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Jack Latham: Abel’s Garden

Work / Photography

Jack Latham uses photography to explore stories untold

“I’ve always used photography as an excuse to explore things I wouldn’t normally,” documentary photographer Jack Latham tells It’s Nice That. “To date, I’ve made work exploring the remnants of the Oregon Trail, tracking down my childhood pen pal in Sierra Leone, and investigating an alleged double homicide in Iceland, in which 6 innocent people were convinced they were the ones that committed the act. The stories I’ve heard are all incredible in their own way.”

Jack’s deep-rooted connection to the stories he tells and ability to elevate the extraordinary in what could be considered as “ordinary” moments in life comes by no coincidence. The first port of call for the photographer for any project is research, research and more research: “I think preparing yourself by learning about the subject is key to making stronger work. You can then allow yourself the freedom to explore alternative and less rigorous ways of documenting these ideas, which is important.”

Through this research and explorative process Jack is often “drawn” to certain stories, people and places without quite knowing why, but the symbolism he finds can later be attributed to concepts and threads through a story that becomes more coherent; “When I’m back home and sequencing, sometimes it’s those images [I’m drawn to] that snap into place. I believe it’s about having a dialogue with your subconscious at times and just taking risks!”

Jack’s series A Pink Flamingo was the springboard for his interest in storytelling within photography. The project is about the Oregan Trail, an important historical route that paved the way for the West Coast of America, it features baron landscapes, abandoned towns and striking portraits of those who inhabit the trail. “I wanted to explore, during the height of the rescission, how this area functioned,” Jack explains. “Just before the collapse, companies were building whole suburbs of houses. They’ve since turned into contemporary ghost towns because at the time nobody could afford to live there. The title comes from the lawn ornament that is so often used in American Pop Culture but is also a symbol of the American home.”

Whilst the series captures this almost eerie recession-drained area, it’s his portraits of those that populate it that had us stop and stare, it came as a surprise then, to find that Jack has a complicated relationship with portraiture, “Portraits are a tricky thing to justify at times. I’ve certainly found that the more work I produce, the fewer portraits I make,” he explains. “I’m always drawn to people, sometimes for reasons I don’t know, but feel at times that the purpose of portraits is a flawed one if the end goal is to understand them.”

That said, Jack has built a number of integral relationships with those who he meets whilst making his series, “I think if you ask somebody to let you into their lives, then it’s only fair if they want to become part of yours,” he tells us thoughtfully. “Erla Bolladottir is a great example. She was the face of the case that my series Sugar Paper Theories was about. The first time we met I photographed her goldfish instead of her, which completely confused her as people in the media have often just wanted to photograph her and then just use her image out of context.”

The most personal of Jack’s series is Abel’s Garden which took him to Sierra Leone to track down his pen pal, Abel. As is oft the case with his work, Jack captured a plethora of unheard stories through moments and details in his work, “collecting” these to form the coherent series which came out of the trip. “I’m not a photographer that walks around with a camera every day in case I see something,” Jack muses. “I prefer the act of going somewhere to make work, whether that is locally or internationally. I find it gets me in the right state of mind.”

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Jack Latham: Abel’s Garden

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Jack Latham: A Pink Flamingo

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Jack Latham: Abel’s Garden

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Jack Latham: Sugar Paper Theories

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Jack Latham: Sugar Paper Theories

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Jack Latham: Sugar Paper Theories

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Jack Latham: Abel’s Garden

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Jack Latham: Sugar Paper Theories

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Jack Latham: A Pink Flamingo

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Jack Latham: Sugar Paper Theories

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Jack Latham: Abel’s Garden