#featured: jason jaworski, awakening unexpected encounters

miércoles, marzo 16th, 2016 | T: lamono

Jason grew up in the frontier that divides his natal San Ysidro (California) with Tijuana (Mexico). After school he used to wonder around with his friends along what used to be an open-air market, now it’s the dumping ground for bodies for a drug cartel. It was in this market where his interest for photographing people was born, as well as the guy interested in capturing images that represent an interior journey within the character of the people that cross his path. He has slept on the streets, walked into the Philippine jungle with a midget he met in a bar and he usually develops his film in his bathroom. Either if he’s hitchhiking from Frankfurt to Paris or walking 10 daily-miles for 100 days across L.A., Jason Jaworski understands photography as a compulsion to shoot, an urge than can appear anytime. With a good pair of shoes, he walks as the sun comes up looking for unexpected encounters that resemble awakenings, while he waits for his best picture to arrive. T: Teo Camino


When did your interest for portraying strange characters appear? I grew up on the San Ysidro – Tijuana border, in California, and every day after school, I would cross over to meet my friends and wander around through what we used to call “the bunkers”. It’s now a dumping ground for bodies by the cartel, but back then it was this wonderful place that all these families turned into an open air Mercado. I think my fascination with others started then; I would go from booth to booth, asking questions and just wanting to learn about all these people. Also, I wasn’t particularly fit, I was a huge, fat kid and thanks to that, I would always relate to people in a verbal way, seeking out people that seem familiar to me but strange to others.

What do you look for in each portrait? There’s nothing I’m looking for specifically. More than looking, which implies a certain sense of judgment, I’d rather experience a person and their presence by allowing them to reveal things for me to discover.

Who is behind your camera, an artist, a humanist, a friend, a voyeur? Just a curious person longing to learn from strangers.

How is your creative process and method while working? It starts with a good pair of shoes and lots of walking. If I’m on location in a place I’ve never been before, I’ll start really early, three or four a.m., and walk around to get an overview of the way things operate, there’s a lot to learn from a city and its people by the way it wakes up. And that’s the main thing, learning about a place and its people. When I’m walking around I’ll talk to people, some for a few hours, and let them show me their city and character in a very spontaneous way. Last time I was in the Philippines, I walked into a bar hoping to find a stand-in for a music video I was shooting, and noticed a midget sitting down at the counter. On the table he had two shots, a beer and a gun. Instantly I started talking to him, that interaction became the basis for my book, “Labyrinth”, where he took me around through different slums and areas where he worked and grew up. For commercial projects, I’ll meet the subject a few days early for lunch, to chat and get to know them, sometimes I’ll bring my camera and others I won’t. Then, a few days later, during the shoot, I’ll ask them questions related to our first meeting, playing music to keep the spontaneity and energy throughout the shoot, I also take them out to the street and have them interact with the environment, or I’ll scout a location and cast locals as models.

How do you achieve for the characters in your photographs to open themselves up to you? Everyone has a story they want to tell, and every so often, I’m lucky and they tell it to me. Just by listening a person can open up. Sometimes I’ll talk with a stranger for hours and end up not taking one shot. More than the end result of getting a photograph, it’s about connecting with someone and sharing experiences together.

Have you ever been afraid or exposed yourself to a dangerous situation? Over 10 years ago – a lot younger and more arrogant – , I was walking from Frankfurt to Paris, hitchhiking every now and then. One evening a car pulled up behind me and honked. An odd looking man was in the car and motioned if I wanted a ride. I nodded and jumped in. Immediately I got scared about this person and its presence, but I decided to brush it off. He offered me a place to stay and I agreed, having been in the street for over a week. We pulled up to his house, secluded from the highway. Exhausted, I fell asleep, only to wake up with him standing in the doorway staring at me. I could see the shadow of his silhouette on the wall. He started to approach and immediately I turned around. He had this look in his eyes I’ve never seen before in anyone, some kind of predatory gaze. I stood up, asking him what he was doing. “Nothing,” he said, “just checking on you”, and he walked away. I reached in my pocket for a small knife I had and waited for him to come back. He never did, within a few hours later I left. Walking down the highway another car came up to me, a woman offering me a ride. I got in and she said to be careful, that there was a man going around abducting people. It was stupidity that got me in that situation, not listening to my intuition. After that, I learned to use it as a tool to read my surroundings.

How does what you see affect you? Fear is something that we all have, something that makes us human. And my fears allow me to relate to others, others who are scared of the same things as me, or those who have opposite fears. It’s one of the positive things about negative emotions, every body shares and inhabits them; you’re never truly alone.

Do you shoot with your heart or with your head? At the end of every month I’ll develop all my shot film in my house and scan the negatives. The scanning part can be sort of tedious, so I’ll put on a playlist of videos to watch: lectures, documentaries, etc. One day, while scanning my negatives, a video of Anders Petersen came on, a photographer I deeply admire. In the video he explains how he shoots with his heart and edits with his head. It was a curious statement and one that I felt a particular kinship with, after examining my own process. I looked over the images that were being scanned and I had this compulsion, this urge to go out and shoot. It was four in the morning; I put on my shoes and started walking, from my house to the ocean, 21 miles away, the sun rising the whole time until I finally reached to the water. That became the start of my “1000 Miles” project, where I photographed Los Angeles, walking 10 miles a day over a 100-day period for 1000 miles, producing a series of paintings, books and texts.

Photography: analog or digital? For personal projects I shoot the majority on film, developing it in my kitchen or bathroom. However, if I’m doing commercial work and a deadline demands it, I’ll use digital. I prefer the extra time and work that film requires; it’s more of a meditation, moving the reels around in my bathroom. I have always felt that certain things are more rewarding depending on how much work you put into them, and working with film is no different, it’s so satisfying to see your images materialize in silver in front of you, once you pull them out of the soup of developer and fixer.

What do you aim for with your photography? To remember certain things, forget others and share as much as I can while learning from strangers.

How do you see/feel photography? Photography is such a peculiar thing; it’s elusive in ways that make it interesting. If I could verbalize how to create a great image I would probably stop, but it’s somewhat of a lifelong process, a way to link experiences together, tangible or otherwise. I feel photography is very much related to memory, as it is to vision. I can remember, years ago, talking with writer David Foster Wallace in an airport, both of us were waiting for a delayed flight, and he described how great literature is for him, and how it has a certain quality that was hard to verbalize as well. “It kind of clicks with you,” he said. “You recognize something about yourself in these words, something only you know, which the author relays to you through these characters, and then you find yourself learning something about yourself, or the world, and that’s the most powerful thing art can do, to eradicate the barrier between people, have that familiarity between the privacy of your person and the public, making you feel less alone”. I still remember those words. And whenever I see, feel or make a photograph that clicks for me in the way David said literature did for him, I’m happy.


I’d like to go to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, anywhere where there’s a real degree of conflict. And not because I’m searching for it, but because I want to understand it, to learn from it and see the humanity and beauty that lies in all of these mesmerizing cultures that have been unfortunately stained by the heinous acts of a few


Some photographers say that in every picture lies a self-portrait, does this happen with your work? Not so much as a self portrait but a version of my vision, which can be interpreted as who I am. Now, with all these selfies and things, I feel that there’s a want for anonymity as much as there is for recognition. More than having someone recognizing me in one of my images, I’d rather have them recognize themselves. One of the most fragile and precious things about creating art is how it can connect you with a stranger, and that’s something I cherish more than any recognition of who I am.

What do your images say about yourself? Hopefully, they’ll give light to other people and their stories, cities and outward things. For myself, they most likely explain an interaction I had, what I was going through and what I’ll continue to do.

Is it possible to change the world by photographing it? I don’t think there’s such power in the act of taking photos nowadays, which is a good thing. That power has seemed to be switched over to the distribution of images, which is something that has already, and will continue, to change the world. Photography is such an amazing art form because, now, it’s closer to writing than it has ever been before; truly democratized, allowing people to take, edit and share images, and all they need is their phone. I’m thinking of the Arab Spring, the race riots here in the U.S., Guantanamo Bay, a few examples where images and their distribution had a strong impact and changed things for a moment. It’s such an exciting time we are living, where an unknown stranger, with access to a certain scene or setting relevant to society, can make a change by transmuting its vision through a composition, sharing it via social media or other outward forms. Like these people on Instagram whose images end up being on the cover of Time magazine or the front page of the NY Times, it’s refreshing to see that you don’t need to be an artist with a capital “A” to achieve that kind of recognition, and that all that really matters is the image.

What country haven’t you visited but you would like to photograph? Years ago I met the filmmaker Albert Maysles, both of us were walking around Harlem, photographing people in the street. After we recognized one another, we stopped to get something to eat and he told me about his dream of pushing positive images. It was something that always stuck with me. During the Cold War, he and his brother went to Russia and produced this body of work where they embedded themselves with the people and culture out there, bringing back a collection of images that showed the dignity and humanity of these people, putting a face to this race that was being portrayed as villains. I feel that too often things get generalized and an entire ethnicity of people gets blamed for the acts of a few. Because of that, I’d like to go to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, anywhere where there’s a real degree of conflict. And not because I’m searching for it, but because I want to understand it, to learn from it and see the humanity and beauty that lies in all of these mesmerizing cultures that have been unfortunately stained by the heinous acts of a few.

Which is the best photo you haven’t taken? Hopefully the next one!

Something UNEXPECTED that has happened to you at work… About a year ago I was in the Philippines and I met this little person at a bar in the red-light district who took me around through a bunch of different slums and areas where he grew up. He was part of a gang that sold stolen goods and drugs around the city. One day he took me out to the jungle near this factory. A car was off in the distance and he and his friends set it on fire and blew it up, leaving it to burn. Later that night, all of the men from the factory came over to the fire, dressed up as women and danced around. That was probably the most unexpected thing that has happened to me in the last year.



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