George Byrne

Interview 090 • May 31st 2024


Join us for an intimate conversation with an artist whose journey is as eclectic as it is inspiring. From a teenager captivated by the visual arts to a seasoned photographer with a love for music and a knack for hustling sponsors, his story is one of relentless curiosity and creative exploration. Discover how a chance encounter with photography in his mid-teens blossomed into a career marked by gallery shows, international travels, and a deep-seated passion for capturing the world as he sees it.

Through candid reflections, he shares the highs and lows of balancing various jobs, the unexpected boost from Instagram, and the thrill of seeing his work resonate with others. This interview offers a glimpse into the life of someone who navigates the ever-changing landscape of art with humor, determination, and a touch of skepticism about the future. George's journey inspires, reminding us of the beauty in perseverance and the joy of following one's creative instincts.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.


Of course we should go over, how’d you get started?

Yeah, you want to start from the top?

Yeah, let’s take it from the top!

I was always interested in photography, but it wasn’t until my mid-teens that I got my hands on a decent film camera and started playing around.


I was interested in taking pictures of my friends and family initially, then I started investigating different things, landscapes and textures, all in black and white. I liked the immediacy of it, and how you could impress different ways of seeing on the film.

Did you go to school to study?

Yes, I ended up going to the Sydney Collage of The Arts to study painting, drawing and photography, then after two years, I chose to specialize in photography. It was a tough decision at the time as I was enjoying painting very much…but I think I felt more compelled by photography at the time. I was curious about photography’s place in the fine art world, was photography art at all? Back then that was a real question. It was rare to see a photograph hanging in a big museum. I wanted to be a part of changing that.

Whenever I saw a photo hanging at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (my local museum in Sydney), I would analyze it to death. I still remember seeing this Grant Mudford picture there for the first time….it sent a bolt of lightning through me! He’s an Australian photographer, a big influence of mine, who does beautiful minimalist urban landscapes in black and white. It was just one of those moments when you say to yourself, “ok this can be done”. I also went on to completely steal his framing style for my first solo exhibition (thanks Grant!).


My first solo exhibition was a group of photos I took in India, on a Hasselblad. I was 20. I had been to India once before and it completely rocked me…you can imagine, a sheltered, 19-year-old Australian kid who knew nothing about the world getting off the plane in New Delhi ..on my own. It was the most thrilling trip of my life, I returned a wiser, better person. Thank God there were no iPhones back then, it was full immersion. When I went back (to India) two years later, I was armed with better cameras and a plan to build an exhibition. At the time I had it all figured out, Ok I wanna be a photographer, I’m going to finish my studies, shoot commercial work and do my art on the side. Things didn’t quite go to plan though; I wasn’t good at the commercial work, so I never really got that going. I had to find other ways to make money.


I had a lot of friends who worked in construction, so through my 20’s and early 30’s I mainly did that. Just laboring, noting very technical. It was good money, and for a restless person like me, excellent for my nervous system. I was a very restless kid with a lot of energy. Nothing calms you down more that digging a trench for 8 hours, 6 days a week. I absolutely loved it. On top of that I was doing music, I was in bands and things, so you know, at that age, you can do a million things at once.

How did the India Exhibition go?

The show went quite well. You know, my friends and family all came, I sold a bunch of prints, it was pretty exciting for me actually. But as you know, back then (pre social media), after you have an exhibition, you go back underground until you resurface with a new bag of images.

Right, there’s nowhere…

Exactly, “see you in a couple of years”, that’s kind of what it was to be an artist pre social media / internet.

And so, after the India show, I went and then I did some more traveling in Italy, and did another show based on that trip. So now I’m 25ish, I’ve had two solo shows…and then I save up again to go to Spain, the plan was to get some new images for another exhibition. But I get there, my main camera breaks down and I realize my hearts not in it, I have an epiphany that I should be perusing music. So, I get back from Spain, discard all my cameras, give away all my film, and from that moment dedicated my entire life to writing and recording music, full time, for about 8 years, up until around 33.

That’s a long time.

Yeah, I put in some years, released a few records, toured a lot, but I was always shooting on the side, just for fun. I had my Pentax 67 with me a lot of the time, it was years of just accumulating images for no purpose. I didn’t even process the film; I just took roll after roll and threw it in a box. At 33, I decided to move to the States.

What stimulated that?

The USA was a place I’d always been interested in. I traveled there a bit, both coasts, my younger sister was living in New York at the time + as a family we’d traveled to America a few times. 

Good parents.

Very generous, good parents and they knew how interesting that would be for kids to travel as a family to a place like that. And so I’d been to LA a couple of times, I’ve been to New York a couple of times. I had some friends, I knew it was a great place to be having a go at things, especially LA. I was like, it seems like a very forgiving city. You can swing the bat at anything, no one’s going to laugh at you.

True story, it’s true.

People try things here, crazy things…and some of those things get done, and most of those things fail, and you know, it’s like everyone wants to help you. And you help them. It’s great for that.

 I’ve always called LA a great place to fail.

Yeah! That’s not a small thing. So, I moved here, got my one-way visa for two and a half years…at that point I was broke as hell.

So music had reached its end point?

Not an end point but I was certainly a bit jaded, I’d gone through a grueling, years long process of trying to get a record deal. It was very disempowering, I’d had enough, but I wasn’t throwing the towel in, I was just like this thing I’m doing in Australia, this way, has come to an end. So I heard about this organization that helped musicians get working visas in the USA, and I went after it.

Post 9/11.

Yeah, I basically had to convince the US government that I had a two-and-a-half-year tour planned …which was obviously insane (laughter)


I mean, that was a real thing and so I had three gigs planned. And then about 58 shows that were just penciled in, in a manual spreadsheet back then, and just like closed it off.


And it worked. So, I got here. I’d saved 5k, my dad gave me 5k (cash) and said good luck, and off I went. One way ticket.

That’s all you got!

I did six months in New York (with my sister), and then the plan was head to LA after that. And then, yeah, nothing happened for me in New York. I just wasted all my money and drank too much.

Were you shooting in New York? Because what I see of your style is very LA, but it would be curious to see how that translated to high urban.

Yeah, I did, I always shot in New York, but never produced a proper cohesive body of work, it’s something I’d love to do in the future, post up there for a few months and do it properly.

But you weren’t thinking about photography as the job?

No, not at all. The camera was just still with me, because I love doing it, but the idea of doing what I’m doing was now, had not even vaguely entered my mind. I had absolutely no idea what was coming, I just ended up having a very intense reaction to the landscape here, I was interested in it from the start. So that is what drove the picture taking. It wasn’t ever an ambition to be doing what I’m doing. It was just, if I don’t do this, I’m not going to forgive myself. I was scratching an itch.


And then there was a bit of a planetary alignment because Instagram came along right at the time I was having this reaction to this place, plus I had the time, because none of my other things were taking off and I was drifting, and available.

 You’re not in a 9-5.

None of my other careers were taking off and I was…

What else did you try?

I tried a bit of acting. I mean its LA, you kind of have to, right?

I was also doing barista work, that was my income. But I did everything… I was driving cancer patients to treatment through this company, I was driving people around who had lost their license from DUIs, so random.

I didn’t know that was a scene!

I was also singing on commercials, I was writing jingles and stock music, all this stuff at the same time. I you’d seen my weekly planner back then, it was incredible.


Yeah, that’s really what I was doing, juggling as many things as possible. I was just looking for something to take. I wasn’t particularly passionate about acting, you know, it was an interesting experience. But looking back it was a really just me desperately looking for a way to make a quick buck, and that doesn’t cut it in LA.

Did you feel like you were floundering? You’re in your early 30s, you haven’t found your thing yet…

In Sydney, before I left, I certainly did have those fears…yeah. But once I got to LA, I think I was so overwhelmed with the city, uploading this place and the people and my new life, all the rest of it. I was just high on living. In LA I was also suddenly surrounded by people in the same boat. Thousands of us having a crack at things, it wasn’t just me. I’d found a tribe.

I get that.

And I was like, oh yeah okay, it’s not the worst thing in the world to be trying.

Still looking.

Yeah, of course, you’re still young. But when the opportunities started to present themselves in photography, when the breaks were coming my way, I leapt at it.

What does that look like for you?

Basically, after a year on IG, I got a bunch of followers and decided to try and build an exhibition career off the back of it. It was that simple. It was all very cottage industry at first, but I built it up brick by brick. 

How did you find IG back then?

There were lots of photographers, artists and designers…it was great. I was finding a little community, it was like all my friends were there at that point, just talking, sharing stuff. So, it was a nice way to just get back into photography – organically. I was just chugging along and then I noticed a demand for my prints emerge + the official Instagram feed kept featuring my work so I suddenly had 25 thousand followers.

Fantastic. That’s the dream, you’re doing what you’re doing and that becomes successful. Rather than, you have to conform in some way to whatever’s popular right now,  the success comes to you rather than you have to grind to find success.

I did have to work like a maniac to get it off the ground, but yea, I was doing what I wanted to do. It was just very nice to get a break.

I mean, you’d been doing it for 15 years!

Exactly – I was ready… when I saw that opportunity, I really did grab it. I throttled it. And I just worked hard, and I was like, alright, this is what I’ll do. And then I realized what I needed to do was upscale the prints and go back to my medium format cameras. I dusted them off, got a new one, got some different gear and went to all the pro labs, and worked out who I was going to work with. I remember being so blown away by the advances made in the digital printing!

Oh my god.

Yea I was thrilled with what I was seeing, and then I just went on this bender of really getting into it, I started to shoot in different ways and approach it all in different ways. When I started exhibiting at the larger scale, I was increasingly seeing the works as digital paintings, and I was freed from the concept of the thing being a photo, and it was starting to be an assemblage.

So what does that mean for you? Because all I see are the final products. When you’re moving it away from strict photography, what does that entail?

Initially it was cleaning things up for posting, and in the process of cleaning, you just start to have ideas. I was experimenting.

So you’re moving objects? Or you’re shifting color?

Not so much color, I prefer to try and work with the real colors. It’s a structural thing for me, and it was very simple in the beginning. Making small changes to create compositional harmony. But once you go down that path, you realize you have this new freedom to compose, and suddenly I was tapping back into my painter/drawer brain, just visual problem-solving. So that’s how the technical evolution of the work happened, I was just playing around. 

You’re still shooting on film?

Yeah, shooting on film, but I have a digital camera as well, that I do some work with. Sometimes I’ll use digital elements in the film photo. Cut them in.

What about the shows, how many new works do you show for each exhibition?

The shows have evolved, they’re usually around 15-20 works, I’ll look at what I’ve been doing, I look where I’m trying to go to, and I’ll sort of bring everything together and try and make a cohesive concept. 

My next show is called “Synthetica” and the previous show was “Innervisions”, the previous show before that was “Post Truth.” So, there’s sort of a theme that keeps evolving.

Have you found yourself exploring more of the city as you gain freedom and become a pure artist?

No. I should though.

And there are so many parts of LA.

Every now and then when I’m driving somewhere and I’m like huh, never been down this road, I had no idea this suburb existed, just because I accidentally turned right to avoid some traffic. LA is so vast, it always hits me when I’m flying in.

Do you feel like you could repeat yourself if you wanted to?


Is it to keep it interesting for yourself?

Yes, I guess so.

You’ve got a knowledge outside of what photography alone can do.

Yeah, maybe. Part of the frustration with photography is, it’s hard to make it malleable. You’ve got to work on it to bash it into shape. I just experiment, over and over. 

How do you feel about AI photography?

I’m ambivalent. Part of me thinks who cares, photography has had a good 100 years, every photo has been taken a billion times, it’s time for something different… and part of me is very concerned.  Humans just can’t stop can they? Never, ever. But yea, I think photography as we knew it, is over.

You’re like, suspicious.

I’m just not sure. And that’s huge. I’m no longer sure of anything I’m ever looking at.


That’s a pretty big thing.

That’s bigger than photography.

Yeah, it’s like a tunnel we’ve all just casually walked through, as a society, like oh, alright, that’s it. I guess we just adapt. It feels like humanity should at least have taken a vote on this shit?!…but that’s how new tech happens right? It suddenly shows up, and we’ve all gotta deal with it. Like the iPhone, who asked for that? I was very happy with my BlackBerry.

Without really understanding what we’ve done.

Yeah. No real conversation, just like wow. I’m scrolling through Twitter today and I saw an ad for a photography prize thing, you win a trip, and it was a picture of a guy on top of a mountain, loading film in a camera in this picture. And I’m like, that’s AI. And yesterday my friend sent me a photo of Lebron James in a miniskirt, and says, “oh my god, Lebron has lost his mind”. And I’m like, nah… “AI”.


So, these things are just everywhere now, and they’re going to become more and more. It’s going to slowly infiltrate and be normalized. How is it ultimately going to affect everything, I’m not sure. I guess some jobs will be lost; some will be gained.

Is there any concern, any worry on your part?

My immediate concern would be for the jobs of the people that shoot the photography/video that’s vulnerable. Their will soon be no demand for certain photography. As an artist, I’m not yet worried or threatened. I think the artists will just use it as a tool, and the cream will rise to the top. But I could be completely wrong.

People don’t want AI art on the wall.

Well, it’s funny, I know someone who’s shooting something recently, who wanted an art piece for the background, because they couldn’t afford the art, they created it in Midjourney and printed it, and it looked great.

So for you, which do you prefer, the process or the result?

I’m in the process right now of making new work, and I always find it tough. It’s not a pleasurable thing a lot of the time. I have fleeting moments of euphoria and lots of grinding hours of disappointment and questioning. I still go through all that.

Is a lot of that working with a particular image?

Yeah. I’ll spend hours on an image and then just hit delete. It’s like I get to this end point and go, no, I don’t like it, three hours, and I’ll never see the photo again.

I know that all too well.

I go down hundreds of dead ends, for sure. That’s the only way, you know, right? I have this folder of images called “New Ideas” that’s been plaguing me for years. They’re all images that have great components, but I’ve been unable to resolve them…like good verses without a chorus. I’ll probably go through them again this afternoon.