“My most memorable moment is usually my last roll of film! That is the one that I get most excited about.”
Michael Jackson (born 1966) is a contemporary photographer from the UK currently living in Wales.
He started out studied painting at “West Dean College” in England and later discovered his passion for photography.
For Michael Jackson photography is a “release valve”.
He says: “It is at the end of the creative idea.”
Michael Jackson, your recent project is called “Poppit Sands”? What is it about and why did you decide to take on that particular subject?
I started working at Poppit Sands in 2007. I had been looking for landscapes to photograph and just happened to photograph Poppit Sands at low tide and at sunset. The results were like nothing I had done before – so I was drawn back there time after time.
With a long-term project that returns you to the same place over and over again you begin to cast away any initial beauty that attracts you and you start looking for abstract form and flow and tones.
You also begin to notice ‘events’ that occur on the beach which you can take advantage of – unusual occurrences often give interesting results.
How do you prepare a project like that? Do you do a lot of research beforehand and what about other issues like location scouting etc.?
The project itself has grown with me over the past 6 years. There was no preparation really – it is all a matter of taking advantage of what the beach gives you. There was no research – just pure luck really.
And what about the actual process of shooting the project? It was quite a long-term project, right?
Yes, the project will have been going for 7 years soon – and I have no intention of stopping. That is the joy of the beach – it is constantly in a state of flux and destruction. It is never the same. I can’t think of any other landscape that alters so much so quickly so often.
At the beginning of each project one often has some kind of idea in mind as to what the result could be like. Sometimes that changes along the way and the result is quite different. Was that the case and if so what did you learn during the project?
“I started to print the negatives as negatives – rather than changing them to positives.”
Yes, that has been the case. I think that being open to what is in front of you is a key element to any photography – and if you visit the same location over and over again you begin to change, slowly, as you notice different events happening before your eyes.
The change is quite gradual but it definitely happens. Which I find very exciting – the fact that the beach is changing how I record it. For example, I noticed that the negatives of the images were quite beautiful. More so than the reversed image – so I started to print the negatives as negatives – rather than changing them to positives.
The results showed me a hidden world that is just sitting out there.
What was your most memorable moment realizing that project?
My most memorable moment is usually my last roll of film! That is the one that I get most excited about.
What comes first: the idea for a series or single images that at some point fit and fall into place to form a particular body of work?
“Poppit Sands is like a parent who gives me treats every now and then.”
I think that now, for me, it is always the idea first. I have an idea, play with it and see what happens – if the results make my heart skip a beat them I know that it is worth looking into further. Interestingly Poppit Sands was and is not like that.
My other projects are like children that I tell what to do – and Poppit Sands is like a parent who gives me treats every now and then. When it comes to recording nature like that you just cannot be in control of it – all you can do is trying to record it when things happen.
What does a single photograph or a body of work need in your opinion in order to stand out and get noticed? Especially keeping in mind the abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society where everything already has been photographed?
I think an image needs to be born from an honest place. It needs strength and also something that cannot be described in words. Words are pretty useless when it comes to describing heartfelt reactions.
And I think that this is a good thing – there is a lovely mystery about why an image touches you. You cannot explain it or write down how to recreate it – thank goodness.
Do you think it’s possible as a photographer to still be unique these days? Or do you rather consider it to be more important to create an own style adding your personal twist to something that has already been done before?
“The problem is artists resigning themselves to working within limits.”
I find it sad that some people think there is no room to create unique images any more. Of course there is – the same as there is room for painters to create new unique paintings. The art comes from the artist – and every artist is unique – and if they delve deep enough inside of themselves then that uniqueness will show in their work.
The problem isn’t that there are no more possibilities out there – the problem is artists resigning themselves to working within limits.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at you photos?
I have never given that much thought! Maybe I should!
I suppose if,in some way, an image can show my joy in the hunt to create it then that would make me happy.
One general question: What do you consider the most important developments in contemporary photography? And what have been the greatest changes recently?
That is an interesting question, because I am quite out of touch with the world of photography. I live in a valley in rural Wales and only pop into London for infrequent meetings with the gallery. I am too wrapped up in my own world.
What are you currently working on?
“I have plenty of just sitting and thinking time – this is essential for new work.”
I am currently working on Poppit Sands when the weather is fine. I work on A Child’s Landscape in the studio when it rains. When I walk the dogs I collect rocks to photograph and also take images of the sun for my Cluster project. I am creating large collages of Poppit Sands, which may or may not get to the point of being able to be sold.
I am also constantly working on my darkroom printing – something that just needs attention all the time. I also have plenty of just sitting and thinking time – this is essential for new work.
Philosopher Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learnt about yourself?
It has made me more in tune with my own intuition. That little voice in your head – it really needs to be listened to more often.
Every photographer is going through different stages in his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
I would say that finding Poppit Sands was a major landmark for me. Then the realisation that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life as it feels as if it is what I should be doing – that was another landmark. Then to get representation by Beetles & Huxley in London – that was nice too.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
I can’t think of one! You’ve covered pretty much everything that is important!