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Behind the Lens: Justin Hast

Nathan Hardy, Owen Lawton & Perth Ophaswongse

We’re immensely proud to present this interview with the extremely talented photographer, writer and consultant Justin Hast. Justin will be a familiar face to those in the watch industry, and he’s worked with brands such as IWC, Hodinkee, Leica, Drake’s and Asprey. Justin is also a member of the GPHG Academy and the Mr Porter Style Council.


We sat down with Justin to talk about his journey through watches and photography, focusing on the intersections between the two worlds.



Nathan: Is there a stand out photograph you’ve taken that you’re most proud of whether that be because it reminds you of an occasion or technically you think it’s a good photo? Is there a story behind why you like the shot and how it came about?

It's funny because there's a lot to be said for inspiration. So the curiosity that comes with photography, when you're looking at other people's work and you're being inspired by it, you're not necessarily inspired to replicate it. But there are elements of it that you love. And there are two photographers that come to mind when I think of watches and lifestyle photography. The first would be Kristian Haagen, a Danish photographer. There was an image which I saw a year ago that he took with a Rolex 6263 Daytona on a side table with some newspapers and some sunglasses and stuff. At the time it was very early on during my time on Instagram and I just thought, wow, that really does capture this moment in time, this Sunday morning coffee moment. I loved the shot, especially the morning light coming in through the window which just blew me away. So I think that really has gone a long way to shape my own style. 

For me, when I think of a shot that I love, it's probably just a very simple image on my kitchen table on a weekend morning where the light's just coming in through the window and nothing's pre-planned. Nothing's organised. And really, it's just a case of utilising the natural resources that you have around you. I really don't like overpreparing or over prepping or touching up anything too much. It's all about being as natural as possible for me. 
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Justin Hast I Monochrome Watches
Isochrono
Justin Hast I Isochrono

I can think of a few shots I've taken that encapsulate that - the Lange 1815 which I use and wear and love a lot. It also photographs beautifully with the light in my flat.

I would extend that to natural photography. So lifestyle photography as well, which really comes alive when I'm on holidays, when I feel most inspired to shoot other things. And typically it's around lights and shadows. Sometimes, I do get some stick from some of my friends about it because it looks like I've basically just been shooting silhouettes of different things in the hotel room or around the pool. But for me, I find that quite inspiring. And I would point to someone like Rich Stapleton, who is the editor and creator of Cereal magazine, because his work has been fundamental and has been a source of inspiration for me. He celebrates the idea that there is actually something beautiful to see around you all the time. You just have to open your eyes to it, really. And I think when you're on the lookout for inspiration, it's quite a powerful thing. 

I can think of an image which I took recently in Italy of quite literally just the corner of a building, casting a shadow on a pristine white background with an edge showing you the perfectly blue sky. I only took it on my mobile. But I have to say, it's an image that I just absolutely love. And probably because it plays into my love of simplicity and minimalism. 


Perth: I definitely get what you mean because I've had a few times when I've seen a shot, and just wished I had my camera with me. Building on your point about drawing inspiration from Kristian Haagen and Rich Stapleton, how have you developed your own house style? How would you describe it?

First and foremost, I would say my house style is utilising the light as it is. So not manipulating light and just allowing it to be as it is. I would say it has to be simple and honourable. I don't want to put anything in there that I feel is part of a lifestyle that people believe should be connected with watches. I don't want to see champagne. I don't want to see cars, I don't really want to see jets or topless women. The whole point is to celebrate artisanship and craftsmanship which is part of an ancient art. It's not about selling watches, but rather honouring the people that have spent years creating a skillset that is so unique.

Perth: That’s a great approach because sometimes as consumers, it’s challenging to separate the watch from the image that the brand wants you to have. On the other hand, as photographers we’re always trying to tell a story. What’s your take on that?

Certainly. When I think about the idea of taking photos of people - it's not my favourite thing in the world, it's not my real focus - but I've been able to do it a few times through commissions for magazines and various other publications. What I've realised is actually it's not about getting the subject to pose to do anything in particular. It's probably in line with my view on still life photography, which is just allowing it to be the way it is. You're there. You are in the moment. You've seen the moment. You can take the photograph, but you don't manipulate it. 

I had a photoshoot recently with one of my oldest buddy's dad. And he said, oh, I've got to watch to show you. He himself had no interest in watches, but he whips out this old Doxa, which he dived with in the 70s and 80s in Kenya, Scotland and all over the world. He had all the dive records. And all I did was take a photo of him putting this watch on. But he was looking at the watch. He hadn't looked at it for years. He was looking at the watch in a completely new way. He was looking at it through sort of the lens of a child on a Christmas morning. And for me, that was a shot I loved. 

Perth: What did you develop a passion for first, watches or photography?

I can actually remember the first photo I took, which really fired me up. I was in South Africa, where I'm originally from, with some friends of mine. I bought from the market in Joburg a small wooden statue of a man. I put him on the table and I took a photo - immediately, the depth of field that was created by this camera at the time just incredible. That was probably the starting point on my journey. 

The obsession with watches came quite early as well, from the age of about 17, 18 onwards. It was a real passion that sort of grew within me that I couldn't quell. And the only way I could quell it was by taking photos of watches. It's a really odd thing to say. But for me, it's actually great because I don't feel the need to own everything. Now that I've got a camera, I love taking photos because I feel a level of ownership through the image. So it's probably been a vehicle for creativity, but also a vehicle for sort of being an antidote to the obsession, if you will. 

Perth: Is there a certain scenario, style or subject that you really want to try shooting?

There's probably two things that come to mind. Firstly, film photography is not something I've done a huge amount of, but I've really enjoyed it when I've taken a camera away on holiday. I've loved the process of taking a film camera with me because you have to wait. You know, you have that delayed gratification, which we often don't have in life now. And so in many respects, the idea of taking a shot on a film camera is a reflection of maybe how I'd like to live my life - a slower, sort of more focussed approach to living. 

Secondly, underwater photography would be something I'd love to learn how to do. I've never done it before. I don't have access to nature in the same way that maybe guys in Sydney and other parts of the world do. They've got the sea on their doorstep and so they get to experiment. 

Perth: I’d like to bring you back to an earlier comment you made about your house style to round off this interview. You talked about not wanting to force the imagery of champagne parties and yachts when it comes to watches - do you think the watch industry is in touch with collectors when it pushes these associations?

I think the most interesting observation I've had is that you start to see these media outlets like Hodinkee, who I've worked with for a few years now, start to be asked to create these campaigns because they themselves are selling watches, in my view, better than the brands. They are more in touch with the consumer than the brands are at times, which is really interesting. I would point to the IWC x Hodinkee collaboration video, which was just pretty epic. The way in which they exhibited that watch in its own website where you scroll through it is dynamic, it's got video, it's got historic references. It's got storytelling the whole way through. And it's got beautiful video and photography at its core.

I would say the brands are actually learning from the media outlets and us, you know, guys out there who are passionate about watches, about how to connect with their audience. In the years gone by brands probably knew the audience better than we did. But I think now there's an argument that actually the community is being listened to now more than ever before. 

I had a call with Mr. Porter the other day for a panel conversation, and this was the very question. You can see it with brands like TAG Heuer asking the audience to vote on which reference they want reissued. Omega with their Speedy Tuesday would be another one where the audience has actually come first. We are front and centre of that decision making process, and the brands are saying, you know what, there's a bit for us to learn, which I think is pretty cool.
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Justin Hast I Instagram

Perth: It’s clear that you’ve developed a clear sense of style and understanding of what you want to be capturing. How do you go about keeping your content fresh and exciting, or do you stick with what you know and love?

Much like watches, photography is about passion. And if you feel that passion towards something, if you love it and it energises you, excites you, then that should be your driver for action. I don't think there's any other reason for posting or sharing anything. 

I don't think there's any other reason for posting or sharing anything. I never plan or prepare anything. On social media, I try and have some consistency by putting a shot once up a day. I don't know if it's my ADHD, but I just like to not have too much prepared and go out to see what I can find and share it. If it fires me up, then that's enough. 

So I don't really think about the planning as far as keeping the content fresh. I think it's about the diversity in the subjects as well. There are a few brands that I love and I support a lot, but then it's also nice to have some really unusual stuff. I'd definitely say that for me, vintage Swatch has been a real passion for the last two or three years because the way that they design those watches is like nothing else out there. And I don't think vintage Swatch gets a huge amount of support in the social media realm. 

Nathan: When you do something completely different, do you find that daunting? How do you deal with the stress that comes from that?

It's quite scary, to be honest. Because I'm not technically trained, there's an element of really not trusting the gear. So I think if I was put in a studio environment, I really wouldn't have the capacity to deliver what I want to in that environment. It's quite an interesting psychological experience when you're put under pressure and you're being asked to create something, because I often find that creativity and pressure don't really go well together. So you really have to be in a really positive, relaxed frame of mind to be at your best. And as a result, I probably wouldn't fare very well. 

Nathan: Continuing on from the theme of personal development, what advice would you give to someone looking to improve their watch photography?

I would say that the only answer is to take more photos. That's the only answer. But also, I think something that people don't talk about enough is just being curious. I really I try to pick up books and magazines, whether that be fashion, interior design or architecture, just so I can get inspiration from lots of sources. I'd say that's a really important part of your journey to finding your own style. 

Justin Hast I Instagram

Perth: What did you develop a passion for first, watches or photography?

I can actually remember the first photo I took, which really fired me up. I was in South Africa, where I'm originally from, with some friends of mine. I bought from the market in Joburg a small wooden statue of a man. I put him on the table and I took a photo - immediately, the depth of field that was created by this camera at the time just incredible. That was probably the starting point on my journey. 

The obsession with watches came quite early as well, from the age of about 17, 18 onwards. It was a real passion that sort of grew within me that I couldn't quell. And the only way I could quell it was by taking photos of watches. It's a really odd thing to say. But for me, it's actually great because I don't feel the need to own everything. Now that I've got a camera, I love taking photos because I feel a level of ownership through the image. So it's probably been a vehicle for creativity, but also a vehicle for sort of being an antidote to the obsession, if you will. 

Perth: Is there a certain scenario, style or subject that you really want to try shooting?

There's probably two things that come to mind. Firstly, film photography is not something I've done a huge amount of, but I've really enjoyed it when I've taken a camera away on holiday. I've loved the process of taking a film camera with me because you have to wait. You know, you have that delayed gratification, which we often don't have in life now. And so in many respects, the idea of taking a shot on a film camera is a reflection of maybe how I'd like to live my life - a slower, sort of more focussed approach to living. 

Secondly, underwater photography would be something I'd love to learn how to do. I've never done it before. I don't have access to nature in the same way that maybe guys in Sydney and other parts of the world do. They've got the sea on their doorstep and so they get to experiment. 

Perth: I’d like to bring you back to an earlier comment you made about your house style to round off this interview. You talked about not wanting to force the imagery of champagne parties and yachts when it comes to watches - do you think the watch industry is in touch with collectors when it pushes these associations?

I think the most interesting observation I've had is that you start to see these media outlets like Hodinkee, who I've worked with for a few years now, start to be asked to create these campaigns because they themselves are selling watches, in my view, better than the brands. They are more in touch with the consumer than the brands are at times, which is really interesting. I would point to the IWC x Hodinkee collaboration video, which was just pretty epic. The way in which they exhibited that watch in its own website where you scroll through it is dynamic, it's got video, it's got historic references. It's got storytelling the whole way through. And it's got beautiful video and photography at its core.

I would say the brands are actually learning from the media outlets and us, you know, guys out there who are passionate about watches, about how to connect with their audience. In the years gone by brands probably knew the audience better than we did. But I think now there's an argument that actually the community is being listened to now more than ever before. 

I had a call with Mr. Porter the other day for a panel conversation, and this was the very question. You can see it with brands like TAG Heuer asking the audience to vote on which reference they want reissued. Omega with their Speedy Tuesday would be another one where the audience has actually come first. We are front and centre of that decision making process, and the brands are saying, you know what, there's a bit for us to learn, which I think is pretty cool.



Nathan Hardy
With a technical mind, a passion for design, and a keen interest for watches, Nathan chose to study Horology at Birmingham City University, currently undertaking the designing and making of a horological timepiece, alongside completing a selection of complex services to aid his portfolio. This allows him to have an understanding for the inner workings of watches, of which he is keen to share and raise awareness.

Owen Lawton
Owen studies Materials Science at Oxford. He enjoys sharing thoughts on the social meaning and emotional connections to materials, linking this to the watch industry and his passion for watches.

Perth Ophaswongse
Perth Ophaswongse is a London-based enthusiast. Growing up in a family of collectors meant he often spent weekends peering over the counter at familiar (and some not-so-familiar) names in watchmaking, picking up knowledge about movements, bezels and other things a 10-year old had no business knowing about. Since then, he has developed a passion for independent horology, but still retains an interest in vintage and contemporary watchmaking. As a university student, he enjoys converting his casually interested friends into full-fledged watch fanatics.