Objective Urban Abstractions


An interview with Jon Setter

“My process of looking involves acting as a sort of modern day flaneur. I wander up and down streets for sometimes eight hours at time, with no set plan for the day, trying to become one with a space.”

In just a short space of time, American photographer Jon Setter has developed quite an online following for his minimal urban photography. Paying meticulous attention to color and weight, he distills our complex man-made spaces into geometrically satisfying, sugar-sweet compositions, in no doubt aided by the endless blue skies of his adopted home city of Sydney. His visual vernacular is fresh and exciting, and enviably fully-formed for someone so close to the start of his photographic journey. We asked Jon to tell us a little more…

Tell us about your route into photography, and the role it takes in your life.

My route into photography was one that I never saw coming. It all started when I moved to Sydney four years ago. There were lots of opportunities available to me here, but I saw this as a great time to start over and try some new endeavors. After doing a few different things I came across photography when I began taking some night classes. At the same time I was travelling a lot and thought the classes could help me document my experiences for Instagram. Quickly I saw that my work looked identical to lots of other travel photographers. Not interested in that, I began experimenting with new ways of capturing my activities.

As I gravitated more towards documenting urban environments and architecture, photography’s role in my life became more dominant. The camera was the tool I used to make sense of the places I visited and my new home. The more I interpreted the structures around me the more in tune with the spaces I became. Additionally thanks to the rapid and positive response I had received online, I was driven to continue my photographic pursuits.

I am now even undertaking a Master of Fine Arts to help get a better understanding of my practice and what I can say with it in the future.

Your images exhibit the formalism and aesthetic rigor of graphic design – paying fastidious attention to color palette and shape, balance of visual weight; distilling complex scenes into their most basic, satisfying forms. Is this something you relate to? Who or what inspires you?

That’s very much something I can relate to. I feel that focusing on simplified compositions where the complexities of space have been eradicated is the most effective way to make apparent the overlooked aspects of cities. My hope is that by engaging with these elements I can develop a fresh perspective that enhances how people observe and make sense of the spaces they occupy. There are many photographers that are great at doing just that and inspire me immensely, such as Thomas Struth, Michael Wolf, and Gerry Johansson. Their work proves that no matter how heavily documented a place is there’s always an angle that hasn’t been discovered.