Sorry Mom, I Support ‘Creepy’ Art: An Interview with Photographer Jack Gordon

article written by Erika Sampson

First, a huge thank you to Jack for being easy-going and so freaking interesting. I owe you at least two coffees for this. 

I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Jack Gordon, a talented local photographer who I am lucky to call a friend. Since knowing him for almost two years, I have seen his work transition into a personally authentic and recognizable style. Jack is known for his unconventional portraits, which are full of vivacious colours and thrilling ‘edge of your seat’ themes. His work is ever so inspiring and always fascinating to see. 

It frustrates me when local artistry is simplified or overlooked. We have fantastic art galleries that showcase whimsical pieces from far away artists. This does not need to stop, but the reality is the representation and excitement towards local artists needs to be augmented. If you cannot name five local artists off the top of your head, then I would challenge you to change that. With that being said, let me introduce you to Jack, who starting now may become one local artist ingrained in your head. Dearest reader, you are welcome in advance.

Jack is a third-year biomedical sciences student at the University of Ottawa, and he hopes to one day become a biology and chemistry high school teacher. He began learning photography upon taking a yearbook class at his high school in South Africa. Since then, Jack has specialized in creative portraiture and has even published a photo book titled Unnatural.

I narrowed our interview down to just seven questions, which proved quite difficult. Before we jump into the interview, here is Jack’s official Instagram (follow him!) and website.

Here we go!

  1. When did you first get involved in photography? And, how do you continue to educate yourself on the ever changing field? 

I was properly introduced to photography in a grade nine yearbook class that I took in South Africa. I ended up liking the class so much that I had the school change the course from a general elective to an arts elective so that I could retake it and become the yearbook editor the following year. Upon returning to Ottawa, I’ve mainly been shooting portraits with friends, photographers, and models that I meet along the way. Currently, the biggest form of learning that I experience would be from the act of collaboration. When I shoot with anyone, it’s fun to bounce ideas around until we find something really experimental that we can try, and I find that to be quite enjoyable. This also ensures that both parties end up happy with the final product, but it also allows one to be more creative with their ideas.

This is a picture of Jack! The photographer in the hot seat.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 11.00.12 PM

  1. How would you describe your artistic style? Please include example(s). 

Oh god. Well, my mom finds my photos to be pretty creepy at times. Personally, I guess I would say something along the lines of my style being very colourful, visually unique, and sometimes even shocking, at least for my photoshopped body modification photos. 

  1. How do you thematically plan a shoot? What are the steps involved (ie. finding models, getting props, etc.), and where do these fascinating ideas come from?

The great thing with photography, at least for me, is that I can pull ideas from tons of sources. For example, I was at the Ottawa Art Gallery a few months ago and they had an exhibit where you had to use 3D glasses to view the art piece properly. When I got home later that night I thought, what if I did a shoot where my model was wearing 3D glasses, or what if a subject’s background had that red and blue retro 3D look. In a more general sense, I prefer to have a concept planned in my head before I even begin the shoot as I find I get better results that way. Sometimes I’ll go months without finding an idea, but other times I’ll have tons of ideas. I think it’s just really important to be open to new artistic ideas, and it’s important to collaborate with whoever you’re working with. My advice to people looking for ideas is to keep on asking “what if?” questions regarding trying new things. So for example, I’d ask, “What if there was a way to make someone upside down?” or, “What if there was a way to remove someone’s head in a photo?”, but then actually find out a way to do that. Instagram is also a great way to meet people to work with. Something as simple as posting a story asking if anyone is available to model can open so many doors for both people.

  1. Who are some of your artistic inspirations, and why? And, do you see a parallel between your work and theirs?

While he isn’t a photographer, I did find some inspiration through Frank Ocean’s album Blonde as well as his Boys Don’t Cry zine. Both pieces of work showed me that it’s totally okay to be vulnerable so long as you’re honest with yourself. While I’m never really the subject of my shoots (maybe I should start a self portrait series), if I can make a model feel comfortable in their vulnerabilities, I can often get more genuine emotions out of them. In my opinion, once you realize that literally no one cares about how you look, you might as well have some fun with it and explore new ways to been seen! I’ve gone outfit shopping with models before some of my shoots and my models are often surprised by what I pick for them as its not stuff they would usually wear. That being said, they’ve pulled them off remarkably well! 

  1. Please describe the best and worst photoshoot experience you have had as a photographer. What made them good or bad? Spill the tea!

Ooo, my best experience would be during a shoot that took place last fall in Gatineau Park. I had formed a group of a few photographers and models to join me that day with the goal of doing a “spooky shoot”, and we had the idea of bringing a bed sheet with us so that we could make it look like there was a ghost if someone wore the bed sheet over their head. It was honestly surreal taking photos in the forest with what looked to be a ghost. I find it really rewarding when a concept I have in my head forms just how I wanted it in front of my eyes.

Screen Shot 2019-07-04 at 11.00.53 PM

In terms of my worst experience, I would say nothing was quite as embarrassing as being removed by security from a downtown parking garage during my second ever paid shoot within the first 5 minutes of shooting. I’ve had some pretty bad paid clients in my past as well, so now I tend to stick to shooting with friends because it allows me to be fully creative and act on my vision instead of someone else’s. 

  1. In your opinion, does photography in 2019 get seen as less “artistically challenging” than other forms of present day art?

I don’t think so. I like the expression ‘every picture says a thousand words’ because it’s often so true. While there can be a lot of interpretation when looking at a photo, they each tell their own story, and behind every picture is also a whole other story about the work and life stories of the photographer and the subject. If anything, I’d say modern music doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Too many people are quick to assume that “modern music sucks, there’s no meaning or substance in any of it”, and while in many cases I would agree, I’d also say that they’re listening to the wrong artists. 

  1. What sort of niche opportunities have you been able to get involved in, because of your passion for photography? 

I actually just got a job teaching six weeks of photography classes to high school students at uOttawa! I’ve yet to start my classes, but I’m really excited to see the development in my students’ photos! It’s also a great learning opportunity for me, as I’ll be gaining experience with film cameras, street photography, and teaching, so I’m honestly thrilled to be starting this new chapter. 

That is all from Jack for now. If you want more ‘creepy’ photos then definitely check out his Instagram linked again here:

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