It’s an amazing culture up here, everyone supports each other, working together or recommending each other for jobs they can’t do.
Name: Ming Nomchong
Occupation: Photographer / Director + Co-owner of Sea Bones & Studio Tropico
Location: Byron bay
Where were you living before you moved to Byron Bay?
I was floating around the South Pacific for a couple of years on a big white boat. Living the Tropical dream in Fiji and Tonga, but I felt a pull back home to get back on Tera Firma and start up my creative life again.
How long have you lived in Byron?
On and off since 2010 but it’s been my full time home for the last 6 or so years
Why did you leave Sydney?
Traffic, the fast pace, the ‘scenes’, lack of space and lack of connection to the land, and I was looking for a sense of community that I just couldn’t find back in Sydney.
What’s the creative culture/community like?
It’s like a big creative rainbow. There are so many people up here doing so many difference things, from artists, photographers, film makers, surfers, skaters, musicians, fashion designers, web designers, music producers, startups, you name them, we’ve got them.
The good thing is they all feed off each other in some way or another, working together in a really collaborative way and it’s been the force that has driven the creative culture forward in Byron, opening up this once little coastal town to creatives who would of otherwise needed to live in a major city to work.
It’s an amazing culture up here, everyone supports each other, working together or recommending each other for jobs they can’t do etc. From past experience back in the big smoke, there is a lot more of a competitive vibe going on which we really don’t seem to have here. It’s refreshing and another big reason why I love living up here and being apart of the creative culture of Byron.
Do you get to enjoy it since you work/travel a lot?
I think maybe I get to enjoy it more, or maybe I just appreciate it more as I get to come home to it. The weekends are like being on holiday. That’s pretty cool.
Where has your work taken you globally?
Over the last couple of years, North America, Italy, Bali, The Seychelles, Hawaii, Tonga, Fiji to name a few. Hopefully more travel coming up soon too.
I love traveling, it keeps my spirit young and alive. I can’t imaging going through live and not exploring the world. And it’s even better when it’s paid for by work. 🙂
If you could live anywhere in the world where would that be? Why?
Hah Byron Bay. Because you can lead a creative life and still live in paradise surrounded by like thinking people, amazing surf, great weather (most of the time), beautiful rolling hills, national parks and also fabulous food, and an awesome sense of community..
Have you seen many changes for the better or worse since you have lived there?
It’s such a double edged sword. The busier it gets, the more work there is for people in the shire and a better quality of life I guess, but the more we loose that hippie, free thinking, activist living vibe that Byron was once known for. And that’s quite sad. People will say it’s been gone for years, and true, but there is still a reason why more and more people are moving up to the Northern Rivers, and one of those reasons has to do with culture and vibe, so there’s still something here that’s pulling people in.
photos: Ming Nomchong
Tell us about all your creatives projects?
Photography is my full time gig. I shoot for a pretty wide client base in Byron and around Australia. Some of my current clients include: Cotton On Body, Tree of Life, Mister Zimi, Sunday Somewhere, Spell & The Gypsy Collective, Auguste the label, Wanderers Travel Co, O’Neill Womens, etc.
My work is mostly fashion & lifestyle which I love. I started shooting womens surf when I first moved to Byron and that ended up with me shooting for a few of the surf brands and then that eventually took me into fashion. It’s been a hard slog for the past 4-5 years with not much time off until pretty much this year.
I also share a studio space with another local photographer, (Fransisco Tavoni) which we’ve had for the past 3 years. We first started it as our private studio and work space, but we quickly realised the demand for a good studio space and gear rental, so we started Studio Tropico.
Tropico is now a full time studio and gear rental business servicing a lot of the local fashion brands around town as well as labels, photographers and fashion mags from Sydney and Melbourne who come up to shoot in Byron.
We’ve just recently renovated the studio, so it looks super slick now. (we’re pretty stoked with it)
And finally, just to add to the work load, my friend, Danielle Clayton (owner of Salt Gypsy) and I saw a gap in the female surf/lifestyle industry and decided to open a retail shop in Byron, focusing on local labels, sustainability and design, women in business, surf and salty lifestyles. We called it Sea Bones. – remnants of things that belong in or near the sea.
When did you open Sea Bones store?
We started with a pop up in December 2016 that went really well over summer. When the lease for the pop up finished, we had two choices, find a permanent space and give it a real go, or continue online and see how we went with that.
You know you’re in line with the universe when things just fall into place and the day after we closed the pop up, we were shown a space down the road, closer to the beach that had previously been taken but the leaser decided last minute not to take it. So we were like “ok f&ck it, lets do it.”
Was it always something you wanted or did it grow organically from all your other creative projects?
I’d always dreamt about having a creative space for my art and all things surf lifestyle, and I guess it just evolved by being in the creative industry working along your mates and having half day long conversations that end up in a business name, website and ABN…
Who do you feature in your store?
We try to focus on local, designers, businesses who give a fuck about the world, women owned labels. Some of our labels include; Sunday Supply Co, The Saint Helena, Opia, Arthur Apparel, Elwood, Will & Bear, Kawaiian Lion, Samudra, Onepeace Swim, Eurvin Swim, Zea Swim, Atmosea, Salt Gypsy, Epokhe Sunglasses, Slowtide Towels, Surfmud, Surf Organic Wax, Byron Bay Skin Care, We Are Feel Good Inc., The Great State, Smart Leash, Captain Fin Co, Mctavish Surfboards, Dead Kooks, Waysaway Surfboards, Da Fin, Jadefish Handplanes.
Do you try to source locally? Ethically?
Yes and yes. It’s our main focus when picking labels for the store. There are a couple that have slipped through the cracks because they may of had a great story or been a really good product we love and trust, but we’re always on the hunt for labels that are local and sustainable.
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
I’m always inspired by days gone by. Anything created in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s I pine after.
What’s 2018 looking like?
I’ve called 2018 the year of the holiday. I want to try and make up some of that time I didn’t have over the past few years, to take it slow and enjoy the life I’ve worked by ass off to create.
In saying that, I love working, so there’s definitely a bunch of fun creative stuff coming up soon too..
Interview: Michelle Owen
Photos: Jess Lacroix