I was honored to interview the internationally known photographer, Lou Jones.
Lou also quietly serves on many boards to further photography and mentors multiple young photographers. He is an artist who gives back, in his art and in his service.
Lee: You travel the world for your photography. What draws you to these projects? Which international shoots most express your own vision? Is the panAFRICAproject series one of these?
Lou: At a very young age I saw magazines & television images of far off places. They fascinated me & later on I wanted to see for myself. As I started to travel I did many of the same things that most tourists do, but right away I realized that everything everybody had taught me was 100% wrong. When I got older that dichotomy fascinated me more & more so I started to point my camera at what I thought was the different reality.
I have found through experience that I love meeting new people, new vistas, being introduced to new ideas, being out of my comfort zone. They stimulate new solutions in me & provide an infinite number of things to photograph.
panAFRICAproject besides the political & documentary opportunities give me a myriad of exotic photographs to take.
Lee: Solstice Literary Magazine has published some of the photos, not only from your panAFRICAproject but also from your iconic Final Exposures series of inmates on death row here in the U.S. What brought you to make this earlier series and what was involved in its evolution? What were you trying to convey?
Lou: The issue of the death penalty has always been debated by politicians, religions, law enforcement, communities, zealots in the abstract. Almost none of these people have/had ever encountered someone destined for death row. Just like Africa, we are always dealing with a stereotype, a myth. For such a critical, life & death topic, I thought that photography could make the debate more visceral. Seeing the people we are executing, face-to-face & still being able to sentence them to death alters all the arguments.
Lee: How did you come to do what your Website terms “commercial” photography, and how would you distinguish such photography from fine art photography? I ask because I see that much of your work has an artistic impact.
Lou: Well, in order to be a freelance photographer we always have to make a living. Unless you are a trust fund baby, money is tantamount. My colleagues & I spend much of our time seeking new paying assignments. Unlike some of my competitors, I find that commercial work hones my craft. You can have interesting or boring assignments, but I try to bring my best to satisfy my clients but also to test myself & learn about how different photographs communicate to those who see them.
Commercial work informs my art & my personal art informs my assignments. My dream is that one day they are indistinguishable; i.e. I am hired to exploit my vision. Commercial work & fine art are separated mainly by intent. My theory is that the better the photograph the better it communicates. The ideas can be complex & photography can tackle them by being the universal language. No one has to translate.
Lee: Do you bring politics into your photography? To what extent do you make it culturally relevant?
Lou: A good friend of mine told me when we were very young that everything is political. I did not understand at the time but I think I do now.
My camera & I try to investigate more complex ideas or situations. They can be good or bad but always political. I seek out things I like or am interested in. Some are trivial & just produce beautiful images but many things are critical issues & lend themselves to photography: pregnancy, war, racism, xenophobia, death penalty.
I design my life around my interests & I point my camera at my interests.
Lee: Can you discuss your development as a photographer and some key elements that have contributed to your artistic vision? What specific technical aspects of photography intrigue you most?
Lou: I have had no formal training as a photographer. Also when I began no one was going to hire a black, inexperienced wannabe, so from day one I had to claim I was a photographer. It was a bad choice, but I was persistent & did little jobs for textbook companies & community newspapers & grew that to doing corporate jobs for high tech companies because of my science background. I built bigger jobs from smaller jobs & took on complex, impossible assignments when others would not.
I would call & show my portfolio to anyone in those days. As I traveled farther & farther from home I would send personal postcards to friends & people I wanted to work with.
The technologies of photography have evolved many times over since I began. Each stage has been more difficult to adapt than the last. My assessment is that to remain relevant in freelance photography, you have to be slow to take on new trends because of fads but also not too late. Many of the changes we have faced over the years have a profound impact to the way & speed & reach that our photographs have on the world. I am not really interested in the technology except as a tool to make better pictures & to communicate my message, but I can never let it be a hindrance either.
Lee: Thank you for sharing your vision, applicable to many art forms, and I trust our readers will go to your Website www.fotojones.com, and also to the Solsticelitmag Archives to see your distinctive, vital work! And also to our Contributor’s Page to read your bio!