Image: Head On Photo Festival 2015
Last night we lost a great photographer, teacher, activist and friend.
Jonny Lewis’ described himself on his business card not as a photographer but as a ‘human being’. This was not just his wry sense of humour but also his philosophy of life – he was an excellent photographer who cared about the environment, life and the people he photographed.
I got to know Jonny’s work in the 1980’s when he produced his series of now-iconic images of people on Bondi Beach. The work has since been exhibited widely and was featured in Head On Photo Festival in 2012, back where it was originally shot at the Bondi Pavilion.
Image: Jon Lewis, 'Odd Flippers'
Max Dupain wrote about this body of work in 1985: "His outlook is refreshingly extrovert with a difference. He has a great spiritual affinity for these people and uses his camera with appropriate feeling, not just as an instrument for objective recording."
Jonny was a passionate and obsessive photographer who always had a camera ready. His style was direct, which complemented his attitude to the people he photographed, making them the only reason for taking their picture.
His work was exhibited widely in many leading galleries including MCA, Stills, Damien Minton and Australian Galleries. In 1992 the State Library of NSW featured ‘Portrait of a Nation’ – 200 large images of Australian faces and in 2017 ‘Perfect Strangers’ – a collection of 20 portraits of strangers he met on the streets of Sydney.
Image: Jon Lewis, 'Perfect Strangers'
Jonny was a wonderful story-teller, and a passionate teacher sharing his knowledge with his students in Goulburn and at UTS and was a popular portfolio previewer in the Festival. See his blog here.
He was a self-taught photographer who started his photographic career in the 1970’s as a member of the artistic community of the Yellow House and in 1977 was one of the founders of Greenpeace in Australia. His environmental and political work took him to East Timor and to Kiribati producing ‘Portraits from the Edge - Putting a Face to Climate Change’ which he exhibited in the Festival in 2010.
I was very lucky to work with him on many exhibitions in the Festival and he also exhibited many times in the Head On Photo Awards including images of photographer Robert McFarlane and Musician David Helfgott.
Image: Jon Lewis, Brett Whitely
Always keen to contribute, he also volunteered in every Festival since its inception in 2010 until 2017 when his health deteriorated too much to take part any more.
We shared many meals and conversations about photography and life, and I enjoyed his humour, colourful stories and generous spirit.
I will miss him immensely.