Sydney local Benja Harney is fast becoming the Australian sensei of paper engineering. His one-man operation ‘Paperform’ has risen from the humble kitchen table to create works for brands such as Hermes, Smirnoff, Telstra, McDonalds, Comm Bank, Yahoo and Kylie Minogue to name a few.
But what on earth is a Paper Engineer I hear you ask?
First off, it’s not origami, as was my first impression. While origami is a wonderful and logical entry point, paper engineering, as the name suggests is about approaching paper in a much more technical manner. Not only does it include paper sculpture but also the design and engineering of pop-up books, a beautiful, difficult and unfortunately fading art form.
I met Benja for the first time a few years ago while shooting for a design show. At that time he was in his very early years and working out of a shoe box space in Surry Hills that barely accommodated our crew of two. Although small, I clearly remember it being a magical experience to behold the walls packed to the ceiling with his intricate and colourful paper creations.
Since then Benja has jumped down the road to a much larger creative space filled with all manner of other designers from a range of disciplines. The type of warehouse creative community you always see in NYC photo blogs and want to be apart of. His work too has expanded, fulfilling one of his life’s goals last year when he had his first mass produced pop-up book commissioned, created and delivered for Kylie Minogue’s Goddess tour.
While talking with Benja I was struck by his enthusiasm for everything that he does. For the past six years he has been juggling his paper engineering with his full time job designing layouts and eventually covers for the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney. A role that I declared must get pretty repetitive at times. He shrugged off the repetition with the value he had gained in learning the ins and outs of the media game, the wonderful immediacy of working in the news and the welcome pressure of working to tight deadlines. I thought it was such a great attitude and one I hope to pull into my own life. Six years of seven days a week, 12 to 16 hour days and a positive attitude to boot.
It comes as no surprise to me then that all this hard work has lead Benja to his current position. A few weeks ago he submitted his letter of resignation and is about to embark on Paperform full time. I wish him all the best, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.