Where to begin? Photographer (and friend of Framebridge) James Jackson is the best. We first met him online through Instagram where we were captivated by his colorful photos and thoughtful point of view. That was just the beginning. Offline, James is the most down-to-earth, outgoing guy we've met. Always full of updates on his latest creative projects, and eager to talk about his most recent travels. Recently, we spent a few hours with James just as fall was making its debut. Over coffee we heard about his most recent trip to Myanmar and Thailand, and the stories behind the images from that trip that he framed. Here's that story, and a bit about his unlikely path to becoming a photographer. (Also, our Rialto frame having a moment!)
James, how exactly did you get into photography? It was a haphazard hobby that blossomed into a career after I moved to DC. I found myself very inspired by the people, culture, and architecture of the District. I began being a bit more deliberate about the hobby and also started going to @igdc Instameets, where I fell in with a crowd of folks who were also learning, sharing, and growing creatively. I began entering contests and getting positive feedback. At the beginning of last year it really looked as though the universe was opening up a path for me to pursue photography full-time. It was a very tough year with little sleep, lots of chaos, and some frustration and tears, but I left my day job on December 31st. So far, so good. But we’ll see what the future holds!
How has Instagram affected your career? When I moved to town in 2012 I followed local folks and that’s how I learned about — and ultimately fell in love with — the District. As a result, I've met a good portion of my friends through Instagram. For the better half of last year my Insta served as my online portfolio until I finally put one together. The first several jobs I got last year came directly via Instagram.
I probably wouldn’t have met Holly, Shizu, Morgan, or Desirée, all ladies who’ve inspired and nudged me along the way, had it not been for Instagram. Without those connections I probably wouldn’t have taken the leap to freelance photography at all. I tell me people all the time that I wouldn’t have this career were it not for Instagram.
We have to ask. What are your favorite Instagram accounts? @aCreativeDC for all things local, @ethnicenclavesnyc for non-touristy view of the city, @juniperfoxx because cute, @guardiancities for street/architecture photos from around the world.
What would you say are your favorite things to shoot? I definitely fall in the documentary vein of things. I’m not good at conceptual photography. Left to my own devices I’d shoot architecture & street portraits all day long, but food and lifestyle photography is what people pay me for most often.
Got any photography tips for the casual iPhone photographer? If you want better photos turn off the overhead light! Overhead lighting flattens food and brings out every bump and wrinkle on a person’s face. Move into the shadows right next to a window before taking any photo, especially food photos!
"I think it’s gorgeous because it unapologetically shows the beauty and the poo side by side."
So what did you frame with us? Two prints from a recent trip to SE Asia, one of Chinatown in Bangkok, Thailand, the other of a city street in Yangon, Myanmar.
Can you tell us a little bit about each photo? What was happening when you snapped these pics?
Bangkok: Bangkok is a huge, modern city, with ethnic enclaves of all sorts, but Chinatown is perhaps one of the more distinctive of the bunch. It’s hard to explain to Americans how densely built Bangkok is, and Chinatown feels even more densely packed than the rest of the city. With the exception of the major roads, every square inch of level ground is covered with people selling things from shops, stalls, and tables. When you’re on the sidewalk, signage juts out from every conceivable building surface above you. It’s dizzying. While there are people in this photo, and even the signage I mentioned, for me, this photo is really about the two opposing lines created by the red bus and the blue sky above. They serve to draw my eye further down the rabbit hole of visual chaos along Yaowarat Road.
"For me, this photo is really about the two opposing lines created by the red bus and the blue sky above."
Yangon: Yangon (formerly Rangoon), in Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a working city. Most of the architecture and infrastructure is leftover from when Burma was a British Colony. This photo really encapsulated my experience of Yangon. The collision of old and new, the construction (happening further down the right side of the photo, hidden behind the green safety scrim, satellite dishes protruding from Colonial-era buildings, the man on a bike riding towards me. Myanmar is just now emerging from a very harsh 60-year military dictatorship and rushing towards the future at a rapid pace however, the infrastructure is still lagging far behind. Open trench sewers still line either side of the majority of city streets. I had arrived at the very beginning of monsoon season when the sewers are cleaned to mitigate flooding. To American eyes it appears there are piles of dirt lining the right side of the street. That's actually sludge that has been shoveled out, by hand, from the sewers. If you look about halfway up the street you can see some men engaged in the actual work.
"In America it’s my fellow citizen that I’m wary of; in Yangon... It was the infrastructure I was afraid of."
What surprised you most about this trip? Yangon was the most surprising. It felt dangerous to me, but not in the way I’m used to experiencing danger in America. In America it’s my fellow citizen that I’m wary of; in Yangon I never once felt unwelcome or threatened by the people. It was the infrastructure I was afraid of. I mean, it’s the type of environment with very real sanitation issues — you could stumble, scrape your knee, and end up dead from an infection. I’m still sorting out what it means that the Burmese have (as we might see it) so little, yet are so kind and considerate to each other, and here in the USA we have so much, yet treat each other so poorly.
What resonates with you most about the photo from Yangon? This photo is “the hero shot” from my trip. It’s layered and tells a story that unfolds the longer you look at it. I love, also, that it’s not what it seems to be upon first glance. People have often said, “Oh my god, that’s such a gorgeous photo,” which it is, but I think it’s gorgeous because it unapologetically shows the beauty and the poo side by side.
Where will you hang these pictures? Both photos are going to be part of a gallery wall I’m slowly working on. Over that past two years I’ve been collecting photographs and prints from local artists. It will all hang over my sofa in the living room.
We can't wait to see it! What are you excited to frame next? I have a couple of prints from local artist Nia Keturah, and a couple of photographs from my friend, and local photographer, Michael Andrade that I’m excited to frame. I’ve got some vintage Soviet propaganda posters to send your way for framing, too.
What travel photos and souvenirs are you holding on to?