James J Robinson is one of the most impressive kids you'll ever meet. Really.
He's a seriously talented filmmaker, photographer and writer. He's co-founder and director of creative collective AEVOE, connecting Melbourne's most talented freelance kids with some the country's top publications. He's exhibited at TEDxSydney. He has worked for some big corporate players. He is friends with pretty much all of Melbourne's next best musos and designers.
And he's only 20.
Welcome to our new series, Young People Doing Cool Things. Over the next little while, Fashion Journal will be introducing you to the young people who are so inspiring, they have led us to evaluate our life choices (Nutella for lunch is no longer considered appropriate). The aim is to spotlight young and exciting new talent, and give you guys the chance to learn from these guns at life. Let their success rub off on you.
First up is James J Robinson.
You started AEVOE while still in high school, what ignited this spark and was it hard to find enough time to dedicate towards it?
I started AEVOE because I saw incredible photo and video content being produced by young artists around around me, even in high school, and no one was really seeing their work because they were either lacking the contacts to get exposure or people would just actively disregard them due to their inexperience and age. I ended up spending more time on AEVOE than I did on my exams in year 12 – it became a way of procrastinating from studying French subjunctive sentence structures but still staying really productive on something I was interested in.
You didn't rely on others for your success, which is super inspiring. Talk us through your decision to go it alone.
I started AEVOE with a friend, but a few weeks into it we realized our idea of what we wanted to get from it was fundamentally different. I’m a bit of a control freak too – I think it’s because I’ve got a really strong work ethic and I don’t like waiting around for other people to do things for me. I kind of live under the mantra that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. There’s obviously a bunch of exceptions to that rule, but in general I’ve depended on too many unreliable people in the past that if there’s any chance I can do something myself, I’ll do it.
Are people surprised at how young you are?
Yeah they tend to be, but I think the moustache has more to do with it than anything career related. When I get professional and down to business I’ll chuck in a B- ) face or two in my emails to let my client know I’m young, or else they might accidentally speak about serious things with me. I’m kidding, but overall I think because of the internet it’s a lot easier to be successful from a young age, so it’s not as jarring when I walk into a room to meet clients I’ve been emailing with.
Why do you favour analogue shooting compared to digital?
Originally that started because I wanted to make my work different from my peers, but over time my preference of shooting everything analogue has become much more technical. I shoot most of my video work on Super 8, and that’s because Super 8 film has a much better dynamic range than digital cameras do, and it encourages me to be conservative with shooting so my editing process is a lot more efficient. With 35mm stills, you’re shooting on a well-sized negative that you can get so much detail out of it – you’re exposing grains, not digital pixels. People complain that it’s expensive, but for the quality you get out of it, it really isn’t. Also on an archival level, it’s amazing to physically have my Super 8 rolls and 35mm negatives – I don’t have to worry as much about constantly backing everything up to three places.
What does the word AEVOE actually mean?
The process of choosing ‘AEVOE’ (ay-vo) was just my friend and I messing around, but really it comes down to how the word looks and sounds. The A and V came from AV (Audio Visual), and we kind of wrapped the hard V consonant with vowels to make it a visually balanced word. From a design perspective too, aevoe is an easy word to work with because none of the letters have ascenders or descenders, giving it a really clean look.
Do your parents continually gush at parties about how successful their son is?
I think they have to get invited to parties first, then we’ll see.
You have such an eclectic range of collaborators, how do you find them?
I spend lots of time on Instagram finding new people I want to work with. It’s always worth sending someone a message and seeing if they’re keen to collaborate in some form. I think it’s a really good idea to establish a symbiotic relationship with other creatives where you can feed off each other’s ideas. Being in Melbourne is amazing because all of my friends around me are making things, one of my best friends is doing these incredible ceramics, another one is making amazing music and more are starting fashion brands and making jewellery. I feel like it’s easy to succeed when you have lots of people to take inspiration from around you.
What has been your proudest moment to date?
Last year I made a very short film with my friend Sky about social prejudices against Indigenous Australians, and it was screened at the Sydney Opera House during TED Talks. For some reason the people at TED decided to censor a part of it which directly blamed the audience for having racial prejudices against Indigenous Australians. It obviously wasn’t meant on a personal level but a societal one, but TED claimed their (primarily white!) audiences were too progressive so didn’t want to point fingers at them. I think my proudest moment is when my friend and I wrote an article in protest against their censorship. I always said I would speak out against injustice, but when something like that actually happened and my reputation was on the line for criticising such a progressive brand, I was unsure whether to say anything for a while.
What does the future hold for AEVOE?
We made a zine earlier in the year that showed off everyone’s abilities and I got to collaborate with so many artists I’ve wanted to work with, but I felt like none of my photographers individually got much exposure from it. So instead I’m helping some of my photographers make their own photobooks. So far all of the work is absolutely incredible and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Also now that I’m getting much more confident in myself as a filmmaker I’m going to start producing some short films and things under the brand which will be really exciting.
We want you to show off! Anything else you can share about yourself?
I just finished on working on a whole bunch of Super 8 videos! I filmed 9 rolls all up, so I’ve got all this footage that I did in collaboration with some of my favourite fashion brands and musicians. It’s all slowly going to be released over the next few months, and the editing process is so exciting because I’m so happy with how all the footage has come out. I’m also doing a talk at RMIT next week as part of an industry panel which should be lots of fun.
Any advice for young people looking to make it in creative industries?
My main advice would be to make your work different in some way. It’s worth looking at other people’s work and trying to appropriate elements of it to get an idea of where your strengths lie, but try and differentiate yourself from the crowd in any way you can and that’s when people will start to notice you. Be confident in your taste too.