“My father had worked as a journalist, so I put his old Nikon film camera to good use. From that moment, I have never thought about doing anything else.”
One of the medium’s most promising, rising talents, Jake Michaels is a Los Angeles-based photographer whose deeply arresting imagery poetically surveys the quotidian.
He first became interested in photography during his early teens after he was gifted a camera by his father. At the time, most of his friends were involved in garage bands or, into skateboarding, and he, therefore,found his new acquisition the perfect tool to document and explore these interests.
He went on to study fine art at California’s Art Center College of Design, and now works on commercial and personal projects across a range of styles and genres, including, documentary, portraiture, and street photography.
As one would expect from an artist with such a diverse repertoire, Michaels draws inspiration from, and is influenced by, a variety of sources. He cites iconic practitioners, Harry Gruyaert and August Sander, lesser-known photographer and filmmaker, Barry Lewis, and English Conceptual Artist, Simon Starling, though he also finds impetus in the daily output of leading photo news agencies, AP, REUTERS, and AFP, along with his everyday surroundings.
“For me, it’s not just the visuals that influence my eye but the place, the people, and the experience. Inspiration can be found anywhere, from the little things in life to the work of accomplished artists and photographers. It is important to spend time just observing sometimes.”
He values ‘traditional’ street photography, though he is also interested in what he describes as: ‘more process-based pieces of work’, that is to say, “when there is a sort of depth and meaning behind either a concept, a series, or a photograph itself”. This is an apt assessment of his own images, for they transcend mere aesthetic, conveying the very essence of the scene, and thus evoking an interior response within the viewer.
Even his portrayals of the most seemingly innocuous subjects are often deeply compelling; suggestive; intriguing and atmospheric, driven by an impressive comprehension of light, a sharp eye for color, and an innate perceptivity.
However, much of his work is also the result of considerable planning and research. He confesses that he spends more time scouting than shooting, and often wanders the streets of new neighborhoods, assessing the landscape and light, pondering how to capture it at a later date. That being said, like most great artists, he always allows space for intuition.
“Sometimes I have an idea but when it comes to executing it, it doesn’t really translate well. And sometimes I stumble upon a scene in a street and immediately know how I want to capture it. There are no strict rules when it comes to creativity.”
His most recent body of work, c.1950, started as a research project that subsequently became a New York Times piece and, eventually, his first monograph, recently released by Setanta. A profoundly arresting portrait of the Mennonites of Belize, it possesses in abundance, all of the rare qualities that define his other work, and is, in his own words, a project that ‘encapsulates’ his focus within photography: ‘a blend of culture, light, and place.’
All images © Jake Michaels