The photography of Travys Owen combines unusual compositions, high saturation and striking use of lighting. It’s the type of work that makes you second guess its methods, leading you instinctively to believe each image must have taken time to plan, build and shoot. In fact, however, the South African photographer and artist works spontaneously, capturing his subjects in a fleeting moment and as soon as an idea arises.
“I have always believed in getting my core team together and letting images happen and documenting everything along the way,” he says. “You may look at my images and think they are very structured and thought out, but it really isn’t the way I shoot at all.” Instead, Travys prefers to shoot on what he calls “split-second decision making”.
Originally from the East Coast of South Africa, known as Eastern Cape, Travys spent his upbringing in a small town, constantly surrounding himself with skateboarding, art and music. So much so that he views everything – all of life’s events and hurdles – up until this day as a form of progression, “where I just use a camera as part of my process,” he notes. After completing a degree in Graphic Design and Visual Communications at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, he went on to work as an illustrator and animator in Cape Town for the following year. He’s a man of many mediums, but photography was always going to come out on top. “Photography is just something that I tried out one day and I fell in love with the immediacy of the medium, and from there onwards it has just grown and grown through the people I have met and collaborated with.”
Now based in Johannesburg, where he’s been located for the past four years, Travys has been building on his portfolio, replete with personal work and editorials, including commissions for Hunger, Petite Noir, GQ and The Fader, as well as crafting the visual identity of Nigerian-born, Berlin-based musician Wayne Snow and his latest album Figurine. But whatever the subject matter, rest assured that it will be doused in his signature splash of vibrancy – like a rich yellow backdrop, metallic blue lighting or a rouge floor that appears to be bleeding from the bottom up.
Building a personal aesthetic has never been high on his agenda, however. “I never really thought about developing a style until I started putting all of my images together and then people began noticing a thread that just seemed to appear out of nowhere,” Travys says. “I think I am just drawn to certain things like colour, form and most importantly like-minded people with whom I collaborate. It’s all just a feeling and I never really set out to capture anything specific.”
“Colour, for me, is also something that is just a feeling,” he continues, citing this as another key pillar in his work. His tones and palettes tend to take shape in post-production, which will see the photographer sit at his desk for hours working on the image and toying with the hues and saturation. “It is a very therapeutic process for me,” he says, “real and unreal. I like to push some of my images until they almost digitally begin to break and then pull it back just to that point where the colour and contrast become so graphic that it almost doesn’t have that typical photographic feel anymore.” And that’s just it; Travys’ work isn’t your typical offering of photography, and instead it serves up a dystopian – almost unrealistic – take on fashion, music and art.
When it came to developing the identity for Wayne Snow, Travys got to work on the artworks, press shots and videos, all of which have been warped into characteristic colourful style. A “triptych video project” consisting of three videos joined together as part of a three-part series, Travys adds how he was given free rein when it came to the creative side of things, “and made emotionally creative decisions from the way the music sounded to me”. This includes his take on the cyclical notion of life, wherein “we die many deaths and live many lives” and are “constantly being reincarnated in our minds”. As such, the films feature stylistic elements from “life, death, rebirth, elation, depression and everything in between”.
Travys clearly thrives off collaboration and works hard to join forces with people who he wants to work with. Soon, you can expect to witness many more collaborations, as he makes images with people he admires. He has an upcoming solo show and book launch in the works, too, “with everyone I love and admire in the South African creative scene. Also, at the same time, I am trying not to put too much pressure on anything at the moment; slowing down and being more deliberate and decisive about who I create imagery with.”
GalleryCopyright © Travys Owen, 2021
Copyright © Travys Owen, 2021
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.