An Interview with Photographer Jaycee Crawford
Jaycee Crawford (@jayceecrawford) is a New York-based world traveler and talented photographer. From exquisite landscapes to intimate portraits, his work balances beauty and insight.
Interviewer Mark Gelband (@markgelband) is Ello’s Chief Marketing Officer, an expert in container home construction, a long-time writer, and a local everywhere he goes.
Mark: You wrote a few things in the first paragraph of your last response that got me thinking about your photos. "One against millions of others all clamoring and competing for the same limited resources." Your work explores both the natural world an portraiture, but not necessarily people in those places. You shared some photos of Iceland and Norway recently that make the natural world feel almost limitless.
Can you talk a little about what you're looking for when you photograph these beautiful places?
Jaycee: I had something of a tumultuous childhood, growing up adopted and gay and of mixed Asian descent. I spent a lot of my adolescence deep within my own mind, keeping myself company. So one of my inner drives, influenced by the stunning and varied backdrops of California's tremendous natural beauty, has always been an innate pleasure in seeking out areas of pristine stillness – something that might be equated to an outdoor-based meditation of sorts. Having visited and loved a wide variety of America's best national parks in my adolescence, that inner drive has since switched gears in adulthood, and now propels me out in wider arcs, taking me to compelling and majestic locations around the globe.
Mark: Does finding these magical scenes say something about you as a person, what you're looking for through your art?
Jaycee: My travel experiences lead me to believe that our society in the United States has become too much of a struggle, too complicated, too burdensome. There is very little emphasis on just enjoying being alive, feeling alive...there is too much work, not enough national holidays and certainly not enough personal time off each year. Consequently, our emphasis in this country is on business and commerce, at the unfortunate expense of the arts and the humanities – the parts of life that make life beautiful and noteworthy and therefore worth living. I look to our western european brethren, and in particular, places like Scandinavia or Australia for that wholesome life balance of production and self purpose. This said, I am generally a minimalist. I live rather simply, and from my years of traveling I no longer own much besides the basics that I need for day to day life, saving what funds i have leftover for my global adventures. I find that my visual aesthetics more often than not echo these minimal tendencies. In my images, I aim to strip away as much societal pretense from my subjects in order to leave only the essential basics that can be easily presented and modulated by composition and lighting, imparting simple lines, form and substance. In regards to landscapes, this is an emphasis on timeless, moody wilderness scenes and natural phenomena. In regards to portraiture, it is the elusive spark of conscientiousness that is my intended focus.
Mark: This contrast of place and people creates two different kinds of intimacy – one of smallness against the universe and one of looking deeply into a person. Is there something specific that connects these approaches for you?
Jaycee: What I gain in creative, regenerative spirit from photographing beautiful, timeless, landscape environments I have also learned I can cultivate in portraiture sessions with my subjects. With a heightened focus on lighting the eyes (one of my signature portraiture traits) and a mood of deep contemplation, I seek to capture the elusive sparks of my subjects' souls. both themes in my opinion can unravel into that same deep, palpable stillness – that smallness we feel in contemplating the world or the universe at large.
Mark: You allude to the kind isolation one might feel living in NYC, how does your work create connection?
Jaycee: I like to know my subjects both visually and characteristically to a good extent prior to beginning to photograph them. People are rightfully quite awkward and rigid when they get in front of a camera, and standing or sitting still in front of a camera for an hour or two for your average person isn't an experience they are most likely to have had. so in the best case scenarios, I will hang out with a subject 1:1 for a few hours, so we can get to know each other; this helps build the necessary trust and comfort levels for the style of work that I do. More importantly for me, it allows me to catch glimpses of their true energy and spirit before the dreaded camera is introduced – these natural glimpses of the soul I will then attempt to capture in the the portrait sessions that follow. I also personally advocate at least two photo sessions, as the second session is always much more prolific and successful than the first. People tend to bloom in front of the camera the second time round, regardless of whether they know me well personally or not, and therein lies the real magic – when the many psychological walls we so often create for ourselves drop, and the elusively deep stillness that we all have in us is revealed. I don't formally advertise for clientele, so my work is all word of mouth and often driven by social media connections. Working intimately in this way allows me to move from one good friend in a particular social circle to the next by one or two degrees of separation – which really helps keep a certain level intimacy and bonds of trust in the process.
Mark: As magical as the ice on the beach or Aurora Borealis, your portraits capture eyes as though they are truly windows into the soul. What is it about eyes? Is there some connection to the lens and eyes that you're exploring?
Jaycee: As far as our senses go, sight doesn't ever give us a fully complete picture of our world. However the eyes can be thought of as extremely sensitive tools for both admitting / reflecting light as well as expressing internal emotion, and they are often the only immediate way to visually begin to understand someone's internal mechanisms. We are psychologically hardwired to look into the eyes of the people we know and meet in order to help us make sense of our world – initial judgement calls on the basis of attraction, familiarity, intimacy, security and trust all start with such forward glances. Of course, in the long run, actions always speak louder than the words we use or the looks we give – but in order to get there, we place a large emphasis and fascination on examining the eyes of others. Do I believe they are windows to the soul? I most certainly do – and furthermore, they are incredibly beautiful visually.
Mark: Lastly, you say: "it's nice to meet kind and mindful people regardless of their personal intent or cultural background." Is there an important cultural relevancy to the landscapes and places you explore?
Jaycee: I am drawn to experiencing places both emotionally and visually - adding them to my realms of thought and experience and discovering what these places can teach me about myself and our collective societies. I often return to a place several times so that i get a feeling of personal familiarity with it – it also helps me capture and represent it more efficiently from a visual standpoint. This also holds true for portraiture. Working from solely one photographic session isn't ideal; the results only get better and more true with follow-on sessions. Everything is a relationship, and the more time is spent nurturing the relationship, the better the conversation, the more sincere the depth revealed. Now to answer your actual question, I would say sometimes – meaning there is some psychological portent there, but it certainly can't always be expected to be the case. Although there are certainly specific societies that impress me by their chosen styles of governance, ultimately, my quests begin with a need to explore, expand, experience.
Mark: These thoughts are especially relevant given our election and Trump's reliance on xenophobia. What do your portraits say about moving toward a world that Bob Marley portended: "until a man's skin is of no more importance than the color of his eyes?"
Jaycee: America's current fascination with Trump is a complicated and bewildering thing, indicative of the values much of our society holds. However I will say this in regards to xenophobia – regardless of the destination, language or ethnicity or culture, my global travels have done something wondrous for my faith in general humanity. every time I come home from traveling to a new part of the world, I am simply awed by the fact that no matter how different and diverse our varying exteriors, we all have so much in common... on the inside. the incredible possibilities for a future universal humankind, are truly beautiful.
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