Completely at home atop a windswept, snow blasted hilltop or warm cozy studio, good ideas are what drive him.
His images typically demonstrate an intense clarity, a crisp contrast and a sensation of alertness and focus – as in this International Photography Masters Cup-awarded image, Castle Lake:
His work reveals a fascination with the natural, often accidental geometry that humans build into the world, with a number of his images capturing the juxtaposition of a single piece of human construction, lonely and small amidst a wider, elemental natural landscape.
His portraits and action shots often record moments of alertness and poise, with the clarity of the moment catching and holding the eye.
However, as with his series exploring the nature of memory (below), Jon-Paul has successfully turned his camera to different styles. Much of his personal work continues to be conceptual in nature and continues to capture sculptural forms, such as the series of beach shots below in which Jon-Paul captures “the slippery feel of memories”.
“They were quite tricky to shoot: great big lenses – wide open apertures – and to add to fun, the only way to make the water sparkle was to shoot directly into the sun! I was fairly crispy at the end of that day.”
So how does Jon-Paul perceive the changing role and technology of professional commercial photography?
What are the essential things a photographic image must achieve?
I love to create sweeping cinematic pictures, but in my most considered (personal) work I’m often trying for a story or some kind of narrative. Often it’s a snapshot of what is, has, or will happen.
More essential than that, it has to work on an aesthetic/pictorial level: composition, light, mood, tone, it’s those elements that appeal to me most. If it’s a commercial picture the idea needs to be gotten across almost immediately, but first and foremost it has to look good, in fact it has to look better than good, it has to look fantastic. That does not mean it has to look fantastical, there’s usually some instinctive thing going on that I can never quite pin down. When its right, its right! Just enough things are present, not too many, not too few and they’re all sitting comfortably within the composition and make sense within the context of the image.
Which piece of your work has received the most unexpected reaction?
Recently, The Castle Lake picture (I’m no good with titles!). Apart from clocking up a few miles, it was a remarkably simple – not that everything has to be complex. Somehow, the harder a picture is to achieve, the more reaction I expect from it; whereas often simplicity is key. The other thing that regularly catches me off guard is the assumptions people make about pictures and how they’re made. I tend to assume everyone is image savvy, and I enjoy a little smile when a constructed image is taken as being real.
For me its role as document has long since passed – all image making as I see it is a process rather than a fixed point. As a way of making pictures photography was uniquely lucky: for the longest time the technology pretty much was fixed, films, darkrooms, etc… it could be quite scary. That stress melted with the first camera with a screen. We’re now saturated with pictures – digital photography has been a great leveler, it’s allowed many more people with very little technical knowledge access to the world of photography. As we’re no longer dealing with light sensitive materials (or technical stuff like focal plane movements) another frame will cost you little more than a few bytes of storage. One of the major shifts I’ve seen in photography is the attitude towards it: everyone has a camera in their pocket. In some small way that has irreversibly shifted attitudes towards the profession.
Are there things that are impossible? I tend think that anything IS possible with photography. To reframe that question – How can you do impossible with a level of credence and believability? That’s another matter. Recently I have seen some very inelegant work. That’s not to sound bitter, I have no problems with people doing their thing, but daily I see a glut of images that clearly come from an ability to operate the tools competently but are lacking some of the artistic finesse that comes with experience.
Whose work are you particularly enjoying at the moment?
Just one? Marc Gouby has been on my radar for ages and I have been looking at Olaf Veltman since I was at College. Most of those who I check in with tend to be on the continent, I tend to gravitate towards those outside of the U.K. Not by design, it’s just something that has happened over time. I could probably fill the page with lists of those whose work I regularly check in with, most all of them tend to be commercial photographers rather than artsy ones. I love polished well-produced pictures (often know as adverts).
What effect is CGI/ retouching having on photography today?
Few people realize just how long retouching has been around, it started in the 1800′s, not long after photography itself. CGI & retouching used with caution is terrific. Let’s say I make a picture and I hate the wallpaper (but its otherwise a brilliant picture), changing that would not fundamentally alter the picture, adding an element that dominates 90% of the picture might be a different matter. I don’t have a problem bringing in CGI elements to a picture, particularly if it helps sell the idea, but I don’t want it to take over the picture. Like a movie, you’re asking the viewer to buy into a world you’re creating; and like most “otherworld” stories there are a set of rules you emotionally buy into.
Good retouching should be largely invisible; similarly with CGI, if you’re pointing at it stating “that looks CGI” then it’s probably failed in its task. I’m fascinated by what can be done, but at the same time horrified at some of the uses it’s put to. Some of the recent batch of CGI is astonishing – by that I mean you really wouldn’t know it was CGI at all. For me that’s when it’s at its best. I often find myself wondering how it would have looked if it hadn’t been done in CGI, but I guess that’s the photographer in me.
All these things are just tools anyway: I became aware quite early that a image is made up from many ingredients, and the way I see it pencils have been cheap for a long, long time – but buying one will not turn you into Rembrandt. The trick is in knowing the tools, knowing how they work and which ones are right for which task – that way when a difficult request comes your way you are well equipped to deal with it.