A few weeks back, I found an article in Complex that I really loved. It was titled The Top 25 Young Photographers to Keep Your Eye On. It was a fantastic selection of photographers. Our interviews with Catherine Scrivener, Ira Chernova, and Jessica Lehrman started from there. But the article wasn’t only an article. It was a list.
And at the top of this list, Complex‘s number one young photographer to keep your eye on, was Jared Thomas Kocka. Going from working at Dominos to shooting LA’s best models, Kocka makes work that’s vibrant and clean. But describing his work would be the least interesting thing to write. If you want to read about an pop culture photography artist who left everything he knew to create his art, or if you need inspiration at all, just read his story.
In this interview, Kocka talks about how he got his start in photography, explains his move from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and reveals why his parents are his greatest influences.
You went from working at Dominos to shooting some of the best models in L.A. How did you get your start in photography? How would you describe your work?
I started taking photographs roughly a year before I moved out to Los Angeles. So I started back in Minneapolis just shooting my friends’ bands as well as my friends or friends of friends. I really started taking photos as a creative outlet, definitely as more of a hobby status. But when I moved to LA that all changed. I would describe my work as “pop”. I think my work is current, and it uses pop culture references and has a lot of attack and colors that really stand out. The goal for me is to create images make you stop and actually take a look. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out look but at least a look.
Does photography come easily to you? Were you ever unsure of your talents?
I feel pop culture photography has come surprisingly easy for me. But I think that art is art, whatever the medium is. If you are a person who loves to create, then whatever medium you focus on will come easily. I played music for years before I ever picked up a camera, and I think music really taught me to think creatively and differently but also learn what it takes to push and market art, which I think is equally as important as the art itself. There definitely have been times where I have been unsure of my talents. For the longest time, I always thought I was a musician pretending to be a photographer, but that view is starting to fade. I think that, in general, creative people doubt what they are creating simply because art is so subjective.
You bought your first camera on a Black Friday sale with a Best Buy credit card – then left Minneapolis for L.A. to pursue photography. What gave you the courage to make this move? Could you describe how you were feeling around that time?
I don’t know if it was courage, or stupidity, at the time. I left Minnesota because I didn’t have any reason to stay there. I had just been fired from my job — at a bank, bleh! — and I wasn’t playing music anymore, so I kinda just said fuck it. I need to make a change in my life now, or I will just be existing in Minnesota and avoiding what I could be. At the time I was feeling pretty low. I wasn’t really doing anything creative at the level I wanted to be. I had just been fired from my “real job” and had no real idea about what I was doing. So I was feeling pretty stuck.
What advice would you give to another artist on the verge of making a move like yours?
Commit to it. If you’re going to make a life change, you must commit to it. Transitional periods are painful, and it’s easy to get upset or frustrated and to give up and go back to what is comfortable. Just stick to your commitment through the good and the bad. Progress is hard. Growing pains are expected, and nothing worth doing comes easily. And if you are moving to create art, really commit to art as well and bust your ass and work as much as you can to get your name out there in your new environment.
Looking through your work, it’s easy to see that Terry Richardson might have had influence in your style. Do you consider yourself influenced by him? Who are you inspired by?
I think that I am definitely influenced by good old Uncle Terry. I was a fan of him before I really know how to use my camera. I have always loved how his images have always stood out whether it be his earlier gnarly work or even his commercial or fashion work. When you see his photos on a cover of a magazine on a news stand, your eyes are always drawn to it. His images just grab you, and that’s something I aspire to do with my work — minus all the blowjob pics and scandals. But some other influences of mine are photographers like Hendrick Purienne, Bella Howard, Jason Lee Perry, Rankin, Brooke Nipar, and Zoey Grossmen. Even though they are all very different, I think all of them are really great at creating exaggerated characters with their photos, which is also something I aspire to do with my work. But I really find most of my inspiration in my life: from songs I hear and the experiences I’ve had, to moments I’ve seen when I am out or even found in movies and television commercials.
Speaking about influences, you’ve mentioned that music is important to you. I know some photographers who use music to energize their shoots. Do you? If so, what do you usually play?
Well, currently, I am using Spotify’s Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar radio stations. I have found that hip hop is good background music for keeping the energy up without being too intrusive and distracting. I sometimes use the Method Man radio stations as well. But if I could listen to any radio station I wanted, I would listen to the Third Eye Blind station.
You feature many street wear brands in your work. How do you find these brands? Any favorites? Why do you like using street wear for your shoots?
I find a lot of the brands through good old Instagram. But a lot of the times the brands are finding me. I am always down to receive more wardrobe, so I always say yes to anyone who wants to send me stuff. And I don’t really have any favorites, and, though a lot of people call me a fashion photographer, I generally don’t care about the clothes in my photos. I care more about the characters, or the subject, I am shooting. The clothes are just things that help show off the subject, so as long as it does that I am happy.
This image is one of my favorites. Could you explain how this image was made from start to finish? What was the first step in pre-production, exactly?
I am still figuring out my pre-production really. I am more of a run-and-gun photographer. We’ll figure it out as we go, see-what-happens kind of photographer. So that image was taken over a year ago, and I think the process was to give them characters and have them look good act like sisters / best friends, and that was it. I had a big team for this shoot, so it was my first time trying to manage a large team, so my mind went all over on that shoot. It is all kind of a blur in my memory now.
I’ve read your parents are significant influences in your life. What advice have they given you that has helped with photography? If they’re reading this right now, what would you like them to know?
My parents have been the best and the most real support system for me. While times were hard when I first got to LA, they were the ones that helped pay my bills. They were the ones who have encouraged me to go after what I want. They have also been the ones who will listen to me when I am frustrated or going through growing pains like I had mentioned before. They are the best. They have been lifelong examples of two people who bust their asses and do the best they can on things they are passionate about. And I want to be just like them, busting my ass on every project or job I am given. And I am sure they will read this interview, so the thing I want to tell my parents is that I love them and am so grateful to them for everything they have done for me.
Let’s talk about drinking. It seems you like enjoying a drink or two. What’s your favorite whisky after a hectic shoot? Every drinker has a love story, what’s yours?
I used to like drinking a lot — not alcoholic status, but I used to enjoy a night to let loose, every now and then, but recently I have not been drinking much actually. I do enjoy a nice Woodford Reserve neat every now and then, though. And love story? I am too busy to even think about that.
Be sure to check out all of Jared’s work on his website!