Memento spoke with Jon ahead of #JW-DROP01 to explore his perspective as an LA based photographer & designer. Jon also shared some insightful thoughts on Memento’s mission to create elevated, offline alternatives to social media.
What first prompted you to get into photography?
My mom was into photography a bit when I was a kid– she took a couple classes here and there, and I think it sparked an inherent curiosity. I retained a tacit interest in it for years that didn't materialize into much until high school when I took a photo class. That got me familiar with the intricacies of photography, and it all just felt really natural. My dad had been encouraging my creativity through the years with still life drawing sessions together... but for some reason that didn't quite click with my brain.. and photography just felt more aligned with my personality.
Building from what you just shared - do you have anything to add on what motivates you as a photographer today or how those motivations may have changed over time?
My relationship with photography is something that's definitely changed over time. I was initially a photography major just for the love of it, but I opted to pursue an alternative path in design after my second year at school– a path I saw to still be creative, but one I felt was more likely to keep a roof over my head... mostly because I didn't think I had the personality to cut it as a photographer who needed to constantly sell himself and his abilities to get work. While I really enjoy my career in design, it can also be rather grueling and ungratifying as a form of creative expression. It is a job at the end of the day, and one in an industry can be particularly trying/exploitive... so photography then became my escape. I've had the opportunity to do some commercial work with it, but I chose to keep it a sanctuary for free expression, not beholden to anyone else's opinions. Everything becomes less complex for me in photo work, and I love it for that.
“I chose to keep it a sanctuary for free expression, not beholden to anyone else's opinions. Everything becomes less complex for me in photo work, and I love it for that.”
How does your background in design influence your photography?
I think there's a pretty clear cross over from design to photography... I always try to 'design' my photos by shooting with intent. I'm a staunch believer in the value of consistent structure in design so a lot of my photos are framed in such a way. The other side of that coin is understanding the benefits of strategically breaking that structure and how it can create tension, interest, etc. That balance is always something I'm playing with in both creative fields. And that's the benefit of doing photography for fun… I have the liberty to constantly explore and (likely) fail as I see fit as a means to further refining my craft. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention how design has had an effect on how I edit, with a lot of attention being paid to color harmonies (and dissonances), color contrast, understanding emotions tied to different colors, etc. etc.
What would be the #1 advice would you give to aspiring designers interested in photography?
I think embracing photography for what it is, vs how a career in design generally characterizes creative works as a commodity. It's also easy to be too precious and over-index on 'proper' technique as one does in design.. but that'll come in time, and I think what's 'proper' really only exists on an individual level, and it's something for each person to discover through their own exploration. People get caught up in trend-chasing as a means to achieve near-term validation, but I feel that's a path that lacks substance all together... it puts an expiration date on the work, and it more importantly robs people of personal growth in following their own vision. There's a time in the beginning to emulate others as a means of learning, but that's ideally a transitory state at the end of the day to give individuals the toolset to articulate their own vision.
Why do you think fashion can be a powerful medium for photography and how has Memento influenced that opinion?
I think fashion is a great medium for photography as individuals often use their apparel as a means of self-expression. Fashion is home to all sorts of design, and I see photography is an alternative expression of that.. there just hasn't been the means to leverage it on apparel due to the technical implications of doing so.. at least doing it well (ironed on photos from the office printer don't so much count for that IMO). So much of apparel/fashion design feels derivative at this point, and I feel it needs a breath of fresh air with something new.
I was inherently skeptical it could be done in a meaningful way, but clearly Memento has done the legwork to prove otherwise and has made me a real believer.
“I was inherently skeptical it could be done in a meaningful way, but clearly Memento has done the legwork to prove otherwise and has made me a real believer.”
When getting your work out into the world, how do you think about the balance between offline and online mediums? Whether it be prints, books or your presence through social media and your website, etc.
I think the value of anything offline is immediately greater than anything online. This might be a biased opinion for someone who's seen the fleeting nature of creative works in a digital medium for years on end... but offline work has a permanence online lacks. It also takes more follow-through and focus to craft something offline, while online only continues to be commoditized and cheapened with the press of a button. People have been so inundated and over-stimulated by social media for years that I feel they also share this sentiment.
“Offline work has a permanence online lacks. It also takes more follow-through and focus to craft something offline, while online only continues to be commoditized and cheapened with the press of a button.”
Can you share a few thoughts on each of the pieces included in your first exhibition with Memento?
I've always loved shooting at the Disney Concert Hall, and have thought of it as one of the few places I could keep coming back to and finding new angles or perspectives to capture. Many people see something on instagram and flock to recreate it, and while that is possible with the concert hall, there's always an opportunity to find a new angle, turn things on its head, and create something more unexpected.
I'm like a moth to a flame when I see abandoned buildings around the US Southwest. There's something beautiful in the decay of our creations as nature takes over while we collectively transfer these buildings to the public domain... which almost always becomes a canvas. It's not always used well as a canvas, but it's that instinctual need for uninhibited creative expression that always fascinates me and pulls me in.
This image is emblematic of doing a bit of research to discover something unexpected from getting out and exploring. It feels like everything has been done, and everything is geotagged for easy access... but I had to do a bit of legwork and discovery to find this place, and it felt exciting to explore something 'new'. I don't doubt others had come before me, it was more the process that puts more meaning behind this image.