Photographer Interview: Andrew Jackson

Black man in mortuary, Khayelitsha. Cape Town. 2006. Copyright A. Jackson
Black man in mortuary, Khayelitsha. Cape Town. 2006.
Copyright A. Jackson

View Andrew Jackson’s photography and follow him on Twitter @A_Jax. Jackson’s work is currently on view at the Unit 2 Gallery in London, UK.

Where are you from?
I’m from England in the United Kingdom.

How did you get started in photography – any “formal” training?

Yes, I studied formally doing a BA (Hons) Photography at Wolverhampton University and a Master of Arts in Documentary Photography at the Centre of Photographic Research in Newport, University of Wales.

A key factor in spurring my interest in photography happened when I was a child. I remember as a young boy waking up one morning and hearing my mother crying faintly in the distance, I’d never heard her cry before and I followed the noise and watched from the top of the stairs as she cried down below. After a time she walked away and I could see that she’d left behind her an envelope on the bottom step. I walked down the steps and opened the envelope. Inside was a Polaroid photograph of a headstone in a graveyard.

My mother’s father in Jamaica had died and her step mother had only told her of this after he’d been buried by sending her an airmail letter and the Polaroid photograph as form of evidence of his passing. Even then, as a young child, the thought that this piece of paper…this photograph could move her in such a way left a lasting impression on me.

What cameras or techniques do you use?

I shoot with film and also digitally. In terms of film I use a Mamiya 7 Mk II which gives you a good sized 6×7 negative with a great degree of portability. My favourite film is Kodak Portra 160 NC. I love that film, although over here the prices and availability of film is really becoming a concern.

I sold a Canon EOS 1V (I miss that camera now) and bought a Canon 5D. I mainly use the Canon 5D for commercial / editorial work. I still have a mind-set that makes it difficult to use digital for my ‘serious work’. I’m not really that precious but I think the film camera makes me think more about what I’m doing – as because of costs – every shot has to count with film; whereas digitally I sometimes make less considered choices.

Who are your mentors (in photography)?

Whilst at Wolverhampton University I was lucky to study under Nick Hedges. He had produced a brilliant piece of work entitled ‘Born to Work’. I saw an image from the series and it seemed to communicate so much to me. His work was a key factor in me wanting to be able to say things about how I felt through photography as well. It was a great learning experience.

Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a photographer of colour? (this question is optional)

I often feel that there is a perception here that black photographers – I have to point out we don’t use the term person of colour over here – are only able to do works that examine what they (the commissioners) consider or perceive to be ‘black issues’. Whilst I think of course that it is important that black photographers document and chronicle the experiences of our own communities, I am also a citizen of the world and would like the opportunity to do works on any subject matter that I choose to.

My background is one based on a humanistic form of observation and the universality of human experience, my skin colour then should not be a barrier to producing works that examine emotions that we all, black and white, experience.

When did you realize you could make a living at photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a pro.

When did I realise that I could make a living at photography? Well I’m still asking myself that question to be honest…I subsidise my photography with lecturing in photography at a University.

I think in photography the journey is always ongoing. You can never stop or feel that you’ve made it. The moment you do…the moment that you think this is it…you lose your edge – or your eye. Sadly I’ve known several well known and established photographers here who ‘made it’ then just couldn’t do it anymore. I’ve been in the fortunate position that other people have financed and exhibited projects that I’ve initiated…I’m just hoping that this continues but this is my pro journey…it’s never going to make me wealthy but I love what I do.

It’s not all roses… we’ve all had contact sheet depression when you look at the results of a shoot and think that you’re the worst photographer in the world but other times – like the private view of my current show in London on Thursday – you feel ten feet tall.

From the series From a Small Island, 2011
Copyright Andrew Jackson

What do you hope to achieve with your photography?

That is a very difficult question. I think that I’m interested in the experiences that it (photography) gives me. I choose subjects that I want to find out more about and use photography as a means of making sense of it. It sometimes forces me to be outside of my comfort zone and experience things that are quite difficult. Having to sweet talk my way out of being robbed in Nyanga (the murder capitol of Cape Town, South Africa) being a case in point.

Many of us lead secluded and humdrum lives, we go to work and come home again and fall asleep in front of the television.…and we hang out with people who do, look and act in exactly the same way that we do… there’s perhaps more to life than this and photography allows me to enact this theory.
It gives me a reason to look.

What’s your dream photography project?

I think that there are too many dream projects. Well, perhaps the next project that someone is going to pay me to do is perhaps the dream project but I would have loved to document the first 100 days of the Obama Presidency.

Also, there was a book by Leonard Freed called Black in White America produced in the late 60’s or mid 70’s… I’d like to do a contemporary version of this.

But I’d also like to do a work on the military. There is something in England called the Covenant. Which essentially is the agreement between the armed forces and the people…this cites that the military are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in return for the people to give them the due care and respect for their service. British soldiers come home everyday from Afghanistan here without legs, arms and of course psychologically scared; and then they are left to return to civilian life by themselves. Over 50% of homeless people here are veterans.

There is no connection between the civilian and the soldier here…who invariably are young men and women who are from the economically deprived parts of our country.

I have this big work mapped out that is in three parts and matches these three stages to the stages of masculinity. I guess I’d really be interested in going out to Afghanistan as an element of the work. I’m not interested in producing a straight narrative driven photo essay – I’d like to do something quite different. Ok, I guess that’s a dream project… amongst many.

What are you shooting now?

At the moment I’m quite busy. I’m working on two projects; one is concerned with producing a work entitled ‘The hidden landscape’ that examines notions of community in an economically and racially diverse area of Birmingham, called Handsworth. I’m also making a short film here that accompanies the photographic work. This is my first attempt at film making…there’s something very appealing about film.

The other work ‘The Golden Road’ focuses on economic migration from Eastern Europe into the UK. It focuses on the ways in which migrants are marked by their changing geographical and psychological space. My parents were economic migrants from Jamaica, they came to England in search of a better future and it’s interesting to explore the universality of migration.


Dodge & Burn is a blog dedicated to documenting a more inclusive history of photography and supporting the work of photographers of color with photographer interviews.

This blog is published by visual artist and writer, Qiana Mestrich. For regular updates on diversity in photography history, follow Qiana on Twitter @mestrich, Like the Dodge & Burn Blog page on Facebook or subscribe to Dodge & Burn by email.

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