"It’s extremely important to start assisting as soon as you can to develop the skills you need to work on a commercial level," he says, admitting to a strong competitive spirit, even when he was studying photography during high school. He was always striving to be the best. And while a dedication to hard work played as large a role then as it does now, it’s having something to shoot for that makes all the difference.
"Being competitive, having set goals to work toward, is the only way to conduct a growing business," he notes.
When the economy took a downturn, West saw it as an opportunity to focus his creative energy on sel
f-assignments and more personal work. Exploring different aspects of mythology and story, the "Fabricate" series has garnered him much attention from the fine-art world, where prints are in high demand among some collectors.
"The ‘Fabricate’ series was my first real attempt at producing artwork since finishing university," West says. "I wanted to implement the new skills I had acquired from my commercial practice and push myself to create something completely different from my earlier work. I became interested in mythology and how I could appropriate these extraordinary tales in my own work. All myths are stories of a special kind. They’re imaginative, surreal, magical—the perfect foundation for me to experiment with high-production photography."
This pursuit of the personal work during both fat and lean times has allowed West to produce work consistently, even with the commitments of time that some of his images call for. The result has been not only an established reputation in the commercial and fine-art world, but also the opportunity to collaborate with other artists.
Adds West, In many ways, I feel like I’m an architect because I’m creating a new space based on all these elements that I’m bringing together.
West’s collaboration with LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya has resulted in a series of photographs that are not only recognized for their beauty, but also appreciated for how they challenge viewers to think twice about what they think they’re seeing. The photographs revolve around locations that have a sense of the iconic of them—an old movie palace, a train station, a house in the desert. In each photograph, there’s the presence of a pensive human figure.
When you pay closer attention, however, you suddenly realize that the dying tree in the yard isn’t a real tree, but one constructed from LEGO blocks. In another photograph, it’s the umbrella the man is holding, or the train tracks the cowboy is standing in front of, or even the red dress the girl is wearing. What a photographer may mistake for some sort of JPEG pixelization in the image is revealed as a surreal element within an already surreal environment.
It began with the germ of an idea to include LEGO-constructed elements into his photographs, which West had initially imagined that he would construct himself. But the urging of his then-girlfriend convinced him to reach out to Sawaya, a LEGO artist from whom he was drawing some of his inspiration. So, he sent Sawaya a package explaining his idea, as well as examples of his work. Sawaya responded that he liked West’s work and the idea, but he also had a simple question for West. "So, when are you coming to New York?"