Alexander-Julian (AJ) Gibbson uses his talents as a fashion stylist and editor to travel the world. Recently, his work brought him to Wellington, New Zealand, where the World of WearableArt (WOW) Fashion/Art Exhibition is held each year. AJ was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and now resides in Brooklyn, New York, so the remote wildness and dramatic landscapes he found in New Zealand mesmerized him instantly. When some downtime finally presented itself, he jumped at the chance to explore — with his iPhone, no less.
Hoping to learn more about his awe-inspiring trip and the imprints it left behind, we caught up with AJ upon his return to the States.
What is the fashion scene in New Zealand like?
New Zealand has an interesting fashion landscape. Auckland has small pockets of streetwear culture, and Wellington has a very quirky style. But I wouldn’t consider them fashion cities or anything. I think what’s really cool about Wellington in particular, and the team that puts on World of WearableArt, is that they consider the show to be more about the arts and theatrics, while I saw it solely as a vehicle for the fashion. It was cool to combine these two thought processes.
Who did you go exploring with when you had some downtime?
Quite a bit of my exploring was done alone, but one day I did have a guide. We drove around the region, just checking out different spots and such. The lodge that I stayed in, Wharekauhau Lodge, does an amazing tour of their impressively massive grounds, which is where I got to see a lot of the various landscapes New Zealand has to offer — there’s literally beauty around every corner!
What is Wairarapa like?
Wairarapa is a beautiful town just an hour outside of Wellington. It was memorable because in just a short drive around I saw mountains, black-sand beaches, grassy hills, and the Pacific Ocean. I saw lambs (of course), cattle, and seals! It seemed like there was a little bit of everything. I also went to Napier Bay and Hawke’s Bay, which both featured a lot of the beautiful landscapes and scenery that I fell in love with.
How was the hospitality different than that of New York City?
One of my favorite parts of traveling is interacting with people and getting to know the people that make a destination unique. In New Zealand, each village, town, or city I visited was a bit different, but overall, everybody was extremely nice and welcoming. There was a small town vibe everywhere — even in the cities! A lot of people were excited to learn that I was from the U.S., and even complete strangers made an effort to ensure that I enjoyed my time in their country. Just mentioning that I was a tourist earned me quite a few perks.
I was also fortunate enough to spend some intimate time with people of the Maori tribe, learning about the indigenous culture and the history of New Zealand, which allowed me to further understand the country’s social climate and connect with its people on another level. The energy in New York is very different. New Yorkers aren’t actually as unfriendly as people say they are, but they are very preoccupied with their own lives and can’t always be bothered to care about others and what’s going on around them.
Culturally speaking, what did you enjoy most about the country? Was there a feeling of isolation at all?
The isolation and remoteness were amazing. I found myself looking at all the open space and thinking, “Damn, why has nobody built on this yet?” After realizing what I was saying, I then thought, “Why do I feel like open land needs to be built on? It should be able to just be.” I feel like it’s such a capitalistic mentality to think of land as something to profit from. That’s a mentality that I don’t think I want to be tied to.
When it came to composing these images, did your background in fashion influence your process?
Yes, definitely. One of my favorite parts of producing fashion shoots has always been location-scouting: finding interesting places and scenery to serve as a backdrop to equally interesting fashion. I’ve been partial to nature’s settings my whole life. As someone who’s always lived in cities and suburbs, these places interest me in their sense of the unknown. Because of this, I feel that a lot of my landscape photos are taken with the idea of, “Man, it’d be great to do a shoot here.” But the landscapes in New Zealand were gorgeous enough to stand alone, without the assistance of a beautiful gown or a model.
I will say that when editing in post, I treat landscapes a bit differently than I do fashion images. The latter shots are usually dramatic and dark, with heavy shadows, while my landscape photos are brighter, more vibrant, and true to color.
Why did you choose to shoot solely on your iPhone?
Honestly, DSLRs intimidate me. I love shooting and believe that I have a good eye, but I’m no trained photographer. I also have an unhealthy attachment to my phone, but I recently realized I can turn that addiction into something positive by honing my iPhone photography skills. iPhones really are powerful tools. And I love the idea of everybody having access to explore the arts.
What do you hope to achieve by sharing these photos?
I take photos mainly for myself, to document and archive the things I’ve seen and to remind myself of how beautiful the world can be. With everything happening in modern society, especially as someone living in a crazy city like New York, it’s so easy to forget how beautiful and majestic the Earth is. I hope these photos serve as a reminder to others and myself what we may take for granted.
Want to learn more about New Zealand? Click here to explore the country’s best fall photography destinations!
Header image by Kyle Myburgh