This week we interviewed Film Club Member Jake Romm. He regularly submits to our weekly photo contest on Instagram and recently has been featured in our gallery for our Best of the Year show. His photos have really caught our attention so we wanted to know more about his work and see a larger collection of his photographs. Read on for the interview and photos.
Q: What got you interested in photography?
A: I was always interested in photography in a general sense but only really became capital-I-Interested in photography and in making photos in around 2014 when I saw the exhibition Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful at The Art Institute of Chicago while in undergrad. I love all of Koudelka’s work, but there were 2 photographs I remember seeing that really changed what I thought was possible with a camera:
1. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/218932/czech-republic-prague (there is, I think, another version of this photo in which the objects are rendered even blurrier, even more like ink blots)
I was (and still am) obsessed with Kafka at that time and the first photo reminded me so much of some of Kafka’s black ink drawings and both photos just seemed to exude this middle-european sensibility that you see in Kafka as well – something Marjorie Perloff described as “an irony less linked to satire (which posits the possibility for reform) than to a sense of the absurd.” It’s present in all his work I think, but these photographs were formally unlike any I had ever seen and it was a real awakening to the fact that photography doesn’t just need to be a mirror to reality–it can be abstract and absurd and manipulated in artistic ways. A year later in the winter of 2015 I got my first camera, a Fuji XT10 (the one I still mostly use today [looking for an upgrade though if anyone has recommendations]), before going on a long trip to Europe with a friend and taught myself how to use it on the fly.
A: I don’t think I could pin down a particular style. When I first started taking pictures, I was very much under the sway of Koudelka and wanted to emulate him as closely as possible but soon realized I just couldn’t do it. Besides the obvious (no one but Koudelka is Koudelka), there is an immediacy to a lot of his photographs, really almost any photo of his with a human subject, that is only really achievable if you’re willing to insert yourself into situations—there’s a fearlessness to the way he works. I quickly realized that I’m not that kind of person. It’s partially constitutional, partially due to the fact that now that everyone has a camera and now that photos are readily accessible online and capable of being used for all kinds of nefarious purposes (e.g. facial recognition) there’s something more suspicious and intrusive to the act of photographing strangers in that manner. I’m not opposed to street photography, I still do it, and I think a lot of the more ‘in-your-face” style of work is quite good, but it’s just a boundary/genre I don’t feel particularly comfortable in. Consequently, when I take photos in public places, I like to take them from a distance which has its own set of formal concerns. Something that emerges in my work is relatedly, I think, a sense of alienation or disquiet or isolation which is also a vestige from the influence of Koudelka. I have no favorite thing to photograph, though I’ve always been drawn to quieter scenes and increasingly I’ve enjoyed nature photographs, which I got more into while isolating in coastal Maine during the first year of the pandemic.
Q: You have a mix of color and black and white photos. What are some qualities that you like in both color and black and white film?
A: I like black and white because I think sometimes color can be too literal, too much a ‘reproduction’ of what the eye is seeing. Black and white on the other hand forces certain other concerns into focus—chiefly, for me, form and texture. When I’m looking to make a color photo on film, it is usually because I think the result will be unpredictable, which relates to the next question. I like shooting film because, as opposed to digital, each image has a material existence, and as material, it is subject to all kinds of metamorphoses that digital images aren’t. So what’s exciting about film, but color film in particular, is that disconnect between the eye-image and the camera-image.
Q: A few of your photos are up close images and are more blurry which abstracts the scene in an interesting way. These are very different from your landscape photos. Did you have a different approach to taking these more abstract photos? What do you like about them?
A: I wouldn’t say I have a different approach so much as I’m just looking for a different thing. With the landscape images, I generally do not want too much of that disconnect I mentioned above. I have an image in mind that I think I can produce with a camera – it may be different from the eye-image but I want it to be different in a more controlled and expected way. With the abstract images, I’m looking at a thing that has some kernel of interest in it, but which is, in its eye-image form, somewhat mundane. In the image of the flowers, for instance–it was a normal bouquet, relatively unphotogenic—was shooting velvia on a camera which focused very inconsistently at close distances which I thought could tease something out that may be invisible to anything but the camera-eye. So the photo—and the photos like it—are less about the thing photographed than the act of photographing, of the unpredictable changes that occur when light is put to film.
Q: Do you have a favorite photo from this collection of images? If so, which one and why?
A: My favorite is the black and white image of the man alone on the beach. I took this while I was living in Harpswell Maine during the first 8 months of the pandemic on the beach a short walk from where I was staying. I love the texture in the foreground of the seaweed and stones and sticks and I love the man’s lightning bolt-like figure. But I also really love the light leak in the left (this was the last roll I was able to take on this camera before it finally broke down). That darker strip of image just trailing this man as he walks down the beach. It gives the image a sense of movement I think – the man leading this dark across the image. You can see him exit and you can see the image, without his presence, fully darkened.
Q: What kind of camera do you shoot with and what type of film do you usually use?
A: All of these photos with the exception of one (the color one with the red dumpster–taken with an Olympus XA) were taken with a Nikon AF600. I was also using a Fuji Instax Wide for a while but it, along with the Nikon, both broke. As for film, I like to use whatever I can get my hands on because I enjoy not knowing how the final product will really look. But the black and white images here were ilford hp5 plus, the flower image was Velvia 100 (or 50?), and the other color images were Cinestill 800 or Superia X-Tra. I should also mention, as a final note, that all of these photos were developed right here at PhotoLounge.