Jack Spencer Interview: Everything of this Earth is Soon to be Gone, So Find Your Voice

Jack Spencer photograph

I’ve been a fan of Jack Spencer’s photography for a long time. I saw some of his photographs taken for the Aparicionces series in Sante Fe, New Mexico–inside a little, old adobe gallery, with only two windows, it was dark and cold, and the rusty wind chimes hanging outside barely moved–but his work held me there. Staring, feeling that these photographs spoke only to me.

I didn’t know then that Jack Spencer was an accomplished fine art photographer and has been featured in many galleries across the United States. And that his work has also been published by the Wall Street Journal, B&W Magazine, and Oxford American Magazine, among others. Full circle, now I have the fortune to ask him a few questions.

In this interview, Spencer reveals his photographic influences, why he relies on serendipity, and how all things are soon to pass.

Jack Spencer's photograph

To start, how did you get into fine art photography?

I had a great affinity for fine art photographs. Steichen, Ansel Adams, Weston… the usual suspects. I never had much of an inclination toward commercial work, though I did try it for a brief spell. But eventually I saw it as a money trap and got away from it as quickly as possible before it ruined me.

photograph fine art photography

How you approach every photograph you take?

Every image is different. I rely on intuition every step of the way and never set a distinct course of action. I also rely on mistakes and failure to direct me. Never be afraid to fail.

afraid to fail photograph

The finishing process of your photography is important. For instance, in “House Burning, Como, MS 1998” if you had decided on a higher exposure or color tone the photograph’s mood would have changed. Why do you prefer the sepia tone found in many of your photographs?

I preferred those earth tones early on when I worked in the darkroom and some when I moved to digital 8 years ago or so. The tones always create a mood.

House Burning photograph

One of my favorite photographs, “Hombre de Nube de Polvo, Oaxaca 2000” is caught at a perfect moment. The gathering clouds, rising dust, and time of day, all work in harmony to evoke a menacing feeling. Did you always have this composition in mind, or how did you approach this photograph?

Again, I always rely on intuition and try to never overthink an image. Serendipity, wants one to get out of the way.

Hombre de Nube de Polvo photograph

In your series Aparicionces you travel throughout Mexico. Why did you want to photograph the people and culture of Mexico?


Aparicionces photograph

Also, many of the people you photograph in Aparicionces are holding or wearing an object that communicates their personality but also indicates how the photograph perceives them. Why did you want to include objects as simple as a bundle of flowers or as charged as a rusting pistol?

Time is the elemental motif that I toy with most of all. The pistol’s time has passed and the time of the flowers is soon to pass. I would say that the majority of the props used in my images have to do with this motif more often than not. Everything of this earth is ephemeral and soon to be gone.

Aparicionces are holding a photograph

If Cormac McCarthy ever took up photography I think his photos would look much like yours. Your photography shares a humbling intensity toward its subjects and coloring. Who or what has most influenced your art?

My influences are myriad and many. I have been influenced by the most unlikely sources. But if you are asking me to give you well known influences… Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Robert Frank, Odd Nerdrum, Flannery O’Connor and so on.

Cormac McCarthy ever took up a photograph

What would be your advice to aspiring photographer?

Find you own distinct, clear voice and stop mimicking others as soon as possible. It is there… find it.

aspiring photographer (photograph)

If one photo were to symbolize your entire life, how would it look, what would it be of?

I have no idea.

symbolizes your entire life photograph

(Here are links to Jack’s website and upcoming workshop.)

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