Meaningful Photography by Jake Thompson

Jake Thompson is a photographer based in New York City. His work ranges from “street photography, landscapes, and narrative fine art work.” Thompson tells us that his current work is very “politically driven,” which can be seen in some of his street photography shown below. He  believes that every single object “represents our contemporary history in a unique way” and he just wants to continue to make meaningful work. Read our interview with Jake below.

What was it that first got you into photography?

I had always been sort of fixated on my environments since I was young. I wasn’t really a creative kid growing up, but I could kinda tell I had something, without knowing it would lead anywhere really. I grew up skateboarding with my friends and was kind of a punk, but I thought a way to get my parents to get off my back about it all would be to get a camera and take pictures/videos of them. The day I got my camera though I sat and took pictures just around my home for hours on end. Nearly instantly it all connected for me, and I could tell this was going to change everything for me.

Is there a constant or recurring theme you try to capture in your work?

I think in some ways, yes. Projects obviously vary in subject matter but I think I always try to bring a sort of nuance to whatever I end up photographing. I less and less as my career has gone on attempt to be so direct with my work. I often go about photographing certain subject matter without directly taking a picture of that specific thing. I’d say another recurring thing is that I’m very formal in my work. It’s something I haven’t really found a way to escape all that much, but I think when you look at my work it’s common to notice how carefully made each picture is.

The series of self portraits you’ve done really caught my eye – the ones featuring the knife, barbed wire, and plastic bag. Can you tell me a bit about these?

I’m glad you like them! Yeah it was a really different sort of project for me, something I hope to continue in the future. I was born with and have developed in my short life more than a few medical disorders, some more serious than others, and have always up until that series been extremely secretive and ashamed of them in a way. None of them are visible illnesses or chronic ones really so I have always struggled as many people have a hard time understanding what some of these things are like. That being said, I took a leap and decided it would be a great next step as not only an artist but as a person as well to open myself up to the camera and visualize these in a series of photographs. To this day it is probably the biggest departure from my general “style” I’ve even done but it really has had a huge impact on my craft. I think it’s essential for all photographers to eventually jump in front of your camera because it really tightens your relationship to the medium.

When it comes to street photography, how do you go about finding interesting subject matter? Or making normal things more interesting?

A lot of my current work has been very politically driven. I felt I needed to shift this direction within the last couple years given the current state of affairs, and the administration were stuck with for the time being. That said, it’s changed a lot for me. I used to go out and wanna shoot these crazy decisive moment flashy compositions and now it strikes me as quite boring. Now more than ever I go out asking myself bigger and more complicated questions about my surroundings, like, what does capitalism look like out on the street? How do we wear our inequalities? So many of these things are immensely prevent in our world around us if you actively look for it. Every single object, no matter what it is, represents our contemporary history in a unique way. It’s these things that fascinate me, that I feel drawn to photograph and responsible to share to others.

Who are your biggest artistic inspirations?

I’ve always admired photographers like Robert Adams, Joel Sternfield, walker evans, nan goldin, amongst other more contemporary artists like Gregory halpern, Wolfgang Tillmans, deana Lawson and others. I also draw lots of inspiration from writers and philosophers as well, people like Walter Benjamin have influenced my work admittedly more than any photographer has.

And what’s your ultimate goal or dream job as a photographer?

Truthfully it’s shifted a lot over the years but through my current schooling to get a BFA I think I’ve realized how much I love the education system. My main goal till the day I die is to create meaningful work that I can share with the world but without steady income it makes the possibility of that hard. That being said I’d really love to get my MFA in photo and teach at a university someday, I think it would be extremely fulfilling to do that someday. It also works too cause I talk a lot, so, lectures should come natural to me [laughs].


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