Rory Daniel Personal Statement




Personal Statement: Rory Daniel

The words “You can’t just be a dumb commercial photographer anymore” stung me deeply.  Expressed by the respected photographer John Gollings in an interview, they hurt because it’s true!  I am just a dumb commercial photographer - and this cannot continue.

I have been really fortunate in my photography career.  Somehow, work has been thrown at me without much marketing effort on my part.   I have worked with world-class clients on world-class projects that have given me enormous satisfaction and moderate success.  While I have deluded myself into thinking that talent got me here, the truth is that I got lucky.   My luck hasn’t yet run out, but it might, and before it does, it is time for me to make my own luck.

Hence this carefully considered application for your Master of Photography program.  It is my way of creating luck – to develop my career in ways that would be otherwise unavailable to me.

So, why am I a dumb commercial photographer, and how can your course help me?

My entire fifteen-year photography career has been built, developed and grown in Singapore, even though I am Australian.  I was working for a large American consulting firm in Melbourne when 9/11 occurred.  Two months later I was retrenched (possibly the best day of my life – I wasn’t very good at consulting), and I flew my bicycle to Singapore with the intention of cycling to Beijing.  I got 400kms up the road before I decided to catch public transport part of the way instead.  I managed to reach Beijing without flying, still with my bike, six months later.  Those many miles on the road gave me time to think about my future, and when I reached Beijing, I had made my mind up – I was going to be a photographer.  I headed back to Singapore (then, completely foreign to me) to live out my plan, and until now, that is where I have been based.

But it is time to return home.  To effectively start afresh in my home country.  To build new networks, charm new clients and make some waves.

I was a bit complacent and comfortable in Singapore.  While the work continues to come in, I have grown stale, the work has become repetitive, and the challenges are less compelling.  My ‘eye’ has wearied, my motivation has waned and I am overdue for a jolt to the system.  I need to take back control of my career, give it direction, and to fulfil my potential as a visual creator. 

The process of doing a Masters at RMIT will give me many avenues to develop myself at both a personal and practice level.  Some of the areas where RMIT can help me are:


I don’t want to just take a bunch of pretty pictures that sell stuff.  Life is way too short to be boring, predictable and average.  I have always sought excellence.  And excellence can only be achieved through concerted effort, focus and desire.  Your program will help me learn – to fill the gaps in my knowledge that have been created by the narrowness of my commercial work, develop and promote innovative ways to present my art, and give me new ways to think about my work.


Network & Contribution

Having lived overseas for so long, I am completely new to the Australian photographic and artistic communities.  It’s terrifying returning home with literally no reputation, no network and no clients, to start afresh in a market I understand only vaguely.  I see this course as one part of my introduction to the Australian photographic industry. 

What I am really looking forward to is becoming an active and vibrant member of the RMIT family.  The formal education aspect is wonderful, however, being surrounded by like-minded people will always be the most valuable part of any post-graduate program, this one especially..  And if there isn’t a strong photography community at RMIT, I will go out of my way to help create one.


A good photographer takes good pictures, a great photographer creates opportunities.  Not just for themselves but for the industry as well.  The ‘process’ of being a part of this course is where the real ‘opportunity gems’ are to be found – far more valuable than the piece of paper given out at the end!  I want to take ownership of this process, using it to (respectfully) open doors that will progress my career in a new direction, and to discover opportunities I didn’t know existed.


It’s easy to become a dinosaur in this industry.  I refuse to disappear as a bitter, cranky old photographer clinging to the old ways of the past.  I have high expectations that this course will expose me, or at least encourage me, to explore new ways of thinking and presenting my visual ideas.


I am tired of taking perfect pictures of perfect things that have one purpose – to sell stuff.  It will always be a part of what I do (I actually still love it, and sustainability is key to a good career), but what is missing is grit...or grittiness in my work.  Where creativity is not limited by a client, a formula, or a specific brief, but limited by my imagination, desire, ability to be human and courage to put a part of myself out there).  This course will encourage and empower me to let go of the rules, to discover the stories I have to tell, the ideas I have to share and bring out my essence of who I am creatively.

Industry Insight

I have never pretended to be an artist.  I have never even entered a photography competition.  I have always considered being judged and rewarded by paying clients to be a form of photographic competition (I ‘lose’ only when they don’t call me back for the second job).  I see your course as a valuable introduction to the thinking, language and processes surrounding the artistic end of our industry.  An opportunity to fill the gaps in my knowledge, to give me skills for exhibiting within industry standards and to better understand the Australian artistic environment.


Who Is Rory?

I am a commercial photographer, and I am quite happy to let that define me.  It is a fundamental part of who I am.  It is my life.  Most of the decisions I have made in the last fifteen years have revolved around this fact.  And I want to keep doing this job until I can no longer.

My strongest practice discipline is architectural photography.  I have always personally been fascinated by buildings, trying to understand how they relate to us as humans, and us to them.  Which is how I approach photographing a building – I want to humanise a structure that is made out of wood, glass and concrete, but with a camera.  Humanising a piece of technology.  I enjoy the challenges this presents.  I usually overcome these challenges by being hyper-sensitive to what it means to be a human, how we use a building - what excites us about the power of buildings.

I also shoot lots of hotels which taps into all of my strengths – food, architecture and people / lifestyle. 

I enjoy shooting industrial sites as well.  I love throwing myself into a shipyard, airport or factory, trying to make every shot compelling and meaningful.

All of my other interests revolve around exploring and satisfying my curiosity.  I have a sailing kayak that I use to explore Victoria’s waterways with.  If I get enough courage, I hope to cross Bass Strait to Tasmania in it sometime soon.

Nothing makes me happier than being in a foreign city with my camera and a hired bicycle, exploring and photographing beautiful architecture.


I am influenced by painters as much as photographers.  Their work creeps into my work, not directly, but from somewhere deep in my soul.

David Hockney’s photographic work is very dear to me, particularly his Pearblossom Highway piece that still moves me to tears even after being familiar with it for 30 years.  He has had a strong influence on how I see and interact with the world

I couldn’t understand Francis Bacon in my youth, but age has given me access to what his work says – and it is a wonderful discovery.  I would love my work to have his intensity – sadly it doesn’t even point in the same direction!

Bill Henson is an easy choice – his work hits me right in the guts, and the ripples stay with me, banging around in my head, haunting my dreams, in the very best ways.  I love art that celebrates being a human, and his work reminds me that I am alive.

Have you seen “Cold War”?  It’s still on at the cinemas this week, and the cinematography made me tear up just at its beauty.  So perhaps I should add Lukasz Zal to my list.


I think I would make a excellent candidate for the RMIT University Master of Architecture course.  Your educators are ideally placed to fill the gaps in my industrial knowledge, and to give me new ways to think.  The opportunities and networks you can provide me are what my career needs to take it to the next stage.  Likewise, I think I would be good fit for RMIT, with my international exposure, relevant industrial experiences, and desire to be a part RMIT’s social and academic fabric.

I want to immerse myself in the Australian photography community, to be empowered with an opinion and skills, to share my ideas, hear the ideas of others, and to be a part of the conversation.  I know the RMIT Master of Photography program is exactly the right choice for me. I want to be well-rounded and educated photographer - not dumb.