Jonathan Cherry: Cities and Photography
Jonathan Cherry is a young photographer with a passion for taking engaging photographs. His images have offered him opportunities to travel and photograph new locations and communities. He also runs the extremely popular Mull It Over blog, profiling contemporary photographers from around the world. We caught up with him recently to give him the chance to be the interviewee and find out more about his work.
Q What was it that first got you into taking photographs?
As a boy I was fascinated by old family snap shots and would spend hours sitting in the loft sifting through boxes of archived prints. I can remember being captivated by the magic of seeing my parents in a life that predated our family.
My father travelled a lot, and it was there that I grew a deep appreciation for the still image and its ability to weave depth into memories and recounted tales. So I guess my love of photography came out of a childhood desire to make and have photographs of my own that themselves would possess a timeless quality that would tell a story and leave others captivated.
Q What led you to the opportunity to travel around the world taking photographs?
As a photographer I feel it is important to continually discover new spaces in which to make photographs, whether that is local or global, and since graduating in 2009, I have made good use of almost all opportunities given to me to travel.
More often than not these jobs have been unpaid and require me to earn money in order to fund them, so over the years I have developed a keen sense as to whether I should take certain opportunities over others. I guess you could say I follow my heart. In practice, that means taking ninety five per cent of the paid jobs that come my way and then in my spare time seeking out opportunities to travel globally or explore my locality more intimately.
Being freelance makes a huge difference as it allows me to manage my own time and maximise the ‘quieter’ periods which are actually a great chance to promote my work. I do try wherever possible to contact at least three new clients a week to gain new work from to fund my personal work and trips abroad.
Having creative people around me has also been invaluable in developing collaborations and increasing opportunities to travel around the world, which has in turn expanded my network and fed into bigger, more exciting and even paid projects.
At this point I would like to stress the importance of community; having people around me to chat through ideas and bounce things off of is crucial to the development of my practice. I also believe that has built in me a deeper love for photography.
Q What is it that excites you about photographing a specific city?
Photographing a specific city definitely has both its ups and downs. It’s good because you have fresh eyes that view the city differently than the local people, and I often have a sense of being able to pick out diamonds amongst the coal of everydayness.
Equally, I am continually aware that you can be blind to what is actually going on because you have been taken in by the façade of a city, which is especially prevalent when you’re only there for a few days.
I do feel that the real excitement of a ‘city specific project’ is in picking up on the subtleties that emanate from differences in culture. The theme of cultural difference is something that runs throughout my work and was probably born out of my childhood obsession with dad’s traveling photographs.
Q Where do you start when considering how to capture the essence of a location in photographic form?
When going to a new place to make work, I like to take my time and will begin by photographing things that stand out and interest me. Having spent time exploring and refining my experience of the city, I will generally hone in on something more concrete and establish an image set that captures the inimitability of an area, a people group or an event etc. I will then run with that project until it comes to an appropriate end.
Having said that, I had spent a number of years traveling around the former Yugoslavia before Boat Magazine ran its Sarajevo Issue so I was able to I spend some time beforehand thinking more specifically about what I wanted to photograph. The sense of knowing a culture, even without knowing the city, definitely altered my approach to capturing the essence of the location.
My deep emotional connection to the spaces I was photographing overwhelmed the tangible connection that would normally form my work in a new city. I found that particular set of images were saturated with a profound sense of place that embedded cultural differences in a context, perhaps making them slightly less obvious to the detached viewer.
Q When working on a project for Boat is it reassuring to have the team around you providing editorial guidance or do you prefer to be free to photograph the subject matter as you see it?
For its latest issue, Boat Magazine set up a semi-permanent studio in Athens so there was a physical place to retreat too and constant conversation surrounding both the issue as a whole and the individual projects. Because everyone was so busy, the editorial guidance came more from the daily evolution of ideas that responded directly to the changing climate of politics, culture, etc. so within a fairly loose framework I was able to develop a story and have some space to work on it alone, which was great.
Equally, when we were sent to Sarajevo we all travelled around together, which was a completely different experience that had a great number of positives attached to it also. One of the really great things about Boat is that you know that during your time in this issue's city there will have been other photographers, designers, illustrators etc. who have gone before you and those who will be there after you. It makes you feel part of something much bigger.
Q Are there certain things that you look for when exploring a city?
I am usually attracted to the more forgotten parts of a city. Go to where the coal is and you’re more likely to find a diamond. Tourist attractions and ‘the top 10 things to do’ bore me.
Q If you could only photograph one more city, where would it be?
Q Are there specific cameras that you take when traveling? Do you prefer to travel light or do you commit to taking whatever gear you feel you need to get the job done?
One of my past times is traveling light, so I usually only take one film camera. Recently I’ve been using my Mamiya 7ii. It’s the best camera in the world.
Q What advice would you give to aspiring photographers looking to engage with the environments that surround them?
My advice would be to not only get out into your locality but to spend a good amount of time getting to know the people that live there. It is all well and good visiting a city or a new place and photographing it for a few days. But if you want your work to have any meaning or desire some sense of longevity with your photography, you also need to be investing time and thought into projects. Where better to do that than in the place you currently call home.
Q Are there any notable influences upon your work?
Q Do you have any current projects you’re working on? Plans for the future?
I have been working a lot more on commissions recently, but I’m hoping to start some personal work in early Spring. My plans for 2013 are to move to the city of Caen in Normandy, France.