Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published on our previous platform, In the In-Between: Journal of Digital Imaging Artists, and the formatting has not been optimized for the new website.
What strikes me most about Jackson Patterson’s images is his method of creating narrative by presenting two disparate pictures as a single image. Each of his images display a duality of visual and cerebral dimensions which in turn leads to many insights about representation, fabrication, and visual language.
Gregory Jones: First off Jackson, tell us a bit about how you got started in photography, what draws you to the medium, and where does your inspiration come from?
Jackson Patterson: It’s always kind of a tough question because there’s never one moment that I can draw from and say, that’s what got it all started, but as far as I can remember I’ve always had an interest in looking. I think there is a difference between looking and seeing and even watching, which is what we seem to do most often as a society these days. We don’t spend a lot of time looking anymore, with T.V., the Internet, mobile devices, etc., everything is projected on to us and little is left to the viewer.
My desire to look, however, probably goes back to growing up in a western landscape surrounded by farms and the attention to detail in the land that the farmers would take. I also take inspiration from the landscape, family and a multitude of other factors. How we used to interact with the land and how we continue to interact with the land is very important to me.
GJ: You have a unique method of juxtaposing images from different sources, please talk a bit about your process, and your reasons behind wanting to make such unconventional pictures.
JP: I think my process of photographing is pretty much a traditional one of going to a place of interest, being in that place, looking, interacting, and photographing intuitively. I rarely try to photograph with a purpose, for me it’s better to react to my environment based on lighting, subject and form. I’ve always found this way of photographing the most rewarding because you’re never really seeking out anything in particular so there’s no disappointment if you don’t find it. But after I’ve collected these images then I need to look at them critically and use my mind’s eye. So I think in part my process has been derived from combining one of simply looking and reacting to then critical awareness, story-telling, and defining a mood.
I’ve also been very intrigued by what happens when you put images together and how they can start to communicate in a strange and magical way. Early on in my art development I did a series entitled, Time Based Dreams, they were all diptychs and triptychs printed in the conventional darkroom. The series turned out to be much more poetic then I initially intended and the unexpected outcomes freed up a whole new way of working for me.
GJ: Your series, Recollected Memories, gives us narratives created through combining old family photographs over your own landscape images. What’s the overall narrative you looked to establish in making these? Is it something like an alternative family history? Or perhaps you use your family’s pictures as a source of imagery to tell a story that’s unrelated to them?
JP: Recollected Memories started with a very real story of the migration of a barn on my grandmother’s homestead to another ranch tens of miles away. That story got me to looking at my family’s albums and listening to family members tell their stories and also the stories they remembered about our family. Those personal histories and variations of stories led me to creating these images. It wasn’t necessary for me to tell the story accurately because as memories and stories they seemed to have evolved over time. But what was always there was that interaction with the land. The land provided and sustained these people migrating west, homesteading, farming, vacationing, etc. The stories were rooted in the land, so it was important for me to tell the story not only of the people, but also the land.
The question then becomes, how do you tell a story that may be over a hundred years old in some cases in a single photograph? The short answer is, you can’t. So ultimately for me, it was about creating the mood of the story. I’m not sure it’s possible to tell the actual story in a single image, but photographs do have a way of capturing a mood and that’s what I became most interested in. And from there, the series sort of evolved on its own.
GJ: There are haunting tones that weave these pictures together, and part of that comes, I think, from the way that you don’t try to conceal your layering of images. This seems to create a sort of visual dissonance, and the figures that occupy these pictures don’t seem like they belong; they feel like ghosts. And after reading the photos in this way I wonder- did the making of these feel like you were trying to dig up or uncover the past? Or was there any sort of closure you were looking to find?
JP: I think the form of allowing the images to be seen within each other goes back to that idea of letting the images communicate. It’s a fine line and you have to have the right pairing of images. I also think this helps in creating a little depth within the photo both visually and narratively. Working through some of these stories there were some enlightening moments about family and definitely triggered some personal exploration. This brings up a good point about the process of making art. I think there is a faction of artists that see art as therapeutic in a way, I would probably include myself in that group. When dealing with nostalgia, memory and family one is bound to uncover the past, dig up some skeletons and then maybe have some closure, although I’m not sure there’s ever closure, the stories continue on.
GJ: The American West is where you grew up, and it also seems to be where you made the majority of your landscape pictures for this series. What is this region’s significance to you, personally and photographically? What is its relationship with your family’s history?
JP: Well first off let me start by saying the west is best. Now that’s a bit of a joke of course especially because there is so much beauty and history throughout the east and central parts of America. But I do think the sheer expansiveness of the west had a deep psychological change in almost everything, economical, prosperity, diversity, and ecologically. The west had a profound effect on the American psyche. Photographically we see that in photographers like Timothy O’Sullivan, who photographed for the United States Geological Exploration where it was his job to attract settlers by photographing the west. Carleton Watkins’ images of Yosemite led to it eventually becoming a National Park. Ansel Adams’ majestic interpretations of the west had a major effect in tourism. All the while expanding our conception of what the land means to us.
So for me growing up in Arizona, living in the dessert vacationing in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc. undoubtedly had a considerable impact on my psyche. Getting to visit the ancient White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelly, where Timothy O’Sullivan made the very first images, afforded me the understanding of how people used to live off the land back then and see that transformation to now. Technologically we’ve come leaps and bounds but on a elemental level we are still the same, we still look to the land to provide for us which is why I think so many people these days are starting to return to that respect for it that was once there.
GJ: I see a many shades of Jerry Uelsmann in your work. Would you consider him among the major influences of your work? Who are some others?
JP: I think most photographers would tell you that there are many influences in their work and this is true for me as well. But I certainly identify with Uelsmann’s images. Especially when we think about what it means to be a photographer in this day and age. How does one compete with the surreal images we are inundated with on a daily basis? From the animations that fly across your screen when you’re sipping your coffee and watching the morning news to the behemoth budgets of Hollywood movies that make surrealism a reality. How does a surrealist, and that’s how I would classify Uelsmann, compete with that? Except for at his best I think he captures a mood and it’s that mood that as viewers we can identify with visually.
Other influences, aside from the early landscape photographers previously mentioned, would include Duane Michals, again I always liked that narrative ability photographs have when you link them in a way. Mark Klett’s Third View project where they went back and actually recreated western photographs taken over a hundred years ago to precision is also a source of inspiration.
GJ: Last but not least, what’s coming up for you over the next year, photographically or otherwise?
JP: Currently some of my photographs are in a show at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR. They are more traditional landscapes that coincide with the retrospective of the ceramist, Betty Feves. I am presenting “Recollected Memories” at a workshop with PhotoAlliance in San Francisco in July. I will be continuing the Recollected Memories series, images keep popping up from other family members determined to keep me busy. I am teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and the San Francisco Art Institutes ACE program and will also be working commercially.
Jackson Patterson received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2009. He has been exhibiting his photographs in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Colorado, Oregon, California and Arizona since 2000 at the Morris Graves Museum of Art, the Pendleton Art Center, The Center for Fine Art Photography, and the Togonon Gallery. His work is in various private collections and in the Paul Sack Collection at the SFMOMA. The Togonon Gallery and the San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art Artists Gallery represent Jackson. Jackson currently resides and works in San Francisco.
Interview written by Gregory Eddi Jones
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