Since Kate asked me to be a guest blogger today, I thought I’d channel her by trying to answer the questions that she asks during her “Ten minutes with…” series:
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I don’t earn a living from my photographic work. But I’ve been taking pictures pretty seriously for the past 37 years. The first moment when everything “clicked” was when I was fourteen years old, wandering around some Hindu temples in Durban, South Africa, my hometown. The instrument in my hand (a new Olympus OM-1) was the vehicle which enabled me to see things in a particular and new way that day, influenced no doubt by my burgeoning interest in existentialism, alienation, post-industrial waste, all things that had NOTHING to do with the lush tropical place I was in; the camera allowed me to bring those external and internal worlds together.
What do you love most about being a photographer, and what is one of the hardest aspects?
Being an amateur. “Amateur” has negative connotations; being “amateurish” is associated with being unserious, unaccomplished. But really, it has more to do with following a passion for the love of it, and no other reason.
I’m also feel wildly privileged to be living through an incredible golden age in photography – there are SO many ways to take pictures, to use pictures, to show and to publish, and the technologies are so sophisticated that it’s become much easier to create images that back in darkroom days would have been beyond the reach of all but the most outstanding practitioners of the craft.
Having a camera in my hand demands that I really look hard at things. There’s a great rambling piece of land behind the barn out where my wife Duston and I live. A few times every year I’ll go out there, in weather fair or foul, and tromp around for hours, just poking around and taking pictures of essentially nothing. When I download the images, they’re almost incidental-I don’t particularly CARE what I’ve captured, because really I’ve already gotten what I wanted through the engagement and interaction with the land through my lens. The pictures are merely artifacts of an experience of concentrated looking.
The hardest part is sustaining my practice without any external deadlines or expectations. I’ll sometimes go months on end without picking up the camera.
How can an editor be most helpful when giving you an assignment?
I have very little experience working with editors. If I were to project what I’d love a working relationship to look like, it would have less to do with the time before shooting, but tons to do with shaping the material that emerges so that it tells the story as effectively as possible. A good editor is a curator- I’d love to have a dynamic relationship with a curator who allows my work to sing.
If you could go back in time 10 years and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
Simple. “Take yourself seriously”. I’m not great at articulating my goals, photographically. If you don’t articulate your goals, it’s impossible to be a failure. But it’s also impossible to truly succeed.
Who would your dream subject be?
Nelson Mandela. The man, not the icon.
Are you currently working on any personal project?
Photographically, no. My big current project is setting up a collaborative space with Duston, a big room with a huge table where we can work on things together, and bring others in so that there’s an ongoing tide of different ideas and creativity sluicing through. We’re establishing a context, but we’re not exactly sure for what! All I can say is that from a photography perspective I’m trying to make the next place where I’m most happy working. It’s a little leap into the unknown – quite exhilarating, and already starting to bear fruit.
What keeps you inspired?
Another easy one: Duston Spear. She’s an artist, and very much the “real thing.” Forty years of concerted practice have given her a mastery and fluidity in the media she works in, but more than that it’s her embrace of NEW media, her relentless drive OUT of her comfort zone, that inspires me. I’ve always seen myself as a very rational, step-by-step sort of person, and in the past 16 years I’ve learned that there are different ways of understanding, different ways of arriving at conclusions and destinations, and that it takes time, perseverance and, ultimately, an enormous faith in ones self. Dus is working on an opera right now – she’s NEVER worked on an opera before. And she’s working it out, storyboarding it by making moquettes and then filming them swoopily with a video camera and then editing it with placeholder music. She goes over it again and again, each day a new iteration, with as much of it destroyed as added. It’s like that account of Giacometti doing a portrait of James Lord – by the time he was done, he’d completely erased and redone it over a hundred times. Patience and perseverance-commodities in strangely short supply in my life these days!
(Jon-Marc Seimon earns his keep as an interaction designer, and works mainly on big corporate projects that destroy the soul by degrees – but pay very nicely! He also happens to be Kate’s proud stepfather!)
See more of Jon-Marc’s photos, here.