Q&A: Photographer Jesse Marlow

Q&A: Photographer Jesse Marlow

By Cathy IdeasTap 04/08/11

Jesse Marlow is a Melbourne-based photographer whose work has appeared in TIME magazine, Waitrose Food Illustrated, Fortune and Le Monde. His real passion is for street photography, for which he recently won the London Street Photography Festival International Award. He talks to us about graffiti, being obsessed with bandages and why patience really is a virtue…

Tell us about your practice and what’s informed it.

At the age of eight, my parents and uncle gave me a book called Subway Art. This book chronicled the explosion of the New York Subway graffiti scene from the late 1970s to early 1980s. This triggered something in me and I set off documenting graffiti walls around Melbourne. I kept shooting graffiti walls through my teenage years and then went to photography school.

Discovering the work of Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Alex Webb at college set off the next phase of my development. The last five years or so years, I’ve found inspiration through architecture, design and the Australian painters Jeffrey Smart and Howard Arkley.

Where does your inspiration come from?

The Wounded came about after I found myself with a broken arm. Having my arm in a sling and [being] unable to take photos for a couple of weeks, all I began seeing out on the street were people in similar situations.

Seeing people go about their daily routines despite some kind of visible injury inspired me and the idea quickly developed into a project. I shot a few photos but was unsure of how serious a project it was going to be. I showed some colleagues, who were supportive, which gave me the confidence and belief to start shooting the project seriously.

For the next two years, it was all I shot. It became an obsession. I was an expert at spotting someone in a crowd with a bandage.

What’s an average day like?

I work commercially as a photographer so I’m often shooting editorial and commercial work.

With my colour series Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them [pictured above], the photos have mostly been shot on my daily travels. I rarely set aside blocks of time to go out shooting – when I do this, I put unnecessary pressure on myself to find things and often come home with nothing. My method now is a much slower process but equally as rewarding.

What’s the hardest thing about your work?

The periods of time between taking shots [that are] worth printing can be frustrating, as I wonder where and when my next decent shot is going to come from. It’s when I least expect it that I come across something.

Do you prefer to shoot on digital or film?

All of my personal work is shot on film. I love the process of shooting film: the suspense between shooting a photo and having it processed and then viewing it on the light-box.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?

Street photography requires patience. More often than not I come home with nothing, but it’s the times that I do come home with a photo that will be with me forever, that makes it so worthwhile.

Don't feel like you have to take street photos just on city streets. Street photos can be taken anywhere: there’s great street-styled photos to be taken at the beach or out in the countryside. Street photography is about searching, finding and reacting.


IN FOCUS: Composing a shot…

Some scenes I’ll work by shooting variations of the angle, whereas others it’ll be a single shot. I’ll often see things from my car when I’m out driving on my way somewhere – I’ll make mental notes of locations and lighting situations and return at a later date when the light is brighter or when there are people around.


If you missed Jesse’s recent exhibit for the London Street Photography Festival, take a look at his award-winning work on his website.

If you’re a budding photographer, apply for a subsidised place on the next Magnum Professional Practice course in London.

© Jesse Marlow, courtesy Anna Pappas Gallery, Melbourne and the artist

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