Jalaru (Michael J Torres) is an Indigenous self-taught photographer and graphic designer from Broome who is currently based in Melbourne, Victoria. As a Djugan-Yawuru man with tribal connections to Jabirr Jabirr and Gooniyandi people, Jalaru’s work is inspired by the textural landscapes and the people of the Kimberley region, while also exploring the contemporary social and political issues facing Indigenous people in Australia. Jalaru’s work has appeared in exhibitions around Australia and internationally.
How did you get into photography and design?
I had a creative spark about me from a young age, from drawing to photography, and I have always had a strong pull in my design to showcase the Kimberley.
I bought my first professional camera back in 2010. It was a Panasonic point-and-shoot. It wasn’t until I saved up for the Canon 7D when it was released that I started to truly venture in photography. After a six-month delay of keeping the camera in the box trying to figure out where to start, I got a fifty nifty (50mm) and started shooting.
At first, I turned to other photographers for advice, and I would spend a lot of time looking at photos and try to reverse engineer them. Remember, this was before a lot of videos online was accessible, so I spent countless hours of trial and error while living in a remote part of Australia with no access to photography classes.
What are your earliest photography memories?
Being old enough to have grown up in the film days of point-and-shoot style cameras and going down to the chemist to get a roll of film developed has been burnt into my memory. My father was always taking photos of our camping trips and then, later in life, documenting my teen years.
Another moment that stands out is from when I was a teenager in Broome in the 90s, and I would take photos of the boys jumping off the wharf.
Jumping off the wharf during high tide was a rite of passage; the excitement of who was going to break the ice and jump first, the thrill of swimming against the currents.
Then there was that time a friend of mine asked me to capture her on the beach in a swimwear-style shoot, which made me nervous as I didn’t know what I was doing. We ended up having a great time at the beach, and it gave me the confidence to approach others to be in my photography.
"Protect her and she will protect us" / Jalaru
How does where you grew up inspire your work?
Growing up in Broome, we have a history of singers and storytellers, and also just forward-thinking generations that nurtured my creative thinking. Being around a lot of storytellers in my family has definitely shaped me into being my own creative force, and photography and design just happens to be the medium that talks to me and allows my creative views to be more expressive in a restrictive format.
My photography includes portraits of local people from the Kimberley and Pilbara regions. I find that capturing people on country gives a truth to the images, and the natural light reflects on the images to give them a unique feel. I hope to learn and develop older film photography to capture the people and landscape on country, and also develop the film while on country to add to that authentic feel.
How would you describe your style?
Many people have called my work “clean and sharp”. I use light and colour to express my storytelling, and I take a stripped-back minimalist approach because I want the subject to be the focal point so as not to make the frame too busy. This can make telling a story more restrictive, which is a huge challenge, but it’s rewarding when my works connect with the viewer. When I incorporate semi nude subjects, it illuminates the beauty and vulnerability of us all, which helps to connect to the story.
"Watching Our Country Burn As She Cries" / Jalaru
How has your style evolved over time?
In the past, most of my time has been taken up with commercial graphic and web design work. This has made it a challenge to express myself creatively, but I’ve always added to my design ideas. Now I feel I can come out of the background and express my art in many elements.
Since starting to focus on photography three or four years ago, I have been constantly trying new techniques and honing my own style. I am always developing new ways to express the images, not only as printed work but as projections and narration. I hope to learn from international artists on best practices in these areas. More recently, I have started to work in blending both graphic design elements into my photography.
"An appetite for self-destruction" / Jalaru
What drives you to create?
Unearthing stories of the past and present, creating work that is beautiful with a deep message and planting the seed of knowledge that gives the viewer the motivation to seek knowledge of those stories themselves. This has been the motto of my work – creating art that connects with people and allows them to find their own truth.
Working with all types of people is also a driving force to create art that transcends my own point of view, allowing myself to share ideas and views with people all over Australia and the world, proving that photography is universal beyond barriers.
Another significant influence on my life has been the fact that I am a cancer survivor. I had non-Hodgkin’s disease in 2000 and put my life on hold for three years. This was a turning point in my life and creative drive as I felt I was given a second chance.
I now have the drive more than ever to succeed and grow as an artist and showcase my artform and personal life experiences.
See more of Jalaru's work on his website, Instagram and here.