When did you first know you wanted to be a photographer?
When I first saw Citizen Kane. I think I was around 12 or 13 yrs old. At home we had two films on VHS cassette. Citizen Kane and The Warriors. In some way those two films guided me through my adolescence.
How did you start in photography?
I went to a very good photography school, although I am not sure how much I learned. The traditional route after school was to become a 2nd/3rd assistant to a commercial photographer and work your up, but because of my love of film making I missed that part of the professional curve. For a few years, I mostly shot music videos and only occasionally took photographs. Things were different back then. Of course, there were exceptions, but it was almost like you weren’t allowed to do more than one thing—so I went back and forth between the two for awhile.
How would you describe your visual style?
I don’t know if I have a visual style per se. There have been periods when I see the world in a certain way or become obsessed with a certain quality of light, but mostly the camera is an extension of my curiosity rather than my technique.
Your series “The Forest for the Trees” is intriguing; take us behind the scenes of your creative process for this series.
I don’t know if I have a visual style per se. There have been periods when I see the world in a certain way or become obsessed with a certain quality of light, but mostly the camera is an extension of my curiosity rather than my technique. Your series “The Forest for the Trees” is intriguing; take us behind the scenes of your creative process for this series. For most of my
For most of my career I have been driven by narrative and an almost traditional photography structure, and the heroes of my early years are always with me. ‘Forest’ was a long process. I was finally becoming more comfortable as a writer and seeing some success and even though I was still shooting, I recognized that what I was trying to say as a photographer was no longer enough. So, I learned to be patient and let it come to me—and through trial and error and a lot of late nights, I finally figured it out. Although technically the work was challenging, it was the most free I have ever felt.
You started writing the “The Journal of Bison Jack” in 2008. What prompted you to turn a poet?
I originally began the journal as a way to get through a difficult time in my life—a kind of morning meditation if you will. Back then it was mostly incoherent babble, but I stuck with it and now it’s as much a part of my life as sleeping is.
The fact that it has ended up being mostly poetry surprises me, but it remains a place where I can explore the world from a less discerning eye.
What are the inspirations and influences that affect your poetry?
I do my best to avoid artistic influence and inspiration. I think most good artists live in fear of influence. Ask me if I have heroes and the list would be endless, and I think those heroes of mine keep me in-check as I know when something I have written sucks or when a photograph I take is not up to scratch. The one influence I do have in my life is my family and friends and the support and encouragement they have given me. I certainly would not be here if it wasn’t for them. I am not that strong.
The Journal of Bison Jack is a sensation on Tumblr. Why do you think it has resonated with so many people around the world?
I am not sure, for years I think I had 20 followers— who I assumed were mostly my mother making up false Tumblr accounts—then one day I started ‘trending’. It was such a complete shock to me that I still have friends who jokingly ask me if I am trending every time I seem distracted. I get quite a lot of Bison ‘fan emails’ which is very humbling as in the photography/art world people are less forthcoming with their emotional responses. Maybe Bison resonates with people because he is just trying to figure life out like the rest of us and there are days when we could all do with some company. I see Bison more as way of saying ‘Hey, it’s okay. I’m broken too.
How did your film – Monster come about?
I was in the midst of the first BisonJack installation when I mentioned the idea to Matt Hebermehl (SEESAW) who was helping produce the install. He made a couple of phone calls and the next thing I knew we had a great crew. I have directed a lot of things over the years and I am very comfortable around film people, there is something about throwing yourself into a situation and just doing what needs to be done that is very satisfying—no matter the outcome.
How do you come about the themes/subjects for your work? Are you constantly searching for something that stands out for you?
I think the subjects tend to choose me. I grew up on street photography and the very nature of reacting on the street—while at the same time searching for juxtaposition and context—in some way drives my thought process in everything I do. I also like to challenge myself by trying looking at a subject matter from a different perspective or thinking about what has been done to death and see if I can add something to the conversation.
You have been merging photography and poetry in your exhibitions. How do you make that interplay work?
It’s a challenge. Words and photographs don’t always well together. They can easily undermine each other. I tend to focus more on the ‘bigger picture’ of what it is I am trying to say and just let the separate elements play their parts.
If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?
I would advise myself to buy a building or two in Brooklyn and even though we never met I would tell myself to marry the girl who worked at the local coffee shop. Mostly though, I would tell myself to stop being in such a hurry.
Any words of advice for aspiring photographers or poets?
I have friends who were born to write and other friends who are so naturally gifted as photographers that I couldn’t hold a candle to their instincts. It took me a long time to find my ‘voice’ and it wasn’t easy as self-doubt has always been my worst enemy. I had to wait until I was comfortable in my own skin before I could write anything worth a damn—and regarding photography, I agree with Pablo Picasso “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
You can see Jason’s works on his portfolio website – http://www.jasonarmstrongbeck.com