Jack is a Cape Town-based photographer who has quite a few interesting things to say about his photography and photography as a whole.
DYD: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jack: From the moment I could pick up a pen, there was virtually never a time I would stop drawing. It was at that point that I knew I wanted to be an artist.
DYD: When did you start getting into photography?
Jack: When I was doing art in high school I was beginning to get bored of drawing. It was tediously time consuming and it almost got to the point where I may as well have taken a photo. My mom took notice of this, so she decided to enroll me in a one week lomography course at the Cape Town School of Photography and my passion for the art form just grew from there.
DYD: What do you find to be the most difficult part about shooting party/event photography?
Jack: Capturing people having a good time, as opposed to people pretending to have a good time. It’s something we all do whenever there’s a camera in the room – we become self-conscious. Subconsciously or not, we change our outward appearance to something that we are not. It’s actually become quite a problem with social media nowadays, where people will go out literally for the sake of getting a profile picture (one particular club in Cape Town springs to mind).
My goal though, is to “violate” my subjects, “by seeing them as they never see themselves”, as Susan Sontag describes. I consider my style to be rather candid and almost voyeuristic in a way, and part of the challenge lies in remaining invisible. If I am discovered that honesty starts to fall away, then people start posing and wanting mini photo shoots. This becomes considerably more challenging when I’m shooting film and I have to explain to them why they can’t see the photo or why I don’t want to take one more photo (I get a lot of sour looks from that one especially).
DYD: Did you start with film straight-away?
Jack: I pretty much grew up shooting with film. My first camera, the Diana Mini (which I got from the Cape Town School of Photography during my lomography course), was a film camera. It was only about 2-3 years later when I got my first digital camera.
DYD: Why do you shoot in film and how long did it take for you to become confident shooting film?
Jack: It just feels right. There’s a moment just before I take a photo where the world slows down for no more than a split second, I hear the mechanical clank of the shutter, almost as if some mysterious force pushed the button for me, the film advances with one instinctive flick of my hand, and suddenly, I am back to reality… Nothing gets that “I got it” moment better than film does.
When I shoot on digital that magic is lost. Discovering the shot on an LCD screen is nowhere near as exciting as pre-visualising it – anticipating the moment. It was difficult getting into at first, but shooting with film from the very beginning taught me to be disciplined with what I shoot and the way I shoot. I actually feel more confident shooting on film than digital now, because I know that when I get into that kind of mindset I can expect a better, more interesting result. I’ve also never really been great with editing, so film’s unsurpassed colour and image quality kind of makes up for that.
DYD: Are you involved in any personal photography projects, if so, tell me about it.
Jack: As of late, I’ve been assisting my girlfriend (Martina Monti) with a lot of her shoots. What I found from working with her is that we actually make a really good team. Since we share similar views and we have such a good relationship, we are able to communicate with each other in such a way that we feed off each other’s creative energy.
During that time, I rediscovered my love for working with other people and so I will be doing a lot more portraiture in the near future, both solo and collaboratively. As of now, I don’t really want to reveal any details, but what I will say is this: Sunday drives, the mysteries of genetics, medium format and double exposures. I also have an upcoming film involving super 16mm motion picture film.
DYD: What gear have you relied on during your progression as a photographer?
Jack: I’ve had numerous film cameras come and go through the years. To name a few: Minolta XG9 + 50mm f/1.7, Nikkormat + 50mm f/2, Nikon F-501 and a Medium Format TLR. While I loved these cameras to pieces, what annoyed me about them is that they just kept on breaking and their beautiful lenses were incompatible with my digital camera, the Canon EOS 60D. I shoot film almost exclusively for stills, but I still actively use my 60D for video.
Recently though, I decided to invest in a more reliable film camera and got myself a Canon EOS 33V, which is now my prized possession. One of the best things about it is that it’s compatible with all my Canon gear, including my 430EX II, 50mm f/1.8 and Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8. The biggest bonus of all though, is autofocus – a must for the low light conditions of nightlife.
DYD: Can you tell us about any great moments you’ve had as a photographer?
Jack: Last year I had a pinhole photography assignment at Michaelis, where we had to throw a dart at a map of town and take photos of the location it landed on. My dart landed on Bo-Kaap, which is about a 20-minute walk from Michaelis (mostly uphill). After lugging this heavy ass chair, which I was using as a make shift tripod, up what felt like half of Cape Town I arrived at this run down house. The shot was tricky as there was an extreme contrast between the house and the sky, but I just decided to go with my gut and do a 15 second exposure. But the thing about pinhole photography is that you can only do one shot at a time, so you have to make every single shot count.
Eventually I got to the dark room and the time had finally come to see the result. I carefully placed the photo paper in the developing chemicals and just watched this thing uncover before my eyes. The blacks slowly started fading in to reveal this incredibly rich contrast, the building fell perfectly into frame and the texture was sharp as a pin. Those 2 minutes were like a visual representation of all that hard work coming to life. I swear, the next cigarette I smoked tasted like gold. It was immensely satisfying.
DYD: In your opinion, what makes a great photographer?
Jack: Anybody who does it for the sake of self-expression. While target audiences and stuff do need to be kept in mind, some of the best photographers are actually selfish in the sense that they purely do it for themselves. It’s easy to get caught up with what everyone else thinks, but it’s counterproductive in that it prevents a natural flow of creativity. If you’re constantly worrying what other people think of your work you start becoming skeptical, you stop trying new and potentially interesting ideas, and eventually, it stops becoming your work. I like to see work that surprises me with new and original ideas, and not what is to be expected from myself, the audience.
DYD: What currently inspires you?
Jack: It may sound a bit crude, but I guess I’d have to say Instagram. If you follow the right people (and avoid people who post photos of food 24/7) there is an amazing community of openly creative people waiting to be discovered. I find these people in the most unexpected corners of Instagram and they have some of the most incredible work to share. What I love about this community is that almost everyone is very open to conversation and exchange of ideas. I once had this long chat with this guy from Hawaii about film processing techniques and our traveling experiences and it was just one of the most unique discussions I’ve ever had.
DYD: Which local and international photographers inspire you?
Jack: Locally: Adriaan Louw, Jonx Pillemer, Jordan Sweke, Ulrich Knoblauch and Caroline Mackintosh. And Internationally: Ryan Muirhead, Dave Ma, Josh Soskin, Niel Krug and Richard Moss.
DYD: Where can we find more of your work?
Jack: For select work I use Tumblr as an online visual diary. You can find pretty much everything on my Facebook page. For news and a bit more of a personal touch you can find me on Twitter and Instagram.