Me, myself, I … and my Instagram personas

John Golena, a second-year Bachelor of Architectural Studies student, won the 2020 Simon Devitt Prize for Photography, announced on 10 August, for his image titled “It's Just Me, Myself and I: Solo Ride Until I Die”, but what's it all about?

The 2020 Simon Devitt Prize for Photography; John Golena's “It's Just Me, Myself and I: Solo Ride Until I Die” *

We talk to John about his award-winning image, his interest in photography, about making sneakers during lockdown and his YouTube videos on denim-painting.

Tell us more about your award-winning image, what you wanted to capture in it?

I really like texture, seeing really full composition and the earth ‘urban vibe’ of things. I knew my deck garden, in the front of my living room overlooking the hills in Unsworth Heights was really pretty. I also wanted show off my really cool platform sneakers, which I made.

You made your own sneakers? How? 

I’m a Converse ambassador, and during the lockdown, Converse asked me to create an at-home creativity series. So, inspired by Japanese street fashion, and also my dream of being taller, I made a pair of monster platform sneakers using an old pairs of jandals.

I cut them to size, layered them on top of one another, created a support structure and attached it to the bottom of my Converse sneakers. At the same time I also filmed my entire process of upcycling it, and posted it on Instagram.

I love DIY-ing things. So when I took this image, I wanted to make something really fun and creative, while being stuck at home during lockdown. I guess this photo was a representation of my super-artsy model alter ego…

John Golena, x2, wearing his own home-made sneakers.

There’s multiple 'yous' in the image. How did you do that? 

It was a Photoshop manipulation. I framed my iPhone in the garden, set the timer and took a few shots. Because the camera was stationary, and the lighting was all the same, I just needed to cut myself out of each frame and combine the images. The photo itself is super-heavily manufactured. I played with the warmth of the shot, removed textures I didn’t want, made some highlights so they glowed, and amped up the contrast of the shadows, to create as much depth as possible.

Where has your interest in photography come from?

I grew up in Singapore, moving here when I was 16, which was a really important time in my life. I had to restart basically, and that’s when I began delving deeper into art and design, and developed my interests in music, painting, modelling and fashion. So I began to compartmentalise those interests, creating different alter egos of myself, and to use Instagram as a reflection of those personas.

I love making videos on my iPhone 8 plus and posting on my account on Instagram; social media is like a de-stress tool for me and a way of documentation. I’m also a YouTuber, and post monthly videos that capture my favourite music video style movies. “It's Just Me, Myself and I: Solo Ride Until I Die” is the lyric from a song, a music video by G-Eazy x Bebe Rexha I found on YouTube. And also, I've posted videos offering DIY advice, such as how How To Paint On Fabric/Denim, how to heat set, how to come up with an idea and so on. 

Golly, anything else?

I’ve also painted numerous jackets and hoodies with custom art, a few skateboards, painted an album cover for my friend Gretal’s song “Gone” on Spotify, and designed a few tattoos for people. There’s people walking around with my art, which has been the biggest blessing of my life. 

You’re studying architecture. What’s the connection between that and photography and video-making, and everything else you do?

Ms Joon Hee Park, my painting teacher and mentor in Westlake Boys High School has been one major inspiration in my life. She told me to live breathe and eat painting, back when I was in high school.

But I’ve loved art and design since primary school, because it’s fun, it makes me want to wake up in the morning, it has saved me from the darkest times in my life. In everything that I do, art and the chase for making something that looks and feels good, and made with love fuels my fire.

And that includes architecture. Studying architecture is often a nerve-wrecking hair-loss inducing experience, but I love it so much. Nothing worth getting in life was easy to get to, and architecture has pushed me to get better with my design thinking. It has allowed me to meet and work with really cool people, so we can absorb each other’s creative energy.

Aims for the future?

I want to become famous. Haha. And share and teach what I know to other people. I’m using my Instagram right now as a platform to share what I’m doing, and hopefully encourage others to do the same. Making a positive environment to experiment and share your discoveries is so beneficial. I can learn from other people, and I hope they can learn from me too. It gives social media a purpose.

My direction in this world is to find out what my creative limit is, and until I reach that point, I’ll be here ready to design, film, paint, draw and sing about anything you can throw at me.

The appropriate theme for this year’s Simon Devitt prize was Isolation, and attracted more than 80 entries from the Creative Arts and Industries at the University of Auckland, collectively capturing a unique period of history during lockdown. John's work, and that of other entrants, can all be viewed online here.

*"It's just me myself, and I", a double version, 'flipped' by John to suit page format. 

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