Interview: Jake Howe
Jake Howe is a photographer, maker and graphic designer. I was lucky enough to interview Jake about his photography, inspiration and what he is currently up to.
Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
Pretty good thanks.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I grew up making stuff, my mum fed me with cardboard and tape from a young age, and I spent most of my childhood building pulse rifles and spaceships. In my late teens I sort of pushed that creativity into learning graphic design, in my early twenties I rediscovered my love for making things (having only fallen out of it in my mid teens), I studied a little design, I went on to work at a print works, started dabbling in photography, then worked for a web design company out of London before finally cutting loose and working for myself. I am based out of Nottingham, which is a really vibrant creative city.
Describe your style in three words.
Grunge. Lazy. Refined.
I adore your work. What inspired you to start taking photographs?
Well, there was a small mix of things, the first and foremost was wanting to take some nice photos on my Honeymoon to the Lake District. At the same time I was putting loads of projects up on Instructables and wanted good photos so stuff would get featured. Later on I started to play around taking portraits of my wife Hannah, I just wanted to take a photo that she could look at and see that she was beautiful. I got bored of landscapes and started doing product photography along side my design work, so I just naturally settled on portraiture.
How has your creative process changed since the start?
As a kid I was just always making. As an adult I got lazy I think, a few years back I was looking at all the amazing stuff people were doing, and I remember thinking ‘How do I get from here to there?’ I realised these people were just as creative as me, but were super obsessed with that they were doing. I realised that the only way I was going to get really fucking good at something, is if I started making myself obsessed with my projects.
Working for myself, life can be a massive blur, I am doing a mixture of stuff for clients and stuff for myself, all using the same skills. It can be a little hard to describe, but I tend to embrace that freedom and dropping in and out of my personal stuff. It makes for a really enjoyable if slightly erratic work week.
What equipment do you use for your work?
I get asked this question a lot, I tend to avoid answering it, because it really doesn’t matter, I see so many people making amazing creative work with pretty much anything. For what I do, graphic design and photography, a 2 year old MacBook Refurb does a perfectly good job.
My main love is my Mamiya TLR. These things are like the mechano kit of the camera world, I have a whole draw of spare parts. Film equipment is inherently prone to failure. So being able to fix it up myself is great. I love that I can just fix it, I know if it fails me I will make it work again.
I love that its quirky, its much easier to take someones photo when they want to be photographed by something that looks interesting.
Most of my portraits are shot on this. Its entirely capable of achieving all the things I want.
What equipment would you recommend for someone who wants to get into photography?
Up until earlier this year, my workhorse of a camera was my Canon 600D. Which is still a great camera and can be had for like £200, anyone wanting to get stuck into all this, get that. Its had helped pay my wage for years. I have made amazing photographic work with that camera, including several shoots where I really pushed myself creatively. I always worried someone, a client or some such would see what I was using and question it, but thats never been the case.
If you want to get stuck right into film photography, which I thoroughly recommend, especially for hands on people, a good starting point is any nice solid feeling SLR with a 35mm or 50mm lens (it says around the rim on the front normally!). There are a wealth of resources for reading about the different ones, but the important thing is to not over extend yourself financially, because you are going to need that money for film.
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?
Its basically been entirely critical, but entirely un-needed all at the same time.
Its great for discovering new people, new places and new events. Most of the creative groups and organisations I am involved with here in the real world I found online. I stumbled across The Photo Parlour via twitter for example, and its a major part of my life now. I am constantly finding new and interesting people to work with via Instagram as well. I have literally just picked random people off the internet and made them my friends. Its amazing that we live in a world where you can just find like minded people.
Social media for me is not where I get new work from though, I rarely pick up clients randomly via it, and when I do they are normally trouble or want things too cheap.
Who inspires your work?
We had an exhibition on recently at Nottingham Contemporary, it has some work from some very famous photographers, including people like Stephen Shore, Bruce Davidson, William Eggleston and Diane Arbus. Its pretty amazing to have this work here in the city and very inspiring.
I have been reading a book on portraiture by Gregory Heisler recently, thats pretty nice.
Its good to have a continuing ‘rotation’ of inspiration too. A few favourites at the moment are @matieresfecales and @daniolivier_arton on Instagram.
Magazines are an amazing thing making a come back along side hands on things like film photography, rather than having a subscription I pop into my local magazine shop Ideas on Paper, it has all the usual favourite, but loads of independent magazines too. I always find something inspiring there and it helped to break the cycle of getting a magazine through the door and that issue just not being for me.
Why is photography important to you?
I actually think its the perfect hobby, there are so many variants within it, there is always something to take my fancy. This makes it super accessible for anyone creative, but also super easy to keep doing. Just have to grab a camera and walk out the door.
On a more personal level, I really enjoy how you can convey a feeling via a photo, its like a universal language. In most of my photos I am creating a feeling, using people and applying an aesthetic or surroundings, its like writing a novel and people can get lost in it.
I really enjoy inspiring people, I always tell people I don’t mind if they end up being a better photographer than I am. I think people struggle to understand that way of being, always out to push themselves ahead of other people by any means possible.
In recent years, without even realising it, my photography has also been about empowering people. Whether thats people who are used to being in-front of a camera, or people completely new to it. You take a good photo of someone and it empowers them, they look at themselves and think ‘oh hey, that me.’ and feel good.
Why did you get into film photography?
I had always played around with film photography, but the final slap in the face was my mate Dan taking over an old film lab about 3 years ago. Just over a year ago I helped him gut out some of the space there to transform it into a member accessible darkroom. He has a big passion for teaching and providing space for people to learn, doing darkroom prints is a lot of fun and can essentially remove computers from the photography equation completely, its all hands on and the results are beautiful.
When the darkroom was nearly done I realised that I needed to get really stuck into this film malarky, as I had this great resource. So I sold my upright bass and bought a medium format film camera.
What makes a good photograph?
I think its important that this question be ‘What makes a good photograph to me?’ because its super subjective.
I love it whens someone shows me a new photo they took and they are excited by it, in that moment its interesting because I can share in that excitement.
If I was to focus specifically on portraits, I tend to go by the phrase that a good portrait either makes you want to be that person, or be with that person. It creates a connection or implies a feeling.
I also really enjoy seeing people pushing their respective boundaries, even if its not a type of photography I am doing myself, I love seeing what happens on the edge of things.
What are you currently working on?
I am always going through phases of experimentation and refinement, on the refinement side I have been shooting a whole series of simple yet dynamic headshots. Essentially getting everyone I have enjoying photographing before, as well as a few new people in-front of my camera.
As for experimentation I have also just modified an old eye camera, which currently only shoots circles, so that falls firmly into the experimentation side of things, not sure where it will lead, but I am enjoying it so far.
What's your typical working day?
The only thing typical about my working day is that I have a desk at The Photo Parlour, so most days normally start there, normally later than they should. Thats pretty much where it ends, often there is delicious poor over coffee somewhere in the middle, we have falafel fridays. I tend to help out a little bit there, but otherwise I am working on design work, I often walk out into the city, either to meet with clients, friends or just taking photos.
What are your career plans?
Working for myself, its not really something I tend to think about. I am always looking to pick up new clients. It might be nice to introduce more of my film photography into paid work, nice feel for clothing designers or some such. I don’t tend to think about retiring, I just want to keep doing what I currently do.
What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
This is actually a bit of advice I get given often, but its great. I just got a message off a complete stranger today they phrased it ‘yeah just keep doing you man - too much of the same thing everywhere!’
I tend to keep to myself, I tend to have a vision, always inspired by everything in my life, that I want to see made real. You have to stay true to that, if you don’t know what it is, you need to find it. Don’t try and imitate someone else, be inspired and find your own thing in-between all the other things.
You can follow Jake on his website 'www.jakehowe.co.uk'. You can find wonderful imagery and graphic design work.