Regular readers of New Zealand fashion magazines will recognise Craig Owen’s style as he featured regularly up until his death in 2012. His photography is modern, perceptive and spontaneous and he used some of New Zealand’s most recognisable landscape shots to create images which present an engaging fantasy capable of transporting the viewer.
Craig initially studied geography at university but following his passion for photography, he eventually completed a Diploma in Photography in Christchurch. He studied under Peter Bannan, who encouraged the class to study different photographers’ work and introduced Craig to the work of Richard Avedon, who was an influential photographer for Craig in the early years of his career.
After graduating, Craig worked as a photography assistant in New York. He worked for Annie Leibovitz’s studio and did a brief stint with Dick Nystrom, travelling around the United States doing Spiegel fashion catalogues. He eventually returned to Australasia, basing himself in Auckland and working here and in Australia.
Alongside work for Fashion Quarterly, Pavement and later Black, Craig also produced advertising photography for major international clients, including L’Oreal, Ray-Ban and Diet Coke. He also worked for other international publications like the Australian editions of Vogue, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, Elle magazine in Britain, Singapore and Portugal.
Craig believed his specialty lay in creating spontaneous images and catching the emotion behind those moments. "I think my strength is in capturing moments, trying to capture emotion also rather than something that is really staged looking … It can take a lot of shots to build up to that special moment. Even though that first, second, third, fourth, hundredth shot is not right, I am building up to a moment that will be right and I don’t think you can do that any other way. That is probably why I still enjoy it, where I get a rush from, building up to capturing a moment that is invariably hard to replicate."
He was interested in capturing the spontaneous moments that models and the environment present him with. "When I first started shooting, the clothes were the last thing that mattered to me … Even if the clothes were blurry or there was not enough light on them, if the picture was great then that was all that mattered."
This creative, impulsive nature was one of Craig’s great calling cards and one that many other New Zealand photographers attempt to harness.
Craig started his career in photography before the age of digital cameras and Photoshop, and his style reflected that, even after adopting digital equipment into his practice. While he firmly argued that he was not fighting against technology he was concerned that with the increasing sophistication in technology available, people are able to create images after the fact with a computer.
Craig’s use of the raw New Zealand landscape always captured attention as he would juxtapose beautiful, often feminine, garments against settings that could be brutal and confronting. "I do love shooting on location because that is something that really affects my work, in the sense that the model and the location are the key ingredients to making a story work. I love when things come together, and the location has caused the story to happen."
Often the images are raw and there are no bells and whistles. The focus is the model and the environment, beautifully encapsulating the New Zealand ethos of simplicity, beauty and raw nature.
Text by Sally Owen. Banner image © Craig Owen Estate.
Last published June 2017.