“Before I started using a camera to record events I used my eyes and my brain to store these memories. Many became confused and blended with other images and events and so my memory became like a work of fiction.”
Jack Norman (born in 1965) is a street photographer from the UK currently based in Tokyo, Japan. He’s self-taught and says: “Experience is the best teacher.” For Jack Norman photography is a means to “archive memories and emotions in a tangible form”.
“I am an archivist of forgotten moments and a recorder of forgotten dreams.”
Interview with Jack Norman
Jack Norman, why did you become a photographer? And what does photography mean to you?
I am not a photographer. I am an archivist of life. I only use my camera to record what I see and to share these images or feelings with other people. If I could paint the same image to reproduce the same feeling or moment in time I would. However, I have no talent in that direction so I use a camera instead.
Photography is simply a way to archive memories and emotions in a tangible form.
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? In other words: How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
Techniques? I try not to use techniques. I simply go out and shoot and collect faces or events that appeal to me because of the life or time they represent. I really have no interest in gear or pixels or photoshop. I own two lenses that came with my camera. I never carry a camera bag or any gear. I never use a flash. I don’t care about anything except capturing an image that records a distinctive moment in time.
What reaction do you intend to provoke in people looking at you photos?
I am not looking to provoke a reaction. I am just sharing something very personal with them. It is a moment I shared with a stranger on the street who for a few short seconds may have shown me their real, inner person.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
David Douglas Duncan. He was an archaeologist and a soldier just as I was. He was a country guy just as I am. He recorded not just what he saw but also what he experienced. He was a writer whose photos needed no words.
What’s your favorite inspirational quote about photography?
“There are too many people studying it [photography] now who are never going to make it. You can’t give them a formula for making it. You have to have it in you first, you don’t learn it. The seeing eye is the important thing.“
What kind of camera and equipment do you use?
I use an EOS60D. I will use any camera as long as it is simple and easy to use.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I enjoy looking at various photography websites that have managed collections. I enjoy MOMA’s online photo collection.
What book about photography would you recommend?
“War Without Heroes” by David Douglas Duncan. The photographs in this book show the viewer the reality of war. There is not sentimental BS here. It is truth captured with a camera.
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?
“I cannot lie to myself about what I see, what I have seen or what I thought I saw.”
I have always been an observer of people. Before I started using a camera to record events I used my eyes and my brain to store these memories.
Many became confused and blended with other images and events and so my memory became like a work of fiction.
Now I have a device that can produce a tangible memory that is a true record of an event. I cannot lie to myself about what I see, what I have seen or what I thought I saw.
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?
When I was a soldier I used a cheap, disposable camera to record scenes of everyday horror in the streets of Haiti. I realized then that I didn’t need some expensive pro camera to create images that communicated a message.
Doing an exhibition for the first time was perhaps a seminal event. I was face to face with people who either liked my work or didn’t.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to get started with photography?
“Get out there on your own and learn how to use your camera.”
Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Hit the streets whenever you can and don’t waste your time doing “photowalks” or group events.
Get out there on your own and learn how to use your camera. The rest will come if you are a “natural”.
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.
Q: Why don’t you work harder to get your work out there where it can be seen?
A: Perhaps because I am a lazy bastard.