KT: How did you get into photography? You were a civil rights lawyer in 1970’s.
JJ: I had two friends who were photographers. It seemed like something I could do. So I started shooting and fell in love with the medium.
KT: Your photography has always been colourful, political and revolves around human relationships. How did you build such fascination?
JJ: I discovered colour when I had an assignment in 1975. I began shooting ‘American politics’ in colour in 1976 and never stopped thereafter. Over the year’s my work has become less overtly political, with fewer people in my frames.
KT: You have published three beautiful books ‘My Fellow American (1991)’, ‘Melting Point (2006)’ and ‘The Last Roll (2013)’. What do you like about photography in a book format?
JJ: For me, photography lives best in the book form. Photographs want to be with other photographs and in a book, you can create meaningful sequences to build meaning from one picture to another. A book gives the viewer much more freedom to decide when and under what conditions to view the work, with much more freedom to make his or her own meaning from the pictures. Books last longer than exhibitions. Books give the photographer the most control to determine how their work is viewed.
KT: Your photography has always been very personal/rebellious in nature and also against the rules of ‘Cartier-Bresson Era’. How do you feel about it now?
JJ: I’ve never been someone who follows rules slavishly. In The Decisive moment, Cartier Bresson laid down his edict about what was allowed in photography. Among the rules I was violating at the time, two were that the language of photography had to be black and white and that there should not be the use of flash. My flouting of these rules caused me much resistance at Magnum in the late 70s and 80s, but I pressed on. I have stopped using flash but still love colour. The world of photography has moved on. Although I have great respect for the work of Cartier Bresson, especially from the 1930s, his work was never very influential on me. I have always felt his work was classical, cerebral, narrative in nature. I have been influenced more by photographers whose pictures explored the interior, psychological space, like Andre Kertesz, Charles Harbutt, and Roy de Carava.
KT: How are you playing with photography these days? Are you working on any specific long-term projects?
JJ: I am always working on a long-term body of work. I tend to fall in love with specific cameras and use them to exhaust possibilities. With my first book, it was the Leica, then in the next two, an old Canon T-90. After my film, Kodachrome was discontinued, in 2010; I bought a small digital camera; the Lumix LX-3, then 5, and now the LX-7. I love this camera, only 12 megapixels, small, light, unobtrusive. It has four aspect ratios; I can switch within those aspect ratios in a simple dial, plus a sharp Leica lens. I have been working with it for six years. I never decide ahead of time what boundaries my pictures will have; I follow the photographs. One curator recently told me this new work pushes the boundaries of legibility and that seems accurate. I think they describe a world without hard and fast ground to rely on, which to me, is how reality can best be described. I still do not crop or do extensive post-production.
Jeff Jacobson Portrait©Harvey Wang