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Jacob Howard is a talented photographer and wordsmith based in New Zealand, externalizing brief and beautiful moments. His work captures the fine line between dusk and dawn and the juxtaposition between light and shadow. With a background in graphic design, he adopts an alternative perspective of transitional space.
Stopping to appreciate the moment, ignoring our fears of the future, and choosing not to focus on the uncertainty that shrouds our existence is so important. Howard’s work presents one in the midst of the moment, caught between two states of being. He encourages us to revel in this state of uncertainty, to see the beauty in the unknown. When we are lost, we are on the ‘cusp’ of new realities.
When did you start taking photographs and what led you to choose this art form as an expression?
I have been curious about photography for many years now, along with the stories people tell through this medium. Early on I was motivated by trying to capture the darker side of the usually pristine and ever dominant New Zealand environment.
A great nature, but also a reflection on man’s footprint. For me they weren’t just landscapes but something more. I was interested in how the landscape impacted me, the distant spectator, and the people that exist within it.
The overwhelming scale and beauty of the natural environment. A place where the landscape exhales a sacred nature where man is a mere figurehead. To some degree this theme still comes across in my current work.
How would you describe your photography? How has your background in graphic design influenced your work?
I have always felt a little bit tentative about putting my own words to my work. Which is why I quite like to keep my photo essays quite ambiguous and open for interpretation. I like to question or hint at something that I picked up on... but not too much so people can draw their own conclusions, kind of the way I draw my own. I have an honest, simple yet considered approach to photography. I find images and sequence them to tell a story about the world around me. Graphic design plays an important part in my photography and vice versa. I like the interplay between images, between colours and compositions – the relationships between the photos. I build my projects this way.
The calmness of the light juxtaposing the unexpected makes your photos stand out. What do you seek to communicate through your lens?
I think that the juxtaposition of light and subject can be quite symbolic. Especially when the photo is taken at dusk or dawn– in a time of in-between, between phases of day & night. Light and shadow. That magic moment, caught – before it swiftly moves on. Before darkness sets in.
You say you seek to capture moments of change, tell us about these transitional moments and what they mean.
The spaces represent a transitional time that I was moving through in my life. I was also going through a transition, which I was working my way out of, trying to make the most of. I tried not to view this as a negative space, but a positive one. A space for optimism. One I should embrace. One that would bring change.
I connected with the desert and these spaces for many reasons, but one of the main ones was it gave me the time to contemplate to be present… to stop for a while, to look around, to look to the past and to look to the future. To start again but in a different way.
We really love the enigmatic structures in these empty landscapes. How do you find them? It cannot be easy…
I feel most inspired when I travel. I normally keep my expectations of places quite grounded and just try to enjoy the journey itself regardless of the final destination. I don’t do a lot of research, so its normally a-bit of a hit and miss, but this makes it quite special for when you discover something new.
I wasn’t searching out the ruins or structures so to speak, but they just keep reappearing, sometimes in the most isolated of places, I saw a pattern in them, a repetition that felt significant to me.
Your collection ‘the in between’ pictures a lot of images with people/ things in the middle of two different spaces. What is it that you find interesting about liminal space?
To photograph them, the ruins, is to question them, to question their meaning – of building things for the future. Is it an attempt, a start, an end ? What are we building, what will remain of them, what will remain of us? It’s that feeling of being on the cusp of something that I find really interesting In both physical spaces and mental states.
That transitional time between ‘what was’ and ‘what next’. It’s the ‘what’s next’ that inspires me, because it is about personal growth and making a new future. It’s that space where anything can happen. To be full of hope and full of dreams and perspectives.
Your last four projects -Atlas Obscure 2012, The In-Between (2019), The Land between the Seas (2020) and What Remains (2020) - are connected with a visual line and a story told through chapters. Are they part of a wider narrative and your general vision as an artist? Tell us more about this narrative and journey.
The projects were taken while traveling throughout Morocco, Egypt and Jordan. Animated by a curiosity for the unknown, with an interest in liminal spaces, unexpected encounters and moments of change.
The overarching theme that runs through the work is based around transitions. To question my own in-betweenness and how I fit in within the world around me. The spaces are a reflection of this transience.
I had been feeling a little bit in-between, unsettled, and a little lost. I was on the road, on my way to somewhere. I wasn’t sure where I was going. I had been traveling for some time, crossing lands, seas, cities and borders. In-between cultures, In-between realities. I had reached that point in life where I was like “what’s next?” Where was my life going?
It was an attempt at capturing my own reality. To capture the transitory and reveal the hidden.
You released your last project in 2020 and there has since been a pandemic. How does this change your understanding of the theme that our surroundings and our being is somewhat transitional?
My understanding of the importance of transitions hasn’t changed. We live in a state of flux. It was never my intention… but, I think that my work aligns with the pandemic because of this link to transitions and change. When I reflect on the work, and the concept of liminality in art, what really interests me is how deeply it can be grounded in your persona, and how that can translate across into your work.
I think that liminality had an important role to play in my personal development over my last four projects. I also think that it can have a role to play in the development / transitions of large scale societies – bringing about change.
French author Alain Damasio said about the pandemic: “This pandemic might not just be a disaster. It’s way more than that, it’s way better: it’s a promise… (Nobody knows) if nothing will ever be the same…. but something got unquestionably opened. A breach. Let’s dig deeper into it.”
What is your favourite piece you’ve done and why?
I don’t have a favourite photo or a piece per say – but I got a lot out the experience from the desert-lands. I went to the Wadi Rum for a few days but ended up living there for a month. I was able to stay right in the middle of the desert helped out by a Bedouin family. They gave me a great insight into the desert way of life and hardships people endure living there.
Sitting around the fire at night drinking tea, we would talk about the desert, it was not just a landscape but something more, a living and breathing thing with a magic that possesses hearts. Isolated and with a great desert right on my door step, the valley became my focus. One step at a time through, heat, wind, rain and snow (yes snow).
Stripped from everything I knew, no transport, no wifi, no map, I would take long walks along the desert floor and up into the mountains, getting a little lost and disorientated amid craggy peaks before finding my way back.
The more comfortable and familiar I became, the further I went, absorbing the special atmosphere of the desert’s hidden heart land. Once you reach the top of a mountain, there is always another one, it’s this curiosity that pulls me onward. I had never felt so small but at the same time so free.
What are you working on now and when and where will you show it?
I’m back In New Zealand now. I have got a couple of unfinished photo essays – along with a few books that I’m slowly working away at. In the future: I would like to make a piece that Interplays alongside someone else’s work, like: contemplations, a poem, a story or something like that… It could be a space where questions are raised instead of answers.
Currently, my cameras have been gathering a bit of dust of late. My SD cards are empty – and all my film has expired. And my tripod has been snapped in two. I’m quite busy cleaning out the garage right now… and I don’t mean that metaphorically. My partner and I recently picked up a motorhome. We will work and travel throughout New Zealand, living nomadically.
We hope to cross the Cook Straight in a couple of weeks and head South to take on the winter. To start a new journey – a new chapter.
© Jacob Howard
Florenne Earle Ledger