For our annual photo issue we reached out to 16 up-and-coming photographers and asked them which photographer inspired them to pursue the medium. Then we approached their "idols" to see if they would be willing to publish work in the issue as well. What was provided, we think, creates a unique conversation about the line of influence between young artists and those more established in their careers. This post features an interview with Logan Jackson and his chosen idol, Roe Ethridge, and an explanation of each of their bodies of work.
Logan Jackson studied photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and implements photo, video, sculpture, animation, and illustration into his work. Jackson was born in Bermuda but raised in the suburbs of Arkansas with his five siblings by a Navy father and a pagan mother. His work has been exhibited throughout the country, from New York City and Los Angeles, to Miami Beach and Austin, as well as internationally—most recently at the 2017 Belfast Photo Festival in Northern Ireland.
Our readers may know Roe Ethridge best for his iconic moldy fruit cover that graced our 2010 Photo Issue. He's produced quite a bit since then but always avoided categorization because of the stylistic range of his photography. His new works, Pic n' Clips, are basically the inside of his sequencing mind from all the photo folders on his desktop of the same names.
Logan Jackson: Where are you from?
Roe Ethridge: I was born in Miami, and then we moved to Atlanta when I was about ten.
Interesting. I was born in Bermuda, and then we moved to Pensacola, Florida.
I actually went to Florida State for two years.
Oh, wow. I had pretty much left Florida by the age of two, so I can't really tell you much about Florida. But it's part of my lineage. We bopped around to South Carolina for a minute, and then to Arkansas. So, we kind of have a similar trajectory through the south. Has the South informed any of your work? I'm realizing that it definitely has for me, but I'm still figuring out exactly how and why.
I'm sure that it does. I think growing up there, there was some urgency to deny the influence of it, at least as something authentic. Being this suburban person who was more, especially in Atlanta, fascinated—in a negative way—by the generic middle-class conservative suburban thing, was both like a blessing and a curse, I guess.
I grew up around photography because my dad was interested in it when I was a kid, but once it came time to make a decision about what to do with one's life, their advice was that art and photography are fine as hobbies, but you need a profession, like a business degree or something. Creativity was something to dabble in, not pursue as a career. So I think that script of the generic, middle-class, Protestant life was a script that I declined to pick up.
When you're doing a job that isn't necessarily for an art client, are you thinking while you're shooting about how you could re-contextualize the photos down the line? Or does that happen later?
It's an interesting question, and it's forever changing. There's never one answer. At this point, it's something that crosses my mind before I even start. I wonder if it's going to be something to push in a direction or to just pay attention to the fact that maybe there will be some discovery on this assignment that leads to something else. A lot of times it becomes part of an inventory that I go back to. It does happen often that it's best to not know the answer to that question, because that's what's interesting: discovery and not having a theoretical practice that is like, This is how you do it. I mean, I'm interested in different facets of making images, and sometimes it's not even taking a picture. It could be something that's so particular that it can't really be anything other than that advertisement or editorial. It only lives in one place, one time. That happens much more often than the other way around.
I might do 20 pictures 20 times a year for different editorial assignments, so that's like 400 pictures, and three of them wind up in a show. You know? So it's hard to say. I just did an editorial assignment I'm super excited about, and it seems so obvious that it's an art piece, but then you never know, it might not be. The way my last couple shows have come together, they've had their own trajectory and attract things on their own. I was taking pictures in March out in LA having no idea what I was doing for my next show. I'd take pictures, and I didn't even know why—a picture of a sign or this yogurt cup. But now it's obvious that it's part of a bigger thing I was working on without knowing it.
I think there's something about taking purposefully "bad" photographs that is really interesting and beautiful and satisfying and funny. It sort of rebels against what you're taught in school. Did you go to photo school? What do you think about the notion about there being a "bad photograph"?
For a long time I've referred to this Warhol quote: "I want to get it exactly wrong." I always thought that was amazing, because on one level I was always fascinated with how to make something, and when I went to art school there was no technical teaching of how to make a perfect image. It was very how does that make you feel? talk therapy. So I think in a way I was much more interested in the conceptual because as I said earlier, I was rebelling against what seemed like the lame emotionality in what was supposedly "Southern photography"—selective focus or dramatic faces and stuff. I was more interested in "German Objective Photography," and the way that looked distant and neutral. It was a way to mirror that modern city that was Atlanta, and the suburbs. I think it tracked backwards into Steven Shore and his objective large-format stuff, and then Joel Sternfeld's more personal interactions with the everyday world. So that was where my education took me, less into how you make a professional photograph. To me, it was fascinating to make a good one, and I thought that everything I was doing was wrong. But like I said, I loved the notion of doing it wrong.
What is the right way? The way some people work is that they very much have a clear trajectory, and you can see where they're headed. Sometimes I feel I'm so all over the place with my style that I stop and I'm like, "Hey wait, do I actually suck at this?" But then I get kind of excited thinking that sucking is what makes it art.
Looking over your imagery, I can see your voice present, even though there are multiple approaches. And I think that's ultimately a funny thing because that is the advice Philip-Lorca diCorcia gave me when I was assisting him. He said you have to find your voice, use it, and develop it. I was like, That's cool, but I have multiple voices. Not schizophrenic, I just can't imagine having only one. In a way, that's what I started doing. I just had a curated and organized survey show and, looking back on it, it's just a very slow conceptual art project. It was like it took 20 years to put all the pictures together because it seemed like they all went together. There were themes and compositional motifs and color, and ultimately there's a voice. It doesn't matter if it's a building or a portrait, still life of a building, or a picture of a woman, I can see that it's my picture and understand how I can apply that to things I was looking at yesterday or last year. It's almost like you didn't need to have a rationalization for why photography is perverse in that way.
Maybe it's like getting to a place where I don't have to justify photography. It is polyphonous, and everyone is a fucking photographer. I find myself wandering through people's Instagram feeds and being like, Wow that's pretty good. I see that person's style and intent. And they're iPhone photos most of the time. But the perspective and scale is set. It's not supposed to go up on the wall, just on the phone. So people use their image-making in the service of their promotion and their voice. Or just to document their life.
When I was living in Arkansas, the way I got into photography was a kind of gradual and unexpected. I was painting all throughout high school and thought that's where I'd stay. A friend of mine started taking photographs, she had gotten some version of a Canon DSLR and I thought it was cool. I wanted to take photographs the way I thought the professionals did. I didn't learn about the history or anything until I got to school for photography at SVA. That's where I stumbled upon John Baldessari's Wrong series, which reversed the technical photography book's rules and kind of opened my eyes to this whole other side of photography.
That Baldessari thing has been fully absorbed to the point where it's understood. I don't even think about it anymore because there's no shock to it. We're also experts at consuming, so there's never a time where we're not trying to find that novel thing. In some ways, that's already been colonized and utilized. What's really bad is that we don't even know what's really bad anymore. How do you make it bad if bad is good? It's so bad it's good sometimes. And that's something I feel like I hear all the time. And I say that all the time, too. I don't even mean to use the word bad in the way I do.