In the blog New Photographics, Jonathan Worth aims to “To research, understand and share what constitute sustainable working photographic practices amongst a community of likeminded learner practitioners”. This community, one must admit, follows him in devotion.
As an artist (not to mention a fellow in the Royal Academy of Arts), his works can be seen in various exhibitions (and also in the collection the National Portrait Gallery). As a commercial freelance photographer, he works in New York and London with a wide array of clients. Here is a closer look into his inspirations, practices and photographic habits:
All Images are Courtesy of the Artist
What was the first image you ever took?
I can remember constructing and documenting a completely realistic (for me) Lego Star Wars Return of the Jedi scene. I can still see the texture of the shag pile carpet at eye-level and the drop focus vision of an x-wing fighter.
I remember getting the pictures back and noticing for the first time, a giant’s (my Dad’s) foot in the background like some blue sock-covered glacier. I should have listened to my own advice and built the frame from the outside-in, rather than just sticking something in the middle, but then I was only seven.
Why did you want to become a photographer?
On one level I wanted to work for myself. I’ve always found that whatever I do, is at the exclusion of most other things in my life, not to the point of being obsessive but certainly to the point of being extremely focused. As such, I’ve never been able to reconcile with the products of my labor going to benefit someone else, at my expense.
That way of thinking also informs the way I work with other people now. I always ask myself “What is the motivation needed for this person to make this succeed at all costs?” be “this” whatever, from assisting or researching for me, to running a workshop or developing their own practice.
On another level the combination of story-telling and artisanal craft are a heady cocktail to any terminally enthusiastic workaholic.
What is the most difficult thing for a photographer in this day and age? What do you hate the most?
I’m not even sure what we mean when we throw that term: “photographer” around anymore. That, in itself, is a difficult thing for people formally referred to as “photographers” to deal with.
Traditionally we might have defined a (professional) photographer as someone who derived the majority of their income from the production and sale of photographs, but we’re entering a period where many of us are having to (as Stephen Mayes of VII describes it) “redefine our product”. And that goes for the wedding photographer as much as it does for the environmental portrait photographer like myself, as well as for the photojournalist. For many of us it may in fact be that our product is no longer a photograph, which is a pretty scary thing.
Marshall McLuhan said that “the objectives of new media have tended, fatally, to be set in terms of the parameters and objectives of the older media”, and we’re very much at one of those moments right now.
Tim Hetherington recently stirred a hornet’s nest when he described himself as a “post-photographer”, something that rang in my ears as I recently sat through yet another traditional photographer’s voice decrying the death of photography/photojurnalism – whatever. This was fairly spectacular as this person chose a gallery populated by Hetherington’s Infidel exhibition to do it. A gallery which was also about to host the premier UK screening of Hetherington’s Sundance award winning film: Restrepo the following week.
In answer to the second part of that question – I don’t hate this. I don’t hate the fact that this person mistakes the death of his traditional business model (and a mode of communication) for the death of a practice (a mode of information) even in the face (literally) of an outstanding, contemporary and successful multi-platform photographic practice.
What I hate is the collateral effect that people like this have on the (often) young and enthusiastic people they encounter. Typically this will take place at an event like the one I described where (ironically) those same people are paying the speaker to do it. Incidentally, I’m yet to hear a guest speaker or folio reviewer acknowledge that by being paid to talk they’re not deriving income from a traditional photographic product.
What inspires you?
Umm… I guess there’s a ‘wanting to record’ need – that’s more in fear of losing whatever it is one’s referring to. And there’s the urge to communicate, you know, you can only say “Wow, look at the light” so many times before you have to make an image to communicate exactly what you meant. I think that urge to communicate is also something that happens after we see work that “inspires” us, the sort of work that changes the way we see.
Kind of like after spending time with an Eggleston, a Friedlander or an Arbus collection – each time we come away and everything is bright, colorful and loaded with meaning, the backgrounds reference the foregrounds and all the people are “freaks”(Diane Arbus’s word). After having our eyes suddenly opened – who wouldn’t want to tell everyone about it? So I suppose that photographically those are two sorts of inspiration, yes I’m inspired to record and to communicate.
What kind of music do you listen to when you work on your computer?
If I’m writing then I listen to anything without words, that usually means foreign language stations so I can’t understand what they say when they break for news or the weather. If I’m doing anything with images then I’ll usually be listening to an audio book. I constantly listen to books.
What was the last photography book that you read?
I dip in and out of books all of the time for work, but the last photography book that I bought and read cover to cover was Fred Ritchin’s After Photography. Seems a little dramatic to say it, but that book really did change my life (for the better).
Who are your photography idols?
There are a range of people I return to time and again for their images, others for their books, some for their collected bodies of work – no real surprises, the usual suspects, but I don’t really idolize any of them.
There was a photographer who produced a body of work on Philosophers in the 90’s, which I came across whilst reading philosophy at the same time. It was the first book of photographs I bought and just like the words of the writers inside, it held me captive. Three years later, I was working as a maintenance man at a photo studio in London (the studio assistants worked for free, which I couldn’t afford) and my friend said he knew the ex-assistant of Steve Pyke (the photographer behind “The Philosophers”).
To cut a long story short, I called Steve up and showed him my images, we got on well and I’ve been working with him to this day, both as assistant and business partner, in London and New York (where he now lives after having taken over from Richard Avedon at the New Yorker).
In the fourteen years that I’ve known him he remains my photographic hero, in terms of the images that he makes, his investment in his practice and his treatment of others. Anyone that’s assisted more than a few photographers will tell you some horror story or other of how badly behaved X is and how Y treats the people they work with etc’. I love images by a lot of photographers, but it’s a very different thing to respecting their practice, let alone idolizing them.
To know a photographer consistently treated their subjects with respect and afforded them dignity in their depiction is for me much more admirable than someone whose practice can be distilled out into their strength as a technician.
What can we find on your bookmarks?
My bookmarks are a mess and I’m trying to devise a more efficient way of working that combines, aggregates and filters all of the stuff I want to refer to later.
Generally I’ll bookmark things that refer to key themes or projects that I’m interested in. So right now whenever the term “transmedia” comes up I’ll investigate it, same for “story telling”, unusual uses of “free” and “analogue experiences”. I came across Kevin Kelly’s work last week for the first time so I’m very excited about his idea of “generatives” which puts my ramblings about analogue experiences into much clearer and better defined terms.
What are you working on now?
With regard to making images I’m working on my families of servicemen and women project. Portraits that are very unassuming stories of the day to day lives of the people left at home, but amongst all of them is a latent tension that lends a gravity to even the most mundane of activities.
I’m working with a number of people that have substantial fan bases/followings on individual projects ranging from an athlete to authors and a comedian.
In terms of the work I’m doing for Coventry University, where I’m writing their new MA in Photography; I’m trying to rethink how a relevant “post-photographic” education might work. An education that leverages in our favour, all the things that have disrupted traditional pre-Google business models and something that reflects this in its content, it’s construction and it’s delivery.
What are your favorite blogs?
Wayneford Posterous because the posts are like the beginnings of conversations that I’d love to have with a super-bibliophile like Wayne. If only I could get him to start a book club…3 Comments