, where I draw my lines and how I approach something. It's made me the diplomat I am. I'm not a big, overbearing personality because of it. I can't help that those things be moved over into my work. I owe a lot of who I am as a person to cadets.

You recently took a trip to India and came back with some pretty stunning shots. What was that experience like?

Everyone was like "Oh my God you went to India that's amazing!" but their face changes when I tell them that it was for the first anniversary of my grandfather's passing. I always follow that up with a reassuring "It was a celebration, though". I was there for a really short time and didn't have a clear direction for the photographs I wanted to take. It's easy to point a camera anywhere in India and get something good that's why I wanted to have a theme or something to work to. Shooting in India was another lesson in the power of an earnest face.

 
 
 "Untitled Cadet Portrait" by Justin Aranha, 2015

"Untitled Cadet Portrait" by Justin Aranha, 2015

 
 

What gear couldn't you live without?
I took a huge risk in buying an old Hasselblad 553elx and a 503cx camera body with a digital back. I can't imagine shooting digital pictures with anything else anymore. The lenses are coated for film and it totally gives the picture a different character. Everything isn't so sharp and cold. So to answer your question I can't live without that camera, the 80mm 2.8 lens it came with, the light meter I have no choice but to use, and my favourite film camera ever, the Crown Graphic 4x5 press camera. I don't use the Crown Graphic as much but when I do it's always gold.

Best advice you've been given?
The best thing that I took to heart was a quote from a Sally Mann documentary where she says "See with love." or something to that effect. If you have some sort of admiration for your subjects, you'll most likely take good pictures of them. That's why I seem to only shoot a handful of the same girls. Another one was from that Bill Cunningham documentary where he says "If you don't take money, they can't tell you what to do, kid." So that's why I'm broke but happy with my work and the direction it's going in. 

 

CREDITS
Published on June 1, 2015
Interview & photography by Marlee Maclean