Frank Jackson is a self-taught photographer, natural poet, and the artist behind these beautiful MagCloud books. In the run-up to his latest photography exhibition at the University of Groningen, we caught up with him to find out how he takes moments of inspiration from the camera to the page.
01. Tell us about your creative process. Where does your inspiration come from? How do you decide what to photograph?
I take pictures because I can’t draw. I’m completely self-taught and I don’t believe you need a degree on a piece of paper to know what good photography or art is.
I don’t have a clear cut process or end goal when it comes to creative projects. Sometimes I happen to photography, sometimes photography happens to me. Sometimes I’ll go for weeks without taking a picture. Photography is all about understanding and mastering the light. How it falls, how it moves. You need to be ready to capture those moments of light when they happen.
I like to take photos that represent humanity, community, connection, or that remind us that someone was here. That’s why I first started taking photos of the elements that are left behind on the tables of coffee shops. These are always unposed images, taken just as they are. My books, double shot and triple shot combine these images with the deliberately posed photos I take with a specific coffee cup, which I’ve kept with me since I picked it up from a coffee shop in Berlin. The cup reminds me of me. It has cracks. It’s been through something. I carry it everywhere with me.
02. So many people are fearful or unsure of starting their own creative projects. What advice would you give them to help them take that first step?
Fear is an excellent motivator if you use it in the right way. And look at it this way. I feel fear about my upcoming exhibition. I don’t know who will show up or how it will go. But, I’d rather feel fear because I’m having an exhibition than not. And remember perfection doesn’t exist. So there’s no point aiming for it. Mistakes and imperfections are often what makes work interesting, even good. The trick is to like what you do, and to not be unhappy if other people don’t like it.
Words, yet no deeds
A poem by Frank Jackson, 1999
we spend most of our lives
trying to be
then…(hopefully)in a clear moment(some clarity) you find yourself(?) somebody(YOU!) must learn to love even when it seems no one
in a small way everything is a collection of gestures toward REALITY.(is there a real world?)
to believe the truth is understanding true fear.
BECAUSE to believe the truth is to admit we can no longer be strangers to reality……….
and that is the most frightening THING in the world.
WHAT! are you afraid of?
who you are
who you want to be
who you will never be
who you have become.
LOVE and MONEY don’t make the world go ’round
(faith is common sense management of fear)
who do you love
what do you love
DO you love….you(?)
03. What is your go-to photography gear?
I always travel with at least two cameras on me.
I use a Sony A7r III because its small yet full frame and gets me wonderful detail in the digital files…but wait there is MORE!
I’m still also shooting with a number of film cameras:
Hasselblad 503cw medium format
Hasselblad Xpan panoramic
Leica M6 35mm
Baby Crown Graphic 2×3
If I’m taking a shot that involves plenty of highlights, I will under-expose and then work on the shadows in post-processing to bring out the look and feel of a film photo.
04. What would you say the role of photography is? Why is it important?
People today have a very short attention span. We are so visual. We want all the lights and the action… Only people who like to read will take the time to sit and pore over a publication. So a single image can be powerful. There’s a reason why the front cover of a magazine is so important.
Words illustrate the world and make you feel. Photos show you the world as it really is.
05. How has the industry changed over the course of your career as a photographer?
One of the biggest changes has been the rise of what I call social mediocrity. People post photos on social media just for followers and likes. They don’t know if the work they’re putting out is any good, they just rely on social feedback from their followers. People also seem to take more pictures of themselves or their food, which I don’t understand. I eat my food.
It used to be that you had a darkroom in which you processed your photos. You would have to wait. And film was very unforgiving, there was nowhere to hide.
06. What is your relationship to print? What role do you think print has in a digital world?
For me, photography isn’t alive until it’s in print. There’s nothing like having something to hold, something tangible. Printing your images means you don’t just love what you do, you like your work too. You want to share and celebrate it. Printing is the final act of photography.
Printing makes you a better photographer. It makes you examine your work in ways that you can’t on a screen.
Photography isn’t alive until it’s in print.
07. How do you approach the making of a photo book? Do you think photo books need to have a narrative or can they be a loose collection of images?
When I was making double shot, I scattered images all over the floor, stood back, and looked at them. Any images that didn’t stand out and catch my eye, I turned them over; they weren’t going in the book.
When I’m making a book I usually start with the cover. Once I have that, I know I’ve got a book in the making. For example, I already know what the cover of my new project ‘Twist of Fate’ will be.
There’s a difference between a portfolio and an Art Photography book. A portfolio is open-ended; images can be swapped in and out, it’s never really finished. An Art Photography book is a finished piece of work. Interestingly paid work is often won on the basis of these finished, curated pieces of art work, rather than your portfolio. In fact, that’s exactly how I ended up photographing Stevie Wonder!
08. Why choose self-publishing as opposed to a more traditional route through a publishing company?
Look, I’m not Lenny Kravitz. No one is asking me to make a photography book, and make 500 copies knowing that it’s going to sell out before the exhibition. So if you don’t have that pull, self-publishing is the route you go down.
09. As an artist who self-publishes your own books, how do you market and promote your work?
I’m terrible at this aspect of self-promoting. But to be honest I want people who are drawn to me to find me. I do exhibitions and interviews with people in the industry, and I have prints, books, and postcards for sale. But I don’t push it.
10. Why Magcloud? What drew you to the platform?
Mainly it was the quality of the black and white printing. It’s something that people comment on whenever they look through my books. They think it must have been really expensive to print. But it wasn’t.
I also enjoy the Digest book because it’s not too big and not too small. It’s easy to look through. I’ve been in situations where I’m pitching for work, draw out the Digest book and the potential client is so happy to see something small and accessible rather than an oversized, cumbersome book.
11. What software do you use to design your books? Do you use the MagCloud templates or upload PDFs?
I use the Adobe InDesign templates for MagCloud projects. Outside of that I also use Affinity, which I can use on an iPad. I’d like to see some MagCloud templates for Affinity as it’s a popular tool amongst photographers.
12. How much does profit factor into your book-making process and decisions?
Money doesn’t mean anything to me. My advice to people looking to make a living off their creative work would be to keep doing your day job, so that money doesn’t have to factor into your creative process at all.
13. What project would you love to work on next?
I’m working on a book called Twist of Fate which will be a combination of photography and poetry.
Find out more about Frank’s projects.
A poem by Frank Jackson, 2010
go: here, see there…wander wide no corners cut.
go: to be gone…make your past a face in the crowd.
go: because it’s all behind you now.
go: and take the long way home.