AWAY: Jan Vrhovnik Interview
Jan Vrhovnik is a London based cinematographer shooting commercial and fashion ﬁlm projects all around the world. His portfolio ranges campaigns for JW Anderson, Vogue X Dyson, Harvey Nichols, GQ and eBay to a beautiful snapshot of Sir Ian McKellen for Attitude Magazine. We talked to Jan about his start in front of the camera and how acting along with his work as a musician is informing his work now.
Tell me about your life and creative career before you moved abroad?
I grew up in a very fast paced family. Everyone was very pro-active and had high expectations. As a teen, simultaneously, I used to do photography, had a serious band (The Fappers) for 6 years, had a bunch of shitty-pay student jobs and did acting in commercials and features (Class Enemy).
Before committing to ﬁlm as a career I had the intention of becoming a professional session drummer. Photography and ﬁlm were just a passion of mine at the time. However it all ended up being closely linked. One wouldn’t happen without the other.
When did your interest in image and media start?
My grandpa gave me my ﬁrst camera, a Canon AE-1. It had a broken light meter, I remember my ﬁrst two rolls developed totally black. I didn’t even know a light meter is a thing back then so I just learnt how to expose by eye.
I got really into photography when I was around 12. At that time the internet was just starting to become creative and the ﬁrst platforms where people could share their work were formed, such as DeviantArt. I was hugely inspired by the photographers on that platform.
I was lucky enough that both of my parents are graphic designers so I’ve learnt a lot from them about aesthetics, concept and design. They taught me how to step away from whatever it was I was creating and ask myself the right questions to get to the answers to help me achieve pieces that will speak to the audience the way I intended them to.
I moved to London to pursue music as I felt I had a lot to learn there. Only realising it later on, studying percussion and drums ended up being the crucial element for my development into moving image. I learnt all about ﬂow, structure and feel.
Since I had my camera with me I started shooting a lot of promos for London based musicians. It all escalated from there, I got so busy shooting ﬁlms, I’d decided to drop out of university in my 2nd year. It was the motion and sound parts I was missing when doing photography as a kid. Being able to grasp these elements made me completely addicted to ﬁlm.
If I’m correct, you ﬁrst started working in front of the camera acting in two Slovenian feature ﬁlms. What made you change your career path and step behind the camera?
I’d told my mum I’d like to work on ﬁlm sets. I was 14 or something. My mum, considering my age, suggested I should try go to auditions for actors and extras. So I did. I ended up being a lead in quite few commercial and two feature ﬁlms. I was so intrigued by being on a ﬁlm set, watching all those people being so good at one particular thing. I loved the buzz. On set everything made sense to me, people were rational, eﬃcient, passionate and professional. I fell in love with it.
When and why did you decide to move abroad?
I moved to London when I was 18-ish. Reﬂecting back, I think I was just seeking an adventure.
How did the relocation help your career?
I will never know what my career might have been if I hadn’t relocated. I moved here to become a session musician and ended up ﬁnding my real passion in ﬁlm. Life is full of surprises.
My career choice turned out to be a one big full-time on-going roller coaster. But this madness is what I enjoy so very much. I get to work with such inspiring yet humble people, who are often my friends. Working with friends is priceless to me. Currently I am based in London and working as a Freelance Director of Photography.
Looking back, what was/were the most important step/s in your career?
I think I’m part of the 5D / DSLR generation. I’m a self-taught cinematographer, no school, workshops or mentors. I’ve learnt it all by watching others and trying it myself.
I had a very strong vision and practical plan. But in all honesty I knew it won’t be easy. I had to consciously put myself far out of my comfort zone for my age and knowledge but I truly believed I knew what I was doing. A lot of trial and error but I found that’s the best way to learn.
Most important step must have been learning how to ﬁnd teams of people who inspire each other. Recognising the people who are better than you, giving them the space to do their best always brings out the best in everyone.
What has been the highlight of it all?
Must have been all the places my work has taken me and the people I’ve met along: JW Anderson campaign shoot on a freezing abandoned island in Denmark, passion project Picole in a favela in Brazil, Harvey Nichols campaign on Canary Islands, The Simulation Argument (The Mill) in Iceland and GQ spot with Tom Felton or working with sir Ian McKellen at his house… It has been a ride and I’m excited for what’s to come next.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Everything will be OK in a couple of days.
Moving away is not always pretty, is it? What has been the biggest struggle for you?
At the start it is far from pretty. It’s a pain in the ass to be honest hehe. Just sorting out basic practicalities like accommodation is a part-time job in London. Big cities are complex. It comes with its highs and lows but it’s incredibly rewarding, as long as you embrace the challenges. Throwing yourself into a world full of unknown makes you learn fast. I’ve enjoyed that at the start however now I’m enjoying the fact that I feel grounded and at home.
At the end of the day it’s the people that make the place.
And how often do you return home home, to Slovenia?
I usually visit twice a year. Once in winter and once in summer.
Would you like to move back to Slovenia? What would it take to get you back?
I don’t have a plan to move back anytime soon but I think Slovenia is an incredible country and I know I’d be happy to go back if I ever decided to.
However, London is a great base to travel from and work around the world, it’s got amazing connections and there is a lot going on. I have an eagerness to work more and more around the world. To set up bases, connect with people etc.
We live in a time when you can travel and work wherever you please. The idea that when you make a change and move somewhere you have to then do it forever doesn’t exit anymore. We are privileged enough to move and work around nowadays.
What’s your opinion on the creative scene in Slovenia?
To be honest I am continuously impressed by the scene. Things are evolving. There is always something new and fresh happening. The crew is up to standard and there’s lot of international brands and studios coming over to ﬁlm.
There are some incredible Slovenian artist, designers and ﬁlm makers.
In my experience Slovenians are hard working, well-educated and very creative people. I like to surround myself with people who inspire me and some of those friends also happen to be fellow Slovenians.
Do you think young people have enough opportunities and get enough support to start their careers?
The tools and materials are now more aﬀordable/available to anyone than ever. However I think there is still a huge lack of opportunities for young people from less privileged backgrounds to get access to facilities and tools that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
And ﬁnally, do you have any advice for young people with big aspirations?
Being a nice person to be around is as important, if not more important, as your skill or craft.
Slovenia is a tiny country that offers limited opportunities when it comes to fashion and image making. Every year there are approximately 60 students accepted to study fashion design, not to mention textiles and other similar courses. But there is a real lack of opportunities and internships, let alone jobs for graduates or career guidance. In recent years there has been some great progress in Slovenian fashion with a series of fashion events, boutiques stocking local clothing and popular culture supporting young designers. However young people still aspire to move abroad to one of the fashion capitals for their chance at employment and dream jobs.
Anže Ermenc explores why young Slovenian creatives are moving away. ‘AWAY’ is a series of interviews highlighting their experiences and struggles as well as identifying issues and opportunities in Slovenia. Is it worth moving away from the comfort of home and saying goodbye to loved ones for a ‘shot’ at fame?