There aren’t many Photographers, Videographers and Graphic Artists in Atlanta that can do what Jarek James does. Actually, these labels do not serve him well; think of him more of a visionary or a Renaissance Man for the 21st century. There are times when he will wear the hat of Photographer, Filmmaker, Writer/Blogger, Designer, Artist, and now Author, but nothing suits him more than just being real.
I met Jarek on one of the many events we photographers work at and after sitting down for this interview, I’ve changed my mind about who he is. Not only is his mind creatively forward, he’s a focused individual that offers results in any forum he works in, and still he keeps his wry sense of humor intact. Images that are strong with a statement but never letting technique overpower the subject. Accomplishing much in a short span of time, Jarek is at a point that the quality of his work is not only recognizable, but also in demand.
Juggling time promoting a new book called “The Beauty Mask”, his company Jamagination, another movie in the works and just breathing, he was gracious enough to sit down for this article.
JW:You’re known as a Photographer, Videographer, and a Graphic Artist. Which do you prefer, or what’s your forte?
JJ: I’m a photographer first. It comes the most natural to me.
JW: I see you were nominated for the ATL’s Hottest Photographer for 2013. Tell us about that.
JJ: I was notified earlier this year about the nomination. I didn’t win but I’m still humbled and flattered. Just knowing that my work gets noticed by my peers is recognition enough for me.
JW: What have your experiences as a photographer/videographer/ graphic artist taught you?
JJ: Waiting for the right shot, stepping away from a graphic or a video clip I’m working on to get fresh perspective, they all have taught me that life is all about timing and patience. Also I’ve learned you can’t force the outcome of things. This job has shown me success happens when and only when it is meant for you.
JW: What would you be doing today if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
JJ: Well I can’t imagine my life without a pair of headphones, so I imagine I’d probably be doing something involving music.
JW: What’s the greatest challenge as a photographer/ videographer/graphic artist?
JJ: STABILITY. I think there’s a misconception that anyone who deals in visual media and can invest in all the gear involved is just living on cloud 9 shooting models or never going without a gig. Don’t believe what you see on television. Truth is there are various niches in photography (for example). And I don’t believe any one niche (weddings, events, portraiture, product shots, sports, etc.) provides year round stability. In my experience you almost have to do a little of everything if you wish to live solely off of this profession.”
JW: What do you look for in your subjects? Any subjects you would not shoot?
JJ: Well, in people I look for that energy or demeanor that inspires me to create. It might be their walk, the look in their eye during a conversation. Everyone is a living work of art. Life in and of itself just lends to the cinematic images I want to capture. There’s not much I wouldn’t shoot though. If I can make it art, I’ll give it my best shot. As for paid work, hey, you paying, I’m playing.
JW: How has photography changed your life?
JJ: Well, doing photography has helped me build my confidence for sure. It’s a calming outlet. Sometimes doing a shoot just takes my mind off the world around me. I’ve learned patience and focus. It’s helped keep a roof over my head, it’s shown me the best and worst in people. In a way, photography has helped save my life.
JW: What’s the origin of the name JAMAGINATION?
JJ: Well, one day back in college a meteor crashed in my backyard with a capsule inside labeled Jamagination and I knew I was destined to become some sort of costumed crime fighter. So I created a logo and hit the streets. But somewhere I decided I’m better at photography and switched to that. Ok sorry, no elaborate origin. Jamagination is just a totally made up word that’s short for Jarek’s imagination. It’s also where my twitter name @Jamagine stems from. However lately some people have looked at the name and just assumed I was of Jamaican heritage. Nope, just a native Atlantan… something else people are surprised to find out about me. I swear I’m from here, Grady baby and everything. GO FALCONS!
JW: What’s fascinating about your life?
JJ: I create for a living! When I was a kid, I used to watch this show called Too Close For Comfort. The late actor Ted Knight played a guy that drew a weekly comic strip for a living. As I’m sitting in front of the tv drawing like he was, it hit me: this guy just sits at home and gets paid to draw. For me, illustration became graphics, graphics became photography, photography became video. Now I spend as many days a week as possible making a living doing all three. What’s also rewarding are the various personal moments in people’s lives that I get to be a part of with my camera. I’ve built some great relationships over the years that way.
JW: If you had a choice between changing your past or seeing your future, which would it be?
JJ: I think if I could I’d change my past a bit. I’d go back and give the younger me some life tips. For example: Young Jarek, don’t go to your prom, the limo will break down repeatedly. Just stay home.
JW: How many shoots do you do in a year?
JJ: If we’re just talking portraiture, I average between 80 to 100 shoots a year… room for improvement.
JW: Tell us about some of the national campaigns you’ve worked on.
JJ: So far I’ve done promotional event photography for brands such as Remy Martin and Patron.
JW: What were some of the film development establishments you were involved in? Were they internships or what capacity was your involvement?
JJ: I’ve worked for Wolf Camera. I worked as a shipping and receiving clerk at a showroom location in Atlanta during college. I mostly dealt with keeping inventory of all the merchandise.
JW: Besides your bread-and-butter with cameras, you’re always branching out doing work that’s meaningful, creative, and incorporating an element of social-consciousness. You’re a blogger, editor, writer, volunteer, and now a new book “The Beauty Mask.” Tell me about your last project.
JJ: The Beauty Mask began in 2011 with me going to one of those temporary Halloween costume shops you see around Atlanta. I found this simple black mask and thought to shoot some models with it. I called around, whoever answered the phone, that’s who I shot in the beginning. It was originally just supposed to be 10 or 12 women of different ethnicities for a proposed gallery showing. A fellow photographer/featured model Melanie Gregor suggested I just continue shooting with people and turn the concept into a full-scale book. Almost 2 years later the number grew from 12 to almost 40 models of various cultures. I’m very appreciative for all the overwhelming support I got for the project.
JW: A project of that scope involves more than one person. Besides the obvious models, how many people were involved on the production side?
JJ: Aside from me shooting and editing all the images, my sister Cristal Steverson and fashion designer Anastasia Southwick helped with additional input on the book layout.
JW: Your views on the state of the economy as it relates to the industry.
JJ: My biggest concern is simply appreciation for the industry. So many visual media artists like photographers are nomads, every man for himself. This is how we eat. But if you look on various job sites, photography is not a career section. Sure you can apply on sites specifically for photographers, but the openings are still limited. With all the advancements in technology it’s still a gig-by-gig profession. Get by how you can to keep the lights on, you know? Economically there’s no safe haven for anybody. The few actual companies I’ve worked for in my profession never survived the recession. Not to mention, many consumers just can’t afford to pay full price for a good photo shoot. It is a costly profession but we can’t afford to undercut ourselves because a client wants a discount on top of an already reasonable rate. I think if the national minimum wage was increased then perhaps people would have that little bit extra to spend on photo/video/graphic services of all types. For those of us that live and breathe this career, we spend so much time convincing people that imagery is necessary when we shouldn’t have to. You ever see a driver’s license without a photo? A passport? A product without a memorable logo? News broadcasts don’t exists without videographers. Think of the impact on the world when you consider someone thought to put a camera in a cellphone. It’s become more important than actual phone reception. People can live with bad reception or a dropped call here and there but heaven forbid they can’t take a selfie now. There would be no Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. The growing interest in making smartphone cameras as much like a pro camera as possible speaks volumes. Imagery and image takers help drive the economy. We help shape the culture. We are collectively necessary to mere identity in society now and should get paid like we matter, period.
JW: Besides Tom Munro, who are some other favorite photography/videography icons and/or inspirations?
JJ: My all-time hero is Gordon Parks. I also look up to photographers like Harvey Benson, Annie Leibovitz, Nick Saglimbeni, Jasmine Star, & Gary Fong (invented the Lightsphere). Filmmakers whose cinematography inspires me include Tony Scott, Michael Bay, James Cameron, Zack Snyder, & Quentin Tarantino. I also like any musicians that inspire strong visuals with their sound.
JW: What should a photographer ever do without?
JJ: Ever do without? Stress. Never do without? A camera strap.
JW: Since entering the business professionally, what is different about you now years later?
JJ: I’m a lot calmer now. I’m naturally an emotional person but on the job I can definitely see a big difference in how I handle pressure now than in the past.
JW: When you look back at it now, does your work mean something different to you now then it did when you first started in the business?
JJ: Definitely. In the beginning I was just a hobbyist. I shot any and everything but I lacked any real focus on what I wanted to do with my images, where I wanted them to end up. Some pics were just a moment, a phase. Well, that happened. At a few points in my portraiture career I felt myself shooting to be competitive, just to keep up with whatever was the current trend. But I eventually felt like I was losing myself. Now I’ve learned that I want timeless work. It’s not about a trend, a phase, or even a particular moment. Now I want my work to be worthy of history books, something that can stand the test of time.
JW: What 3 things have helped you develop your style?
JJ: The 3 P’s, patience, persistence, perspective. Also growing up watching a lot of tv and movies didn’t hurt.
JW: How can new photographers/videographers stay afloat? Any great tips?
JJ: Pace yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses. If you excel at photo-journalism, event work, sports photography, or weddings may be your lane. If you prefer to have more control of your environment, effect your surroundings, maybe portraiture is your strong suit. Learn your way around ANY camera. No one brand is better than the other. If you know cameras, you can shoot on anything. Developing a style is like growing up. You live and you learn, eventually you carve out your own way, your own world so to speak.
JW: What equipment are you working with now?
JJ: Right now I use a Sony A37K dslr, a Sony A100 and corresponding mounted flashes. I also have a Gary Fong Lightsphere, a Targus monopod, a video light and bracket for filming events, and use a 5 in 1 reflector kit on occasion.
JW: What dream equipment – photography/videography – are you looking forward to working with?
JJ: For videography, I’d LOVE to have a Redcam. It’s just all kinds of yummy HD goodness… and a 10 TB external drive… aaaaand a second laptop to handle all that. So folks if you’re out and about in a store… you know… birthday’s in March… just saying… I’ve been good this year (lol).
JW: Are you using reflectors or lights when you work outside?
JJ: I prefer natural light above all else, but if necessary I use my mounted flash and occasionally add on my lightsphere. Earlier in my career I strictly used reflectors outdoors. Now I pull it out every once in a while if I just wanna attempt calisthenics during my shoots.
JW: What inspires you to go to work everyday?
JJ: Faith drives me. I don’t believe I was allowed to survive the things I’ve been through in my life simply to fail or be of no use in this world. You gotta be all-go-no-quit in this business or you don’t eat. My motto: Believe. Rise. Conquer.
JW: How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
JJ: I think good customer service puts you in the forefront of any profession. Make sure the client remembers a good experience above all else. In my case I make sure my imagery is solid in addition to that so I can get repeat clientele. Also I advertise and do so often. Social media is free for now so milk it for all it’s worth.
JW: Define innovative methods you apply to your business and life.
JJ:Good old fashioned discussion with colleagues and friends breeds new perspectives. I credit some of my methods to my cousin Skip J. Williams (speaker, next level strategist). We chat about simply thinking like the consumer, putting your own twist on popular trends, using imagery to tease the viewer and further draw their interest, hashtagging, etc. My methods aren’t so much innovative as they are common sense approaches to business.
JW: What software and technology apps have made the biggest difference in your life?
JJ: In photography, Adobe Photoshop has been the biggest help along with using Dropbox or Google Drive for quicker turnaround time on images.
JW: Describe goal-setting methods you use and how you evaluate your success.
JJ: One of my goals is consistency. So I like to organize my shoots by month on my hard drive. Looking at each month I see what types of gigs I did the most, what I did the least, and thus figure out where I excel during whichever months, and market myself accordingly to maintain steady work.
JW: How do you think you’re different from others in the industry?
JJ: I can’t really compare myself to others in my field cause we all have such varied styles but I’d like to be known for providing a fun shoot! I’m told my customer service is appealing. Photo shoots can be intimidating to someone who’s never had one. So I approach clients with “non-threatening” practically stamped on my forehead and explain my shoot process so as to set up a comfortable environment so the shoot is fun or relaxing for the client first and foremost.
JW: Define or describe your personal brand.
JJ: Jamagination is basically ‘Jarek’s Imagination’ for short. Anything I dream up can and will be reality if I have anything to do with it. There is always a way, no idea has limits. I’m an all-go-no-quit, balls-to-the-wall, never-say-die, don’t-know-who-the-best-is-but-I’ll-challenge-him type of artist that will give clients my very best efforts with everything I do. I also hope my work ethic will inspire others to not give up and make their visions come to life as well.
JW: Excited to see …? “
JJ: The next Avengers movie! Kidding… no really, I’m ready to see it. Honestly, I’m excited to see the new places and opportunities my career will take me to.
JW: What’s on the horizon for Jarek James and Jamagination?
JJ: Well, as for Jarek James, there’s continued growth and peace of mind. I could stand to work out more, maybe an actual love life couldn’t hurt. As for Jamagination, I’m venturing into more video and print projects lately. Now that I’ve completed my first book (Beauty Masks) and my first short film series (the Fix Trilogy, available on my site www.jarekjames.com), up next I have a couple film projects in the works and another book concept that could blow Beauty Masks completely out of the water. Dream big and stay tuned! Believe. Rise. Conquer!
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