Michael Jackson (born 1966) is a contemporary photographer from the UK currently living in Wales.
He’s self-taught in photography.
Michael Jackson studied painting at “West Dean College” in England and then became an apprentice to the head lecturer there.
After moving from oil paints to charcoal he finally discovered photography.
For Michael Jackson photography is a “release valve”. He says: “It is at the end of the creative idea.”
Artist statement: “Poppit Sands”
“I first visited Poppit Sands in 2007 when I moved to Wales.
It is a large beach and I soon discovered a number of special places where the tides created unusual patterns in the sand. These patterns and shapes have captivated me for many years.
It always feels new on Poppit, so I think that it is not really a photographic project as such, but a never-ending process of discovering and revealing what is there.
It is a photographic world full of dead ends and stop signs and false starts – and then the occasional revelation and temptation and suggestion. And then frustration. It is like a drug – it gives and takes.”
Interview Michael Jackson Photography
Michael, why did you become a photographer? And what does photography mean to you?
“Photography, for me, is really just a release valve. It is at the end of the creative idea.”
I think that the urge to create is the reason why anyone does anything in the arts. I was already painting and working with charcoal when I picked up my first Holga camera, so I think the idea of monochrome images was pretty much already decided upon. My first ever photo taken with film was of my dog in the garden. It made him look incredible.
I don’t think that I have painted again since that day.
I have to keep on reminding myself that photography, for me, is really just a release valve. It is at the end of the creative idea – the process that allows whatever ideas I have become a solid thing.
I tried to use painting and drawing as a release valve, too – but photography allows me to open that valve up just a little bit more.
A photographer has many “tools” at hand to bring across his message: lenses, lighting, framing, color treatment etc. Can you elaborate a little bit on the techniques you used for this particular project in order to link form and content?
My techniques change all the time. I have no strict loyalty to one process as I think, for me, the best way to create something new is to do whatever it takes to get the end item.
With my “Poppit Sands” work I use very traditional medium format film with a Hasselblad and print silver gelatin prints in the darkroom – however my ‘A Child’s Landscape’ work is done with both film and digital cameras and printed using pigment inks – and uses fish tanks and breadcrumbs.
I couldn’t do either project any other way. My ‘Cluster’ images are taken using a different camera again – 35mm film – with completely different techniques to my other work.
This is what I find so exciting – thinking of an idea, gathering the bits and bobs together to have a crack at the idea and seeing what happens. The different projects often bleed into each other a little bit – but each does have its own solid roots.
They are like brothers and sisters – each with its own personality but with little similarities.
In other words: How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
“If you try to make it up or copy someone else then it just isn’t you, and it comes across that way.”
Creativity is such a difficult thing to talk about, because I think that you either have it or you don’t.
If you have it and you try to explain it to someone who doesn’t have it or has never experienced it then you just end up sounding as if you are talking terrible self-serving made up arty talk.
When you talk about the creative process it has to be completely honest and spoken from the heart. If you try to make it up or copy someone else then it just isn’t you, and it comes across that way.
I think that the bottom line with creativity is that you have to be open and ready to follow where your intuition takes you. If a voice inside you says ‘that lightbulb could be painted black and put underwater and lit from above and then moved while being photographed and then maybe I could zap it with a flash’ – and you follow that idea through, who knows what may come from all of that playing and imagining?
The end result may be useless but something else may appear and then it gets so exciting as you start to chase ideas.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
It seems to be quite trendy at the moment to say that you are not influenced by any other photographers.
I love it when I read about an artist who says that they were heavily influenced by another, maybe famous, artist – and yet their work looks completely and utterly different.
It makes you realise that the artist has seen other work that has thrilled him, and yet he has found his own way. He took the essence of the art – not the physical likeness of the art – and used it to help him along on his way.
Saying that, I would say my all time favourite photographers are Roger Ballen and Mario Giacomelli.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
“Remember, it’s just a medium.” Paul Kenny
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I use anything that comes to hand. My studio is like a scrap yard full of all sorts of mess – it is really quite wonderful. I have my Hasselblad 500cm which I use mainly on Poppit Sands but also for anything else that takes my fancy.
I have a number of old Canon 35mm cameras, a Toyo 5×4 which I don’t use much but it is sitting there waiting for its moment. I have a Sony digital camera and two Holgas in pieces.
My studio also has a fish tank which I create landscapes with, an area for me to make large 5 foot collages on, a darkroom area for my printing – and stacks and stacks of rocks that I collect each morning. These rocks inspire me every day.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I can’t think of one! I occasionally visit other photographer’s personal sites to see what they have discovered recently. Chris Friel’s site is always interesting – as is Paul Kenny’s and Alex Boyd’s.
I like sites that may surprise me when I visit them. Keith Carter has a good site too.
What book about photography would you recommend?
Strangely I find books on photography something that I like to dip into every now and then – rather than study them.
I much prefer to read about the artist, how they lived their life and struggled with their work. The biography of Andrew Wyeth has inspired me more than any other book.
I love to read about how artists wrap their whole lives and futures up with their work. It is such an incredible gamble really being an artist of any kind.
You only have one shot at life – and to chance it on a career that is as unstable as an artistic one – that either takes balls or madness.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to get started with photography?
“In the end, what type of person you are makes you what type of photographer you are.”
I would start by saying that everyone is different – and if you want to take photos that make you happy then that is great. If you want to push things a bit and try anything new then prepare for disappointments and dead ends – but keep your eyes open for that glimmer of something new – and when you see it have the courage to grab it and run with it.
That is how you will stand out from the crowd – if that is what you want to do. In the end, what type of person you are makes you what type of photographer you are.
If you copy someone else’s style then It can become a terrible mismatch. Don’t take any short cuts – be honest and open to what your intuition is saying to you. Don’t ignore that little voice in your head – in fact, go looking for it.