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Work / Photography

Jackson Bowley on how he exaggerates a subject’s personality in his portraiture

“I feel that I approach makeup from quite an outsiders perspective, so I don’t really see it as a tool to enhance somebody’s beauty but to exaggerate somebody’s personality or to create vast characters,” says London-based photographer Jackson Bowley. “I find makeup really exciting, having never really used makeup myself I think I approach it with a childlike naivety.” An adept portrait photographer who often works in beauty, Jackson utilised this interest for a recent collaboration with make-up artist Athena Paginton for Office Magazine titled Colour Me Bad.

Existing as a playful and altogether refreshing take on make-up as a transformative and empowering tool, Colour Me Bad initially started as a “small test, just to play around and try some things out,” Jackson explains. But, as soon as the two began shooting, “we just got carried away”. “Our styles just really seemed to click and it all felt so natural… I think there’s a nice balance to our work. Athena is able to create these fanatical make-up looks, and I’m able to understand that and really pull a character out of them.”

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

Pulling character out of his subjects is a particularly keen skill of Jackson’s, whose portraits defy conventional beauty poses, cramming exuberance into tight crops. It’s because of these crops, that he pays so much attention to expression and mood, he explains. “I usually don’t give much direction initially and just make sure the models are comfortable. Then I can work our how weird we can go with posing.” Creating an upbeat atmosphere throughout the shoot, he adds, “there’s a lot of movement and a lot of energy outside of the frame that you may not necessarily see in the final image”.

Colour Me Bad in turn is a showcase of Jackson and Athena’s collaboration on everything from the make-up, composition of images, and casting. Both with an interest in those who aren’t “conventional” models and, instead, in “somebody’s personality, which allows us to then play around more when shooting them”, there’s a certain authenticity and genuine feeling of fun to the series.

The final touch to each image occurred in the editing process, a key factor of Jackson’s practice. “I experiment a lot of printing techniques,” he tells us. He prints out each image multiple times, experimenting with and tweaking the exposure and colours each time. Some images then remain as they are, but others get distorted or distressed. “I find it creates something a little bit more timeless than, say just a super retouched beauty image,” he concludes. “It’s also nice to have a physical print in front of me that I can then experiment with. I guess I just prefer a more hands on approach when editing.”

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad

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Jackson Bowly and Athena Paginton: Colour Me Bad