We met Eugene Tan and his family earlier this year when we created a very special Signet for him to celebrate Father's Day (read more here). We instantly felt connected to his clear passion for family, as well as his commitment to mastering his craft, and most importantly, finding the joy in doing so. Eugene is the Founder and Photographer of Aquabumps. He lives in Bondi with his wife Deb and two beautiful boys. A lover of the ocean, photography and surfing, Aquabumps is a combination of all Uge's interests, plus it means he gets to do what he loves with his family beside him.
Tell us a little bit about yourself... Where are you based and what journey did you take to become the maker that you are today?
I’m 46 years old, founder and photographer of Aquabumps – Fine Art Gallery and daily blog in Bondi. I’m originally from Perth and started my career as a graphic designer, but have always loved the beach, surfing and photography. I started Aquabumps as a hobby on the side – documenting the beach in the mornings in 1999, before blogs or the social media revolution were even a thing. It grew organically and more and more people subscribed to the daily dose of the beach and then people started asking to buy prints – so in 2004 I took a leap of faith, left my full time job, took a small gallery space in North Bondi and never looked back.
My wife Deb has worked in the business for over 10 years and we’re now 21 years young. I’m a self-taught photographer and a real tech nerd, I love educating myself and still learn new things about photography every day. It’s a constant evolution of my craft – but at the heart of everything we do is real craftsmanship, quality and design along with customer service.
We have two boys – who love the beach as much as we do and hope that one day they will find the same passion that Deb & I have for our family business and take the reins. No pressure though boys!
What influences and inspires you?
Obviously the ocean and the beach, my family. I love great design, I love architecture. Travel is a big one for me and being in nature.
What does a typical day look like to you?
Monday – Friday I shoot from sunrise, where ever I am, usually Bondi and the Eastern suburbs beaches.
Recently I have started venturing all over Sydney – Northern Beaches and Palmy and shooting both at sunrise from a chopper and from land – just to capture more of the secret parts of Sydney that locals only know about. I’ve really enjoyed that.
I get home about 8am and most days walk our boys to school. I spend about 2 hours working on the daily email – writing a blurb about what I’ve seen that morning and going through the shots. Then I’ll send that out to our database of 45,000 people and update socials.
The rest of the day I’ll spend a huge portion of time on our website which is a constant evolution (especially at times like this where it’s such a valuable part of our business). There’s always a lot of admin and problems that come up day to day – the thing about small business is you never know what’s going to happen from day to day.
Tell us more about your photography and your signature style. Is this something that evolved or has it always been the same?
I’ve always shot beach lifestyle – I was one of the early adaptors of ocean water photography. For Christmas about 14 years ago, my wife brought me a helicopter joy ride as I had always been keen to shoot from above. I captured this image on my first flight and to this day it’s still one of our best-selling artworks.
2 years ago – my wife Deb came up with an idea for me to shoot the Australian Ballet Dancers underwater. This really pushed me out of my comfort zone, as we blacked out a pool and I used flash. I had a 2 hour time frame to work with the dancers and had never shot in a controlled environment like this – it was pretty stressful and a huge amount of pressure to make magic – but you can see the results here.
So yeah, while my genre of beach life is usually at the core of everything I do – underwater and aerial are my signature style of shooting.
At NMJ we are all about the handmade artisan object and understand the love, time and effort involved in creating. What does it mean to you to have your photographs become a part of people's everyday lives?
Yeah, this makes me pretty happy. Usually people have a connection with a place or a moment in time, maybe they got married, engaged, their baby was born on that morning – to know I captured a moment in time for them to treasure in an artwork is pretty rewarding.
Have you had to make any sacrifices for this to be your profession
Many – when I started I had no money. I used mates and locals to lay floor board in my first gallery for cartons of beer. I’ve had a lot of my close mates and family tell me Aquabumps would never work, not to take a bigger gallery space etc etc. I’ve always just listened to my gut – worked hard, been consistent – juggled many jobs at the start to make it all work. When we first had our first son Jet – I worked a lot, most weekends, which was hard on all of us. There have been so many sacrifices along the way – it takes a lot to make it all work in a small business. But we’re a family business too, so it’s nice to share the challenges and know that we will leave a legacy for our boys. It’s continued to give us an incredible life, so the sacrifices always pay off in the long run.
Do you have any advice on how to turn your passion into a living?
Be consistent in working hard at it, make sure your idea is unique.
Plus, Eugene is kindly offering NMJ customers free shipping on his acclaimed book, The Beach Blog, until 26 September 2020. Use code: njmxaquabumps20
Limited to Australian Orders only, 3 books maximum per cart/person. Free shipping is only applicable on the book, not on other items in the cart.