“It’s sporadic and random”: Jackson Bowley on his experimental, hands-on photographic practice
The London-based photographer has continued to experiment with physically manipulating his imagery in post-production. Here, he tells us about three recent shoots and the benefits of creative freedom.
- Ruby Boddington
- 26 May 2020
Ever the experimental creative, a catch up with photographer Jackson Bowley is always jam-packed. It’s coming up to a year that we last spoke to Jackson and it’s safe to say he’s been keeping busy, “working on a mix of projects, big and small,” showing work as part of a group exhibition, as well as “buying more printers, gardening, redesigning my website, learning how to play poker and trawling through gallery archives.”
Based in London still, Jackson has always had a unique approach to beauty photography and portraiture, one that utilises makeup as a form of self-expression and as a photographic technique in and of itself. But recent times have seen him building upon his existing practice of physically manipulating imagery using artistic media and a printer. “I’ve been trying out different effects chemicals can have on my prints and dying images, also playing around with different types of paints and stickers, in short, I’m applying everything I learnt in primary school arts and crafts to my pictures,” he jokes.
The results can be seen in some of Jackson’s recent projects, first on a shoot he created in collaboration with musician Orlando Weeks. Jackson was asked to create a series of promotional portraits of Orlando, and the pair took inspiration from Orlando’s own illustration practice, physically integrating mark making into the imagery.
Jackson tells us about how the concept came together: “Orlando first approached me with a loose mood board which straight away piqued my interests, he had some brilliant references and ideas. I went away and started to build on the different ideas he wanted to explore and we started brainstorming with each other, sending each other loads of different references and ideas. Queue a couple of phone calls later and a funny meeting at the Tate Modern with his kid, and we had some initial avenues we planned to explore.”
The key to the shoot’s success, he continues, was that he and Orlando trusted each other creatively and were open to each other’s opinions. With just the two of them in the studio, they started off executing the simplest of their ideas and just ran with it from there. “Some of them worked really well, and some took time to refine, but we ended up shooting quite a lot, I think four or five different setups,” Jackson recalls. After the shoot, Jackson did his “usual stuff”, experimenting with different techniques, including Riso printing and using chalks. “Some stuff worked, lots of stuff didn’t, but Orlando was more than happy for me to just go wild and see what stuck,” he adds. “So it was nice to have that freedom, and I think it really shows in those images.”
GalleryJackson Bowley: Orlando Weeks
Another recent project saw Jackson shooting 90s supermodel Billy White for i_D. Finding himself with a free week and wanting to do a test shoot, Jackson emailed a friend who works at a modelling agency and “there was Billy amongst a sea of ‘new faces’.” With little to no planning for the shoot day, Jackson took the opportunity to play on set, as he did with Orlando. “Billy showed up with a bag of clothes and we mostly chatted about his early career and what he’s been up to recently (making leather bags if you were wondering),” Jackson says. The pair spent a lot of time chatting on set, shooting frames in between shots, and allowing the conversation to lead the day creatively. “Shoots like this tend to be my favourite. There is little pressure and a minimal team, so we can just do what we want and enjoy ourselves. If stuff works, then great, that’s an added bonus,” Jackson adds.
Similarly, when shooting band The Big Moon for Twin Magazine, Jackson relished the opportunity to, as he puts it, “crack on” with doing what he does best; working in an unpredictable way, allowing instinct and creativity to guide the outcome.
Over the past couple of years, Jackson has carved a distinctive approach to image-making, which has certainly gained him recognition in the beauty and fashion worlds, not to mention a certain level of trust from clients who often grant him carte blanche. But constantly adding the extra step of physically experimenting on top of prints from each shoot must be taxing. On what it is about this process that he enjoys so much, and why he feels it’s necessary for his practice, Jackson tells us: “It’s just become part of my process now, I begin to look forward to it more than actually shooting, it’s the final step to my work and its where the photos really come to life. It’s sporadic and random, I can do whatever I want with no restrictions. Its hands-on and really fun, and I can work on an image until 4 AM if I’m feeling really hectic.”
Looking ahead, Jackson is keen to continue working with different musicians and shift his focus back to portraiture, saying “I love working closely with people on projects that have a place, meaning or story. But I also love it when people work with you for your aesthetic and trust my chaotic energy.” Not forgetting an aspect we love so much from his portfolio, he adds: “I still love a good face paint though!” With this in mind, he plans to be more selective and considerate with his projects and when it comes to materials, he’s just bought a load of fluorescent spray paint to play with, the first tests of which he’s been sharing on Instagram. You never know what’s going come next in Jackson’s portfolio, so give him a follow and, as he concludes, “let’s see…”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.