Woman Crush Wednesday: Jasmine Lord
Interview by Ryne Brownell
Project: Oceanus + Mare
Underwater scenes are an atypical environment to photograph. How did the environment change your photographic process and creative approach?
Shooting underwater has its challenges, saltwater and money are big factors. So when I shoot underwater, looking after my gear is a bigger process before and after a shoot than it would be on land. Salt corrodes so everything must be rinsed off after a dive and I make no exceptions. Cost is a huge influence and underwater photography can be a rabbit hole of incredible gear and a hurting bank account, (dive gear and dive trips cost enough as it is) so I’m always trying to think of a creative way to shoot underwater images in a cost-effective way that keeps my travel camera kit low profile. First I started with cheap underwater cameras that were made of plastic with plastic housings. When I say cheap, I’m not kidding. I purchased four $16 snap sights cameras from tourist stores, I then removed the film the cameras came with and replaced it with my favourite film stocks. I loved Neopan 1600 when it was still available, but I’m also a fan of Kodak Tri X and Ilford Delta 400 and those stocks have the flexibility to be pushed in darker situations. I occasionally shot velvia, but found I preferred the results of black and white instead. Velvia tended to look nicer on land as I never acquired the correct red filter on the camera and without a filter on those cameras your images will just look blue. Black and white not only eliminated the issue of color loss in the sea, it added a different mood that I found myself drawn to and wanting to keep. For the record, I now have loads of wonderful colour images as well, but I went through a big black and white phase in underwater photography. When GoPro Hero cameras came out, it became a really inexpensive way to shoot both video and still images underwater. I now had developed my own style, which is nice to break away from the sharp, vibrant pictures of go pro and I applied it to my digital dark room. I didn’t just want want pretty pictures… I wanted them to feel timeless, have no fixed address and have mood.
The use of black and white illustrates the sunlight penetrating the water, exposing your subjects, and then disappearing into darkness. This range of black and white tonality makes for dramatic frames, illustrating how sunlight behaves just under the surface of the ocean. What were your reasons for sticking to black and white rather than color?
I come from a self-taught film background and had a painstakingly slow learning process in my first two years with photography and many times cost was a factor. Learning to get creative with what tools you have (or don’t have) can be very beneficial to developing your style and that has carried on through to today. I didn’t have big underwater rigs and fancy underwater lights and filters and for a long time I had no idea how to edit in the digital dark room, so I shot on black and white stocks because it helped save the issue of my images looking blue and it provided and opportunity to see tones and focus on composition and framing & get to study film stocks. The first colour you lose in the spectrum in underwater photography is red. Red filters are easy to get now, but when I first started shooting it was very specialized and my few interactions with underwater camera stores on the great barrier reef were less than welcoming. In a nutshell, if I didn’t want to spend $4000 on a housing they didn’t take me seriously and wouldn’t talk to me. At the time I felt really rejected, like I had no place to even inquire, so I’m glad I continued to explore my own path. More than anything, that restriction became part of my style. I now shoot great colour underwater images (as seen on my Instagram, Diary of a Chubby Mermaid) but I still feel a sense of peace and centre when I go back to black and white. Even though I mostly now use the digital process.
How does your work in cinematography influence the way you approach still photography? Does your focus in documentary cinematography ever interfere with the creative process of the more subjective still photography projects?
Working in the camera department on film sets as an AC was fantastic, it really helped shift my learning from being slow in photo to the puzzles falling into place in my head. It was like a light bulb went off and everything made sense now. Part of that was no longer exploring the process by myself but with cinematographers, mentors, experienced focus pullers who all created a wonderful space where no question was considered stupid. Being on set most certainly helped me become a problem solver and that’s really handy in stills work.
With regards to documentary objectivity, as the person eyeing the lens, there is always still a degree of subjectivity, even if it's as simple as how you frame a person or how the light is angled to show the person I’m shooting and have that emotional connection, the same with the director. It’s up to the director and editor in the editing process to present all the work subjectively or objectively, which is incredibly hard and I take my hat off to all those that do it. The work I’ve done doesn’t always lend itself to a completely removed approach. I’ve documented the plight of the baby harp seal in the gulf of St. Lawrence with Sea Shepherd, baby sea turtles on the shores on Florida who have a 1 in 1000 chance of survival and are dealing with human impact on their breeding grounds. I've captured the stories of survivors of forced marriage and child marriage here in the US. I would be lying not only to myself but to the viewer if I didn’t say that capturing those images had an emotional impact on me, but it has always been my duty and my honour to capture those moments with all of their inherent emotional truth, because that's what is honest and also what matters most to an audience. It’s hard to remain subjective in social justice issues as strong as these, but I train my lens on the subject, let the story unfold, and that's what it takes I think to be a good visual storyteller, whether documentary or stills or narrative.
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach one, one – hour class on anything that would it be?
For two weeks in the summer I teach teenagers how to shoot on DSLRs at The Los Angeles Centre of Photography. It’s very basic, but I teach them everything I can to get them out there and shooting. Teens are great because they bring fresh, non-judgmental eyes to their own work. They take wonderful risks. I can certainly teach ANYONE a one hour DSLR crash course. But… if I could choose ANYTHING to teach…. it would be every barista at starbucks how not to burn the milk in their coffee. Nothing hurts my heart more than seeing a barista put the milk on steam and walk away leaving it to “bubble” on its on with a thermometer.
What is the most played song in your music library?
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but the song most played in my music library (I looked it up) is “We Know The Way” by Opetia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s from the Moana soundtrack. I love this film and I love the soundtrack. There is something truly beautiful in the story of this young girl yearning to understand her place among her people and ancestors and fulfill her own destiny. Any soul with a sense of wanderlust feels that. They did a brilliant job on the soundtrack and Lin-Manuel was robbed of his EGOT, in my humble opinion.
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
Ahhh, this is hard. Truthfully, Good Porn by Erika Lust is the last book I picked up, and I have a huge amount of respect for what she is doing to change the porn industry and capture content that is sex positive and empowering to women. The last film that truly inspired me was Call Me By Your Name. It’s beautifully captured (on film!!!) by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and the acting is superb.
How do you take your coffee?
Until recently, I would indulge in a daily gibraltar. As you can tell from my previous answer, I’m particular when it comes to a good coffee. I’m Australian, we’ve had great coffee for years and I feel that America has only just realized how much they're getting screwed in their daily brew and are finally doing something about it. Lately I’ve moved onto a single origin espresso or a cold brew. It depends on the weather. With all this said, I’m fine with paying for a decent cup of coffee and a great barista. A bad cup of coffee is no way to start your day.