As a child, Steven Popovich cried when his mum refused to give him a camera. As a teenager he wanted to become a pilot. Today, he is flying as a professional photographer and retoucher.
Steven, how did you get from wherever you are to where you are today?
When I was a kid, all I would do was draw and collect pictures. And most of the time I would draw the pictures I collected. As a teenager, I had big interests in graphic design and illustration. It wasn’t until university, where I did illustration, design and photography in my first year, that I discovered photography. I received high distinctions in all subjects but decided that I wouldn’t spend the next four years doing something I knew, but rather something I knew little about, but loved as much. So, I majored in photo media and sub-majored in design. Still, it took me some time to choose photography as my sole direction. At first, I was always trying to find jobs where I could use all of my skills, from shooting the concepts and retouch them to the final press check. It wasn’t until I worked for a studio that I followed my gut feeling and chose photography. This particular design studio helped me discover my loves and hates and craft my skills. They celebrated people working hard and pushing themselves. We landed this one project where I was shooting for six months and once it dried up I realized I needed to keep going. I knew photography needed to be my fulltime profession. I looked for a new job in digital operating and with my skill set in design and retouching it was easy to find. The only problem was that I had to take a pay cut of two-third. It was a big decision but I went ahead. I did it for the love, not the money. Once I got into digital operating, numerous doors opened. I worked for some of the best fashion and advertising photographers in Sydney, which paved the way for the relationships with crew, clients and agents I have today. After about six years of digital operating and shooting my own work, I teamed up with a producer for about a year. Then I joined my current ‘collective’ called The Pool Collective.
What was your first ever camera? And what do you use (mostly) today?
When I was only a little boy – I don’t remember this, but there’s a photo – I was crying at a camera store. My mother was getting some film developed and I wanted a camera. But she wouldn’t buy it and so I didn’t stop crying. The shop owner was so sick of me crying that he took a polaroid and gave it to my mum. She still has that photo! My first camera was, I think, a Konica C35. I must have been 12 or 13. I always wanted a camera but my mother thought I’d never use it. How ironic! My dad would shoot on an old 110 film camera. I used to love his photos, but it wasn’t until university that I really discovered photography. Currently, I work with Canon DSLR’s and Phase Camera Systems.
What triggered our interest was a recent series of images you did for Virgin Atlantic. Three scantily-dressed models in a pool and a high-heeled model in a gown on a bicycle: all wonderfully cool and yet tongue-in-cheek. Could you tell us a bit more about what was asked?
I was approached by the agency because of my background in shooting fashion. The campaign was for Virgin Active Health Clubs in Melbourne, specifically the Collins St Club, which is known for its designer fashion boutiques. Yet the health club is located at the other end, away from fashion. Hence the idea: "'Paris End has come to the other end of Collins St.” They wanted the shoot to be tongue-in-cheek, over the top, yet still have a coolness about it. The idea was that these models had walked off the street, in their high fashion clothing, and started using the facilities. I wanted the shoot to look polished and make people wonder: is this serious or am I missing something here?
We also loved the violent bright colors in your images for Nu Mode. What was the idea here? Turning the world of make-up on its head?
This shoot was for Sneaky Magazine. They came to me and said our next issue will be an art issue. The stylist showed me her idea about painting on makeup, like it’s a palette, and I was sold. Most of the time, if it’s something different, I’ll shoot it. We didn’t want these shots to look like ‘typical’ beauty shots, so I tried to direct the model into doing expressions. Everything about the shoot was about being bold, bright, and in your face through the styling, hair, make-up and the way I shot it.
I’m sure beauty/ fashion photography is a lot of fun. What is the hard part?
I guess the hardest part is to always make sure that you are developing and growing with every shoot. I don’t want to ever be stuck in just shooting something in a particular way because I know it works and will just do. I always try to do things that changes my way of thinking and approach to upcoming shoots. Which leads to time, the other hard part. There’s just never enough of it!
If not a photographer, what would you have liked to be?
I probably would have been a pilot. Massive difference, I know. But when it came time to choose my path these were my two options. Follow design and illustration (which lead me to photography) or become a pilot (because I loved airplanes since I was a kid).
We are almost in 2016: if the sky is the limit, what would be your ultimate dream job?
There are a few of those. Advertising: I’d love to shoot a massive airlines campaign. Fashion advertising: shoot a beauty campaign for any major fashion brand or beauty label. Fashion editorial: shoot the main fashion story for I-D Mag.